I myself have been puzzling over the ‘Wifi Free’ signs that are proudly displayed by various establishments in Italy. And so have a few Italians.
“Doesn’t ‘Wifi Free’ mean there’s no wifi?”, one Italian asked me. “Yes, it does, in the same way as ‘sugar-free’ means ‘no sugar’, I explained, pointing out that the correct word order is ‘Free Wifi’.
The trouble is, these ‘Wifi Free’ signs appear to mean the complete opposite, unless, that is, you are Italian.
Why Wifi Free?
What has happened, you see, is that the Italian ‘Wifi Gratis‘ has been translated literally – ‘gratis‘ means ‘free‘ in Italian. The translator obviously did not know English too well.
The use of the English word ‘free‘ may have been chosen in an attempt to attract non-Italian customers. Then again, and knowing Italy’s propensity for using English ‘coz it looks sophisticated, the ‘Wifi Free’ translation could be deliberate and aimed at Italians.
While ‘Wifi Free’ may have a few English speakers in Italy scratching their heads, they may work out that the signs mean the opposite of what they appear to and attempt to connect to the free wifi service (They will probably need a password and may have to wade though registration process too – beware of handing over a regularly used email address, If you do, your mailbox will fill up with, Italian, spam).
On the other hand, some may wonder whether Italy is a ‘wifi free zone’, thus confirming suspicions that Italy has not quite dragged itself into the 21st century. Well, there are some in Italy who’d like to switch the internet off, so one does sometimes wonder oneself whether Italy is stuck in kind of wifi-free time warp.
Whatever, kids in Italy’s schools will assume ‘Wifi Free’ is good English. Consequently, English teachers will end up with more than a few headaches explaining that just because the words used are English, the meaning isn’t.
Literal translation can cause a literal mess even if it can be rather amusing at times.
What are your favorite Italian-English translations?
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