Imagine, if you will, that you are a branding executive at Gilchrist & Soames, a purveyor of luxury toiletries whose name, if its website is to be believed, is echoed throughout the world's most luxurious hotels.
Time was when the world's most luxurious hotels used to provide delicate little bottles of your wares in artfully arranged baskets in their marble-clad bathrooms, but then came 9/11, and people weren't travelling so much, so the world's most luxurious hotels had to scrimp and save a bit to make ends meet.
And inevitably, rather than continue to provide guests with expensive, nickable bottles of your luxury hair products, they took to bolting one great big refillable bottle of the stuff on to the marble-clad bathroom wall, whence only the most determined, screwdriver-wielding traveller could detach it.
But at the same time, the world's most luxurious hotels needed to maintain at least a veneer of luxuriousness, otherwise there would be little to distinguish them from the average Travelodge. So they asked your employer, Gilchrist & Soames, to make sure its bottles of shower gel still looked classy, even if in reality they were just plastic bottles of gunk bolted to a wall.
Of course, everyone knows that the way to make stuff look classy is to label it in French, the language of Parisian chic and sophistication. And so it falls to you, lowly branding executive, to create a label for the bolt-on bottle of shower goo that not only evokes the kind of traditional English country-house grandeur suggested by the name 'Gilchrist & Soames', but which also lends the product an air of continental elegance and cosmopolitan élan. In other words, the label has to be in English and French.
All very well, of course, but you don't speak any French, do you, otherwise you'd have a job at Clarins or Chanel, or some other classy Parisian cosmetics company. So when it comes to translating the admittedly rather brutal, anglo-saxon 'Hair and Body Wash' into French, you're at a bit of a loss.
Now, as I see it, at this point you could take one of three courses of action:
1. Ask someone you know who speaks French, or, better still, who *is* French, to translate it for you.
2. In your lunchbreak, nip down to a genuine French cosmetics retailer, say for example L'Occitane, to see what they're calling it. Better still, look it up on their website.
3. Run it through Babelfish. (Not something I'd usually advise, but in this particular case, its suggestion, while still bad, is infinitely better than what you eventually come up with.)
But no. You did something else. And to be honest, I can't really fathom what it was you did, or how you managed to get it so spectacularly wrong.
Fig 1. Spot the wrongness.
I would surmise that you started out by making the classic schoolboy error of translating word for word. Hair. And. Body. Wash. Maybe you looked up each word in turn in an English-to-French dictionary. Maybe. In any case, using this method, you managed to translate the first two words OK, even though in the overall context of the thing, they ended up being meaningless.
But then you got to 'Body'. I can only assume that upon discovering that the French for 'body' is 'corps', your delicate sensibilities rebelled and refused to let you allow a word that looks like 'corpse' to appear on a label that is supposed to radiate elegance, refinement and good grooming. Whatever happened, the result is that you elected to remove the final 's', leaving 'corp', a word that doesn't exist in French.
Finally, no doubt gathering your confidence and enthusiasm as you entered the home straight, you embarked on the word 'Wash'. Problematic, this, as 'wash' is more traditionally used as a verb than a noun, particularly in French. But you don't want a verb here, you want a noun that describes the product inside the bottle. In your place, I might have steered clear of the tricksy 'wash' altogether, and maybe gone with 'gel', like they have at L'Occitane.
But no, you're determined to translate word for word, so 'wash' it is. And somehow you end up not with the infinitive 'laver' ('to wash'), but with 'lave', which is either the first person present indicative ('I wash'), or the third person present indicative ('he/she/it washes'), or - and I think this is most likely, given the absence of a pronoun - the second person singular imperative ('wash!').
In essence, then, what you've done is create a label that, while exhibiting flawless English, once translated into French reads 'Hair and Corp, Wash!'
Which is one way of creating a truly memorable hair, bath and body product, but possibly not one that reinforces Gilchrist & Soames's claim to have a passionate and dedicated team of employees whose core focus is to constantly reach for further perfection in everything we do for our customers.