Roast Chestnuts 10:3-5

So, when I was a mission greenie in the Austrian countryside, we were teaching this bloke about the Book of Mormon. In German, “Moroni” is pronounced “Mo-ro-nee.” Anxious to approximate an Austrian accent, I ended up getting the whole name wrong and said “Maroni.”

Our investigator (better: very casual contact) laughed out loud. “Maroni” is what they call roast chestnuts. In English (my German had put him off speaking to me in his own language) he said, “Venever I eating Maronis I be sinking about you guys.” I wonder whether he still does.

Seems like a whole post could be written about bad English-to-foreign-language foul-ups in Mormonese. In the meantime, enjoy some Maronis for starters.

(It’s Maroni season again over here. Bought my first batch from a street vendor today. Yum!)


  1. Any “Mission Spanish” speaker has accidentally incorporated fornication or pregnancy or hermaphroditism into his/her Spanish at one point.

  2. Ronan, I think your children are absolutely ganz hell.

  3. There’s nothing like the Japanese “ninjin” (carrot) being said when “ningen” (personage) is intended. It’s especially confusing for the tongue-tied American missionary since “jin” is another reading for the character meaning person, and so “ninjin” sounds as if it might just be right.

  4. In Cebuano, “Until the grave do we part” is “Hangtud sa Kalubangan” on the other hand, “Hangtud sa Kalebangan” is “Until we have diarhea.” Always bad when you are trying to explain celestial marriage.

    Also, and more common, “Among Amahan” is “Our Father” and “Amung Amahan” is “Mute Father”.

  5. As a young Japanese-speaking missionary, I was speaking in front of a very large ward. I wanted to tell them that my mission was the most spiritual (reiteki) time of my life, but I got one letter off and said that it was my most sexual (seiteki) time.

    You’ve never heard all the air suck out of a room so fast, followed by more laughter than I’d heard in an austere Japanese LDS congregation. I quickly ended my testimony and sat down so my senior companion could explain to me what I’d just said that was so funny.

  6. I had a young missionary companion who felt that English-language colloquialisms should be rendered literally in Spanish. I’ll never forget the first discussion in which, prior to telling the canonized version of the first vision, my companion summarized it in his own words: “…and then, out of the blue, God and Jesus appeared to him.” The investigators stared at him as if he were totally deranged.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    We used to have Dickensian street vendors on Michigan Avenue here in Chicago selling roasted chestnuts. I would always buy some and imagine myself as Bob Cratchit. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them for a number of years now.

    (I wish I had some funny mission language stories, but I served in Colorado. But I’ve seen plenty of intra-English gaffes, such as the sister who in the course of her testimony talked about wearing thongs in a certain setting (by which she meant footwear, but the laughs told you a lot of people took the other, more recent meaning.)

  8. I remember sitting in on a sixth discussion with another companionship. We were teaching a woman from Beijing. The missionary who was teaching her about the Church’s mission to proclaim the gospel said that she should invite her friends to “tan yi tan” (chat) with the missionaries.

    The words “tan yi tan” came out very unclear. The woman apparently misunderstood what this poor missionary had just said. She got this baffled look on her face, leaned in, and said, “tong xing lian?” (homosexual). Gramatically, “tong xing lian” can’t be used as a verb, but telling an investigator that she should invite her friends to “homosexual” with missionaries still caught her pretty off-guard.

    I also had a companion who thought it was okay to directly translate English idioms into Chinese. He had a hard time speaking in general, and I remember him one time trying to explain to an investigator that it was as if a cat had ahold of his tongue.

  9. We had a member translate our names to something that sounded similar in Chinese when we first entered the mission. He did it for all the missionaries because for many of the people we met, names like Johnsen were difficult to pronounce. One day after discussion WOW with an investigator he started laughing and said my parents must have had a good sense of humor when naming me. My translated name meant ‘drink good wine’.

  10. I had a couple of offline emails asking me about hermaphroditms, pregnancy, and fornication in Spanish.

    1. In my greenie area, someone asked me what my family and I liked to do at home. Now, recognize that I was fairly conversant in Spanish from before my mission, but I was basically translating English to Spanish. Rather than saying “I like to fish” or “I like to go fishing”, I said, “I like to catch fish”. In my MTC/high school Spanish classes, I knew “coger” to be “to catch”. I then used “pescado” (dead, caught fish) instead of “pes” (live fish). Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that street Spanish used “coger” as a euphemism for fornication.

    So I told these dear people that for fun, this norteamericano like to fornicate with dead fish.

