You know, there are times when it’s just not enough to say “I think someone checked this” before going to press. Take the highly respected, highly academic, highly (today) embarrassed Max Planck Research journal, which featured some beautiful Chinese calligraphy on the cover of its special China edition. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an ad for a Hong Kong strip club, which promised “sexy and hot, young housewives. Flirty and enchanting, available today.” There’s another translation at the wonderful Language Log: “”[We have] young housewives who have hot body that will stir up your [sexual] fire. They are sexy, horny and enchanting. The performance will begin in few days!”
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (and then in Pharyngula, where I saw it), the German language version had already been sent out to subscribers by the time the error was caught, and the cover replaced by calligraphy referring to a book written by the 16th century Swiss Jesuit, Johannes Schreck, titled Illustrated Explanations of Strange Devices.
Here’s the thing I don’t get. SMH says
The calligraphy, which was vetted by a sinologist before publication, was believed to have “depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context”.
Vetted by a sinologist (a student of Chinese language and culture)? Really? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the sinologist in question either 1) didn’t look at it too carefully (“Yeah, that’s Chinese”), 2) has a greatly inflated opinion of their knowledge of written Chinese (“Beautiful something…stirring fire…something something something”) or 3) lives on another planet where “hot young housewives” means “new guest cottages are well insulated”.
If you’re going to put something like that ON THE COVER, you might want to hire someone who can actually read Chinese, or a firm that can do some honest-to-goodness linguistic analysis for you, with native speakers in your target country. It might save you some time, money, and face. I’m just sayin’.