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The Chinese translation of the 9 riddles from the Netflix hit show, Wednesday

Inciting incident #

The critically acclaimed Netflix series, Wednesday, was not exactly full of woe. Its engaging storyline and interesting twists kept the audience hooked.

There was a scene in Episode 2 where Wednesday was blocked from entering the hidden library. In order to crack the code, she successfully solved 9 riddles in which the first letter of each answer spelled out the final answer: Snap twice.

Rising action #

The Chinese subtitler translated all 9 riddles based on the original text. This stirred up some discussion on the internet where some people commented, “The translation indeed conveyed the original text correctly, but the effect wasn’t the same.” This is because in Chinese, the first character of each answer would not form the words “snap twice” like what it did in English.

Climax #

Normally, translators will take one of these three approaches when it comes to translation that involves creative language (puns, wordplays, et cetera).

  1. You prioritize the original meaning. You follow the source text in terms of style and structure as long as the original meaning is preserved in the translation.
  2. You prioritize the original meaning. You follow the source text in terms of style and structure as long as the original meaning is preserved in the translation. AND you include an explanation after the translation. It can be a bracketed clarification or a footnote.
  3. You prioritize the intended effect. You exercise your creativity, twist the translation to achieve the same effect as the source text.

Falling action #

There is no right or wrong, only a difference of choice. In fact, there are many factors that come into play when deciding the appropriate approach to go for – The translation brief, the guidelines, the target market’s norms, the sensitive word choices, et cetera.

In all translators’ defense, even if they did try to translate the text creatively so as to retain the intended effect in their translation, the ‘creative translation’ might still be scrapped in the end because of the client’s requirements. The translation might still be edited completely to an exact equivalent of the source text, which led the audience to comment, “Oh, the translator didn’t know how to translate properly or creatively.” What the audience doesn’t know is, the translators already did it. They fought it, justified it, reasoned with the team, but it just didn’t get to the final version. Because at the end of the day, it’s still the client’s shot to call.

You know it’s not right, but it’s just the way it is. But hey, at least they didn’t give up, not until everything was set in stone, right?

Resolution #

P.S. In the spirit of “That’s easier said than done, the challenge is in the doing,” here’s our version.

English (Original Text)Chinese (Original Translation)Chinese (Our Version)
The opposite of moon – Sun
A world between ours – Nether
Two months before June – April
A self-seeding flower – Pansy
One more than one – Two
Its leaves weep to the ground – Willow
It melts in the sun – Ice
Its beginning and end never found – Circle
Every rule has one – Exception
The first letter of each answer
forms the final answer: SNAP TWICE
The first character of each answer
won’t form a sensible answer like the English version
The first character of each answer
will now form a sentence:
In order to open the door, please snap twice

*Though the sequence is different,
the 8th riddle is actually
the same as the 5th riddle
from the original Chinese translation

If circumstances permit, rendering your creative work into a different language requires more than just a “simple translation that conveys the same meaning as the source text”. The intended effect, the idiomatic expression, the clever wordplay, the witty pun, all these have to be delivered to the target audience, too.

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