BANNED IN TRANSLATION

The New York City subway has banned skateboards—but only if you read Chinese

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Obsession
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If you’ve taken the New York city subway recently, you may have noticed this poster, featuring the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) signature neckless stick figures sporting hoverboards, the electric-powered scooters that randomly explode.

MTA hoverboard ban poster
No hovering whatsoever. (MTA)

These stick figures are the red kind, the MTA’s indication that they are doing the Wrong Thing, in this case carrying or riding or having anything to do with hoverboards. (The MTA’s ethical stick figures—who can be seen yielding their seats to pregnant women and stepping aside to let customers on the train—are colored green.)

Chinese-language readers might be confused about the new policy, though, because the MTA decided to translate “hoverboard” as 滑板 (huaban), which just means “skateboard.” (Riding a skateboard is banned in the subway, but it’s perfectly fine to carry on.)

Compare that to perfectly logical Spanish translation, “aeropatinetas,” or “air skateboard.”

MTA hoverboard poster translations
Strange translations. (Quartz/Nikhil Sonnad)

Huaban unambiguously means “skateboard.” If you put it in Baidu’s image search, all of the results are skateboards. Same for Google images. A more commonly used term would be 悬浮滑板 (floating skateboard) or 电动滑板 (automatic skateboard).

The Chinese text literally reads:

[Skateboard] ban

You cannot bring [skateboards] onto subways or buses, nor into rail cars or onto platforms. Carrying, standing, and riding are all banned, without exception.

[Skateboards] may be a new fad, but they are not safe, because they may catch fire.

Let’s work together to travel safely.

Of course, it’s difficult to decide whether or not to precisely translate a term that is fundamentally inaccurate. “Hoverboards,” after all, do not hover. “Automatic skateboard” seems like a decent option.

Let’s hope New York’s Chinese speakers don’t stop riding normal skateboards, or start fearing that they will burst into flames.

Lead image by Surrey County Council News on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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