    2. In Spanish, “embarrasada” means “pregnant”, not “embarrassed”. Mormon legend abouts with stories of the new sister missionary being asked to stand and bear her testimony, and saying something like: “I’m so embarrassed/pregnant, and it’s the bishop’s fault”.

    3. On her mission, DW was diagnosed with a parasite and told her zone leader that she had “bichos” (which she read from her dictionary to mean “bugs”). He looked at her strange and told her to use “parasitos”, because “bichos” was slang plural for a male anatomical feature.

  11. When I heard Americans talk about their nursing home business, I had a laughing fit for several minutes.

    I imagined a battery of women nursing babies for pay. Those Americans commercialize everything.

  12. Jon in Austin says:

    Two classic stories/experiences that get passed around in the Sao Paulo MTC:

    First, the verb for ‘to fart’ in Portugese is peidar. Singular past tense or ‘I farted’ is peidei, which sounds exactly like ‘payday’. Older, seasoned elders would pretend they’d forgotten so much English that they’d ask their newbie companions on noisy, crowded buses what the word was for the time of the month when you got your paycheck with a raised voice which resulted in the newbie responding loudly in Portugese, “I FARTED!” Proof that no matter how much spit and polish you put on them, we’re still sending fairly immature 19 year-olds out there.

    Second, two sisters are standing in a crowded bus and after going over one particularly large pothole the new one loses her balance and falls on the lap of a man sitting close to her. Flustered and embarassed she means to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ (Sinto muito or desculpa). Instead, she says, ‘Excuse me.’ (com licenca) implying that she was there to stay.

    The man quickly replies, ‘Make yourself at home.’ (fica vontage)

  13. In the first discussion, there was a line that reads “God wants us to develop and be happy”. In Russian, the verb “to develop” here is raz-vi-va-lees. It was a common missionary error to say raz-di-va-lees there. This changed the meaning to “God wants us to take our clothes off and be happy”. And some people wonder why the got rid of the discussions.

    The funny thing was that once you had the problem explained to you, you were far more likely to do it. As an example, I had a companion who got vkusna “tasty” mixed up with skuchna “boring” at home once. I explained the difference to him. That night, at a dinner appointment, he very carefully tried to tell the couple that hosted us that the meal was “boring”. He then realized his mistake and, attempting to correct it, said it again. And again.

  14. There are a couple of great ones in French. Because of the Normans, if you slap a French accent on words that end in “tion,” “ate,” or “ive” there is a reasonable likelihood that it will translate….except…

    I remember talking to some folks about how wonderful French bread is. It is fresh and lacks all the “preservatives” that American bread has. Alas, preservative in French means condom.

    Also, if you take the noun for kiss and turn it into a verb, you get a very vulgar term for sexual intercourse…got burned on that.

  15. or in Russian,
    po-moi-ims-sya let’s bathe from Po-mo-lim-sya let’s pray
    and viimya cow utter from vo imya in the name of (my personal favorite) –and there is always pisal(a)–which if you say wrong goes from “wrote” to “peed”

    Wow! I can think of so many!

  16. I guess usually this doesn’t end terribly, just funny. But when I was studying Macedonian my instructor (who was Macedonian) related how there was a Russian pilot who was flying and the control tower said to go “straight”, ‘prava’ in Macedonian–but ‘prava’ in Russian means “right”.
    The plane crashed into a mountain. They were very hesitant to have Russian pilots after that.

  17. The gender of a word can cause problems. Had a greenie who instead of saying that we can enter into the reino (kindgom) of God, he said we could enter into the reina (queen) of God.

  18. Then there’s the line in the French discussions about “suddenly an angel appeared at his bedside,” which has occasionally been mispronounced into “suddenly an orange appeared at his ankle.”

    J. — did a senior companion ever send you to the pharmacist’s counter (complaining that his throat was to sore to ask for it himself) to get a “throat supporter,” telling you it was a coughdrop when every Frenchman would hear it as an old-fashioned bra?

  19. J., the “preservative” issue is identical in Argentina. Fashionable young Americans there from time to time find themselves at the grocery store asking clerks whether or not this jelly/meat/juice/whatever has condoms in.

  20. Ah, the linguistic tortures young missionaries are subjected to by their older compatriotes. I never got that one, Ardis, but it hilarious!

  21. Ronan – Chestnuts? Conkers!!

  22. The classic mistake in Russian is to ask someone if they are a “member” without adding “of the church” which results in asking if the person is a penis.

