Cultural References and Idioms in the TV series Friends Eva-Lisa Hasan and Saara Karjalainen, November 2008 We did a brief analysis of the language used in the hit television series Friends. We concentrated on cultural references, idioms and their translations into Finnish. We used episodes from the seasons 6-8 translated by SDI Media Group. We found that there were quite a lot of word games probably due to the fact that it is a comedy and the jokes are usually quite clever and funny. Idioms and word games Rachel has to move out of her shared apartment with Monica, because Chandler is moving in. But, because of a big fight they decide to call it off. Gunther told Rachel that he heard she was moving, but Rachel then says: “No, I’m staying put”. This is translated into Finnish as “Minun ei tarvitsekaan muuttaa”. Ross offers Rachel the possibility to move in with him. Phoebe thinks it’s a bad idea and asks Ross if he’s sure about this. Ross answers: “I’ve been back and forth” (translated as “On ja ei”) and Phoebe answers back: “Go back!” (translated as “Päätä jo!”). The main idea gets through in the translation, which is the most important thing in audiovisual translation, but it doesn’t correspond with the original phrases in the sense that it isn’t translated as an idiom. Also, in the situation Phoebe wants Ross to go back to the time where he thought moving in with Rachel is a bad idea, but in the translation this idea doesn’t get through as only a decision is required, no matter which one. Young Americans often use the expression Whatever! which basically means “ihan sama” in Finnish when used in this sort of context. Phoebe sees that she’s wrong and doesn't want to acknowledge it and so says “whatever!” which is translated as “mitä ikinä”. This doesn’t really sound good in Finnish, but this is, of course, debatable. Joey has a crush on his new roommate Janine, a dancer, who gets invited to dance on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve, a special program which airs on New Year’s Eve. This is one of Ross and Monica’s favorite shows and so Janine invites them to come along. Monica says “Mom and Dad are gonna be so faced!” . This is translated as “saavat nenilleen”, but the point is rather that they will be jealous. On the day of the shoot Joey wants to kiss Janine and waits for the fake New Year’s countdown in order to get a chance to kiss her. But right after “one” the director yell’s “Cut!” and so Joey cries “Noooo!” right out loud. Everyone turns over to look and he continues with “Happy No year!” The translation is “Ei! Mutta! Hyvää mutta vuotta!” . The word “mutta” is added in order to get a word that sounds like “uutta” (as with “no” and “new”). Meanwhile, Monica and Ross feel that they aren’t being filmed close enough and decide to do a dance routine from middle school. The routine is ridiculous and the director promises to film them and says to the cameraman “Make sure you get this, Dick’ll want in on his bloopers show”. The show is translated as “piilokamera”, but it’s not actually candid camera. However, taking into account the limited space and time subtitles get on the screen, and the fact that there is no equivalent show in Finland, this is quite a good choice. Rachel and Phoebe are searching for Christmas presents that Monica has gotten them, but they find Chandler’s instead. He walks in as they are looking at them. He had got Phoebe a set of book ends; the letters A and Z. Phoebe says “Thanks for my az” referring to “ass” as she thought it was a lousy present. The translation is simply “Kiitos azistani” which doesn’t translate the idea of a bad present. Rachel is driving Monica’s Porsche and Ross is in the car with her. She is driving quite fast, which disturbs Ross and he asks her to “stop horsing around” (translated with the verb hassutella) and Rachel responds with “I’m not horsing around, I’m porching around”, a word game which suites the situation. The Finnish translation uses the verb “kaasutella”, which sort of rhymes with “hassutella”, but does not emphasize the fact, that she is driving a Porsche, which is quite relevant in the scene. Could this have been translated with the word pair “pelleillä-porscheilla”, as alliterations are often used in Finnish? Rachel get’s pulled over for speeding and tries to get out of getting a ticket by flirting with the officer. She calls him “Officer Handsome” (translated “konstaapeli Komea”), and he responds by “It’s Hanson” (“Nimeni on Hanson”). Her plan does work, but the officer asks Ross to drive. He in turn, gets pulled over for driving too slow and tries Rachel’s tactics by calling the officer “Officer Pretty” (“konstaapeli Kaunis”) but he responds “Its’ Petty” (“Nimeni on Petty”). There is a game with the similarity of the words, but the Finnish translation doesn’t follow the same pattern. Rachel teaches Ross’s son practical jokes, which he doesn’t appreciate and says to Rachel “I have a bone to pick with you”, translated “minulla on kanssasi