Thoughts on Translating "Nabbit" into Chinese
Culturally and linguistically sensitive humor is often lost in translation. Putting in a footnote might help a little, but explaining a joke is also how you ruin one. I always love a witty play on words in English and have the witty, wordy family I marry into to prove it. But a translator never stops at delighting in one language, and our goal is to put the same smile on the faces of the target language speakers in the most subtle way possible.
My latest eureka moment of translating puns centers on a cute Nintendo bunny named Nabbit. It appears in Super Mario Brothers and is a mischievous little purple rabbit who steals mushrooms from Toad. It carries a little satchel. It wears a mask that is an impish grin. It's adorable. Point is, the name Nabbit comes from the idea that it's a rabbit who nabs things, and I know exactly how to best translate its name into Chinese: 兔贼子.
“贼” (zei) means thief in Chinese, which corresponds with the "nab" part of Nabbit. 兔贼子 as a whole is a playful variation of （小）兔崽子, literally "a baby bunny," which is a Chinese idiom used to scold a naughty, misbehaving child. And similar to "nab" and "rab," "贼" (zei) and "崽" (zai) also sound alike. This way, the translation not only preserves all the elements in the name Nabbit—a thieving rabbit, but also suggests the love-hate relationship one might have with a mischievous yet lovely bunny thief.