Lost and Found in Translation: Baby on Road

Go ahead . . . date yourself.  Do you remember when “Baby on Board” signs first started popping up on rear windows?  Remember that one summer when they were on every other car and everyone drove just a wee bit safer.  It was like a traffic trump card that gave the bearer total immunity.  The official Rules of the Road clearly state that if someone cuts you off you are legally entitled (and in some regions obligated) to (and I quote):

a. shake your fist violently
b. scream obscenities mindlessly
c. flip the bird

Not only does the law support your irritated actions but every, single, other driver on the road will cheer you on because you are clearly justified in your rage and they feel your pain.  You are the hero of the highway.

However, stick that little yellow sign in the back window and the tide turns instantly.  You are no longer shaking your fist at the moron who cut you off but you are in fact, threatening violence . . . to a BABY!  What kind of a sicko are you?  Watch your mouth . . . there’s an infant in that car and don’t even think about the bird . . . put the bird away . . . destroy the bird!  But whatever you do, DO NOT flip the bird . . . at an infant.

Brilliant.  Hence the fad, short lived as it was.  U.S. sales went through the roof in 1985, about a year after the signs were introduced.  In 1986 they plummeted because the only thing Americans love more than a traffic trump card is a corny joke.  “Mother in Law in Trunk” signs killed the trend.

The irony is that the original sentiment has continued to thrive globally in places where vehicle population is increasing and sarcastic humor remains . . . well . . . not funny.  The double irony happens when the original sentiment is mistranslated.  “Baby on Road” stickers haven’t yet hit 1985 B.O.B. status but I’ve seen an increasing number lately here in China.  Granted, to the foreigner (like me) the translation sounds either horribly sadistic or really funny but for most Chinese people I’m sure the thought is clear and very sweet.

I tried to explain to a Chinese friend how horrible it sounds that the baby is on the road while the mama is in the car but my humor was lost in translation.

1 Comment

  1. Of course the irony of the baby in/on car sign is that most babies are on laps or loose in the cars. Kind of takes away from the be careful sentiment.

    Reply

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