kana kynittävänä”. Rachel get’s a birthday card with the expression “It’s better to be over the hill than buried under it”. This is translated as “Parempi olla toinen jalka haudassa kuin kokonaan arkussa”. Monica has to call Joey’s parents in order to invite them to her wedding as she hadn’t sent a proper invitation. Joey advises her to blame the post office. On the phone Monica says “U.S Post Office? More like U.S. Lost Office! ”. The translation is “Postilaitos? Pikemminkin Roskalaitos!”, which translates the idea of blaming the post office. Monica and Chandler go to Las Vegas in order to invite Chandler’s father, a drag queen, to the wedding. They have a complicated relationship, which Chandler describes using the expression “It’s all very cats in the cradle; I don’t wanna get into it”. The translation is simply “Se on mutkikas juttu. En halua puhua siitä”. Chandler’s father says ”I’m not very fond of New York. Queens I like”, referring to the fact that he’s a drag queen. However, this is not taken in consideration in the translation, it being simply “Queensista pidän”. Cultural references Pottery Barn – a furniture store Macy’s – a department store (“It’s a Macy’s bag!” translated as “Macy’n kassi!”) Barney’s – a clothing store Fruit rollups – a sort of candy (translated hedelmäkääryle!!?) 20 questions – translated as kysymyspeli Oklahoma: The Sooner State Eating pancakes for breakfast Chandler’s father dressing up like Carmen Miranda Chandler making a joke about buying his wedding vows: “I’ll buy a vow, Pat” referring to the show Wheel of fortune, where it’s part of the game to buy vowels. Monica’s father referring to Rita Moreno as a woman on his “list” (of women he is allowed to sleep with) Fifth Avenue – a street in New York Going for drinks at The Plaza – a famous building in New York Ross playing “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang on bag pipes Chandler says: She wanted to sleep with Batman but got Robin instead”, Joey says “That’s crazy!” and Phoebe responds by “Yeah, Robin is so gay”. Bridal shower – an innocent party for the bride (not bachelorette party or “polttarit” as translated in the series) Chuckie III – A scary movie Days of our lives – In Finland it is Päivien viemää, but it’s not translated in one of the scenes as Joey is talking about DOOL La Guardia airport – one of the main airports in New York Memorial Day weekend 2002 – translated as toukokuussa 2002 ESPN – translated as urheilukanava E! – translated as viihdekanava Baby Ruth – Rachel and Ross consider the name Ruth for their baby but when saying out loud “Baby Ruth” they decide not to use it as it’s too close to the name Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player. Other fun expressions Lovey Loverson – Leo Lempijä Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E – Mac ja K.O.K.I.S (why not Mac ja J.U.U.S.T.O) Translating swear words Generally in audiovisual translation strong swear words are not translated as they have a quite large impact. Also in Friends, for example “son of a bitch” is translated as “senkin mäntti”. However, it is not logical that in another episode the expression “Damn it!” is translated as “Helvetti!” which is a much stronger word. A more accurate translation could have been “Helkkari”. The expression “Oh crap!” is translated as “saakeli”. This translation is the best of the three pairs as both expressions have the same “swear value”. The use of the word “hot” The word is used a lot in the series and it has various translations depending on to the situation. Words like “söpö”, “kuuma pakkaus” or “makea” are used as Finnish equivalents. Conclusion Idioms and word games can be a translator’s nightmare, especially in audiovisual translation where space and time are limited. Everything cannot be perfectly translated into another language, especially word games. They require imagination and excellent language skills. Cultural references are a challenge, as a foreign audience is not familiar with the referents. There is generally no room for explanations (and if used are often clumsy) and any attempt to replace a foreign referent with a local one simply doesn’t work. For example it would be unnatural to replace Macy’s by Sokos, as we know that the action takes place in New York. There are several points in which it is possible to criticize the translations. In several cases the translator does not explain or generalize cultural references for the Finnish audience. Proper nouns could be translated by general nouns (for example Macy’s tavaratalo) to give the Finnish audience a better idea of the referent in question. The translator might consider that these referents are known to the Finnish public (which isn’t always the case), or simply doesn’t make the effort of finding out what they are. There are no perfect solutions for these kinds of problems and translators often have little time to solve tricky questions so translation errors or clumsy solutions are never really avoidable.