Friends, the iconic American sitcom was extremely popular worldwide when it first aired (and still is). It was no different in Hungary, people loved the show. Friends re-runs attract many viewers up to this day. In Hungary, Friends (and pretty much everything else) is dubbed. As we are humans after all, mistakes happen in translation. In the following list, few of the funniest Hungarian mistranslations are highlighted from the popular sitcom Friends.

Disclaimer: Translation is not easy. I do not intend to scorn the work of people who worked hard on the Hungarian dubbing, so that everyone could enjoy the show. But let’s face it, these are obvious mistranslations, and regardless of why they turned out the way they did, they are hilarious.

Mirror translations are dangerous

In season 1, episode 9, Ross is sad because his parents decided not to host a thanksgiving dinner that year. Monica (his sister) offers to host one for the group, and she tries to make everything like their mother does.

The English text goes like this:

  • Monica: “OK, I tell you what: how about I cook dinner at my place. I’ll make it just like mom’s.”
  • Ross: “Will you make the mashed potatoes with the lumps?”

Mashed potatoes have lumps when the mixture is not well-mixed, and small pieces of potatoes remain “unmashed” and make the mixture look like it has little lumps in it. Translators were probably not familiar with the term “lump”, so they looked it up in the dictionary and came up with this:

  • Monica: “Na jólvan tudod mit? Ünnepelj nálam. Majd én főzöm a vacsorát, olyat, amilyet anyu szokott.”
  • Ross: “Teszel nyúlhalat a krumplipürébe?” [Will you put lumpfish in the mashed potatoes?]

They decided to translate “lumps” as “nyúlhal” which is “lumpfish”, cyclopterus lumpus in Latin to be exact. In theory, lump could mean lumpfish, but why on Earth would that be in the mashed potatoes??

Photo: By Jiel

Tricky Homophones

A homophone is a word that has the same sound as another word but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. Probably this phenomenon lead to this second mistranslation that happened in season 5, episode 8. The group celebrates thanksgiving, and Joey is listing the things he is thankful for:

  • Joey: “I am thankful for this beautiful fall we have been having. Yeah, the other day at the bus stop this lovely fall breeze came in out of nowhere and blew this chick’s skirt right up. Oh, which reminds me, I am also thankful for thongs.”

The last bit is what is important for us, that he is thankful for thongs, a type of women’s underwear. The Hungarian translation goes like this:

  • Joey: “Hálás vagyok ezért a gyönyörű őszi időért. A múltkor is állok a buszmegállóban és az édes őszi szellő hirtelen felfújja egy csaj szoknyáját. Ó, ez eszembe jutatta, hogy hálás vagyok a nyelvemért.” [… Oh, that reminds me, I am thankful for my tongue.]

Here, at the end, Joey says that he is thankful for his tongue. Thong and tongue can easily be mistaken if heard by a non-native speaker. However, context clearly suggests “thong” and not “tongue” in this case.

Cultural differences

It often happens that a joke or reference is hard to translate because it contains a culture specific element that people from other cultures might not be familiar with. For this reason, this next mistranslation is forgivable. In season 4, episode 7, Monica mentions Starbucks:

  • Monica: “You know, there’s a Starbucks about three blocks down.”

The same sentence was translated to Hungarian as:

  • Monica: “Tudjátok, itt van három saroknyira egy csillagvizsgáló” [You know, there’s an observatory about three blocks down.]

The first Starbucks opened in Budapest in 2010, and this episode aired in 1997. Translators were either not familiar with the coffee chain, or they knew that the Hungarian audience will not be familiar with it, so they avoided the brand name, which is fine. However, an “observatory” – a place investigating stars (Get it? STARbucks…) – was a really bad choice. They probably should have gone with: “there’s another coffee shop three blocks down.”

The next one is similar to the previous one, but this time it is not Starbucks that caused difficulties for the translators but the fast-food chain: Subway. In season 8, episode 9, Brad Pritt is guest-starring as Will, Monica’s and Ross’s old friend, and they say the following:

  • Monica: “You must have lost…”
  • Will: “… a 150 pounds. Yeah, I’m gonna be in one of those Subway sandwich commercials.”

The same in Hungarian was:

  • Monica: “Fogytál vagy…”
  • Will: “…összesen 70 kilót. Velem készítik a legújabb szendvics reklámot a metróban.” [They will make a sandwich commercial with me in the underground.]

This episode aired in 2001. Even though the first Subway opened in Hungary in 2004, I think the internet was pretty much “a thing” by 2001, translators should have done a little research. I understand that subway can be translated as metro/underground in Hungarian, but why would anybody make a sandwich commercial IN the underground?

I tried to illustrate that mistranslations can happen for a number of reasons: translating something word for word without taking the meaning and context into consideration, confusing words because they sound the same or because they are spelled the same, or having trouble with culturally loaded content. Unfortunately, many jokes got lost in translation. Nevertheless, Friends will always be one of our favourite shows.

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