Translating Slogans: Latest Challenge in Sochi

Finding the right words is never easy, especially when you're translating slogans at the Olympics.  Every four years, host cities are asked to come up with punchy new slogans that will capture the spirit of the Games and help with international branding.  Never mind that previous slogans like Vancouver’s “With Glowing Hearts” or London’s “Inspire A Generation” weren’t successful.  Sochi didn’t want to disappoint, so a team of original thinkers gave it their best shot.


In case you haven’t heard, “Hot.Cool.Yours” is this year’s official slogan.  That’s right  – 3 words, 3 periods, and no spaces.  If you feel like something is amiss in the translation, you’re not alone.  More than a few Russians are just as bewildered.  While some have suggested the motto sounds like an ad for call girls on the Vegas strip; others have wondered if Katy Perry might borrow the phrase for the title of her next CD.  One blogger surmised that the Russians must have been inspired by the Dairy Queen ad: “Hot Eats, Cool Treats.”


Sochi 2014 president and CEO, Dmitry Chernyshenko, insists the slogan reflects a diverse Russia that includes sports passions (“Hot”), the time of year for the Games – as well as how Russia is perceived by the world (“Cool”) – and the inclusive nature of the event (“Yours”).  The periods between words?  Well, that’s a reflection of technology and the plethora of #-expressions and .com-language according to official organizers.  Perhaps, but a look at the Russian words and the double meanings behind them are definitely fodder for late-night television!


“Hot” may be the simplest translation, but the original Russian word is more expressive.  “жаркие” (pronounced: zharkiye) is an adjective that means “warm” or “balmy,” perhaps reflecting Sochi’s tepid climate, but its connotation also includes situations when things become too heated – anything from wearing too many layers of clothing to an argument or to an overactive radiator in a tiny Russian apartment.  It also translates to “intensity,” as in “heated competition” or the passion displayed by spectators.  And it’s that idea of heated passion that has people giggling and gasping.  Putting all sordid jokes aside, let’s hope the word isn’t a reflection of fierce frustration over slushy ski slopes that athletes may have to deal with as temperatures rise over the next few days.


The word “Cool,” or “зимний” (pronounced: zimniye) really got a bit twisted as the Russian word only applies to winter-weather conditions.  Think: icy, cold, snowy.  Although organizers seem to want to include the English connotations of “hip,” “popular,” or “interesting,” the Russian word just doesn’t compute that way.  In the end, most of the winter Olympians are hoping for more of the correct definition anyway.  Perhaps a word like “snow” or “snowflake” would have been a better choice, but then the whole sequence would have gotten even weirder.


“Yours,” or “ваш,” (pronounced: vash), translates easily.  It’s the same pronoun in both languages, which is why the word was chosen.  Organizers don’t want anyone to be excluded and they insist the Olympic experience belongs to everyone, which makes me think of those cute Valentine's Day heart-shaped candies with messages printed on them like “Yours Truly.”  Unfortunately, the longer the candy is in your mouth, the message slowly disappears.  Something similar happens when you take a closer look at the Olympics, which really isn’t as inclusive as everyone hopes.  For starters, the price tag, rumored to be over 51 billion dollars, belongs solely to the Russians.  And, if the Games belong to everyone, why is that reporters are scrambling (with rolls of duct tape in hand) to cover Apple logos on their computers, so zealous Olympic workers intent on protecting official sponsors of the Games won't confiscate non-Samsung products?  Inclusiveness, apparently, has its boundaries.  (In case you're wondering, protecting the sponsors happens at every Olympics.  In London, even toilet logos were taped over if they didn’t represent the right manufacturer!)


“Hot.Cool.Yours” most likely will translate into another forgettable slogan, but then again, it might just survive as a favorite because of all the possible interpretations!

Categories: Events, Language Translation & Interpretation, Olympics and Language, Language Interpretation, Language Translation


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