Have you ever seen something in the newspaper or heard something on the news that just didn’t seem right to you? News reporters are supposed to check and double-check their facts before reporting things, right?
Just ask The New York Times and ABC News anchor Peter Jennings what happened to them in the winter of 1999, when they had a report on mistranslated Chinese movie titles.
Both truthfully reported that when American movies are translated into other languages, some strange interpretations occur when these movie titles are translated back into English. Unfortunately, the examples that they gave during their reports (“The Crying Game” is translated to “Oh No! My Girlfriend has a Penis!”) were all items from a 1997 original humor list from Chris White’s TOP FIVE LIST.
The Top Five List is Chris’ answer to David Letterman’s Top Ten List, except that Chris and his gang of writers churn out anywhere from 15-45 different one-liners for every list topic, guaranteeing at least one laugh in each daily message. The Top Five List is arguably the longest-running original humor daily email on the ‘net today, having started in the mid 90’s before most people had even heard of the Internet.
Back to our story: somebody had taken a true Wall Street Journal article about movie title mistranslations and appended the comedy list to the bottom of the article before sending it out as an email. Because of the juxtaposition of the real news article with the fake movie titles, it appeared as if the fake movie titles were being presented as real.
One of the list items even made it as a clue on Jeopardy! later in the year. Needless to say, both the New York Times and ABC News sheepishly had to run corrections. Not bad for a bunch of rag-tag Internet comedy writers, eh?