    My favorite, however, was when a companion of mine asked an investigator to open to the book of Job. Not knowing how to say “Job” in Russian he made a reasonable guess which, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the crudest words in the language.

  23. In the interest of further Russian safety, never walk the streets singing the chorus from that hit of the sixties, “Sea Cruise”. Really.

  24. In Spanish, don’t walk into a restaurant or store and ask for eggs with the expression, “Tiene huevos?” (“Do you have eggs?”). Instead ask “Hay huevos?” (“Are there eggs?”). If not, you’re back to the male anatomy issue.

  25. I am noticing a common theme of pregnancy, sexual organs and vulgarities to be the worst of these faux pas.
    I, had the unfortunate experience of once saying
    instead of obrazovanii “educated”, saying obrezanii “circumcised”.

  26. A senior companion in my mission explained to a new elder that there are two kinds of bread in Russia: TOT xleb (“that bread”) which is soft and delicious like Wonder Bread, and ETot xleb (“this bread”) which is mostly crust and tastes like cardboard. The greenie went into the kiosk and asked the woman behind the counter for “that bread,” so she pointed to a loaf and says “this bread?” He said, Nyet, “that bread.” And so on.

  27. I think all the Russian speakers are about to rival all the German speakers on the blogs.

  28. Another classic moment in Russian: My Bulgarian companion and I were making small talk with a couple about food. I mentioned that the bread in American wasn’t tasty because it was full of preservatives. At four months I didn’t know “preservative” is the Russian word for condom.

  29. In Dutch, I got angel (engel) and hedgehog (egel) mixed up, which makes the origins of the BoM even more perplexing.

  30. The other good Spanish mixup is saying I’m hot. Instead of “tengo calor” a greenie will often say “estoy caliente” which means he’s uh…well, ready for some lovin’.

  31. It’s possible that he laughed so hard because maroni was actually a euphemism for testicles.

    I’m dredging up some aging memories, but in Italian, marrone meant brown, but maroni (I think) was just such a euphemism. Imagine poor Elder Brown that tried to translate his name and didn’t trill the r for quite long enough.

    Some others: Quanti anni hai? (How old are you) Quanti ani hai (How many anuses do you have)? I had an investigator/english class participant ask me to be sure to hold the “n” long enough.

    A sister bore her testimony about the Book of Mormon saying that she knew it was true because she had bound (legato) it instead of read (letto) it.

    I don’t know that I heard this one done, but there’s a one letter difference between “discouraged” and “farted” scoraggiato/scoreggiato. Imagine how poor “discouraged” Joseph Smith felt when he couldn’t find a church to join.

  32. Texas_tyrant8 says:

    Yet more evidence the Church must be true else the elders for sure would have ruined it long ago… or perhaps that is exactly what happened in our European missions. Are Europeans less forgiving of our language shortcomings than their South American counterparts? Our Mexican investigators and members were pretty easy-going about our linguistic faux-paus (and yes there were many).

  33. I was not a missionary, but when I lived in Japan the young missionaries would regularly confuse ‘kowaii’ (scary) for ‘kawaii’ (cute). You should tell somebody that their child is kawaii. But they would say, “Ah, kowaii!”

    Another funny thing I noticed is that they spent a lot of time talking to high school students when tracting by train stations. High school girls would try to practice English with them, and they’d try to practie their Japanese with the high school girls. So when they actually learned the correct word for cute, they would sound like a high school girl, ‘kawai~~~~i.’ That got an even bigger laugh from the local members.

  34. In Strasbourg, on the French border with Germany, a new missionary was asked to offer the prayer before the meal. Mixing his English with French, he said “Blesse les allemagnes.” instead of “Benisse les ailments”. What he said translated to “Hurt the Germans.” The French, not forgetting their history, responded to the prayer with an ardent “Amen!”

  35. My old mission president had miserable German, anyway. He told the story on himself, that he really used the German-English cognates. He was asked how the voyage over was. He replied “Mist hier, Mist da!” Mist = manuer/shit. Obviously this was a LONG time ago.

    My favorite was a friend in the unisex barber shop who was having his hair cut by a cute young girl. Making small talk, he turned to her to ask where he could get such a brush. He mixed up “Bruste” with “Beurste” which caused the poor girl to color deeply.

    I guess Austrian slang for the F word was a cognate for foot. So when speaking about Amerikanisches Football…. I told this story to the mostly LDS book club, most were amused and it cemented my reputation.

    I did not find this out ’till later. I am still not too sure. My online dictionaries do not cover much Austrian slang, I guess.

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