Linking Breaking Bad to Better Caul Saul through Chinese

25 Feb 2015

Breaking Bad was an awesome drama. Better Call Saul is looking like it’s shaping up to be another great story. But if you’re not already familiar with both series, it’s far from obvious that the two are connected based on their titles alone. Not so with Chinese!

The Chinese titles of the two series are:

Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul: Chinese Names

And in plain text:

Breaking Bad 绝命毒师 (Juémìng Dúshī)
Better Call Saul 绝命律师 (Juémìng Lǜshī)

The two differ by exactly one character!

绝命 (not a common word at all) according to my dictionary means “to kill oneself” (but here, while not entirely clear, must mean something like “at the end of one’s rope”), and 毒师 (also not at all a common word) would be something like “drug master” (which you could translate as “drug lord,” but “drug lord” is more commonly expressed in Mandarin as 毒枭). The word 毒师 was likely chosen because it’s similar to 老师, and Walter White begins the series as a chemistry teacher. Meanwhile, 律师 is actually a common word meaning “lawyer,” however. It seems to be just a fortuitous coincidence that the new series name can play off the old series name so neatly.

Now, you could definitely argue that neither is a good translation of the original English series title, but both “Breaking Bad” and “Better Caul Saul” would be extremely hard to translate well into Chinese. It does seem that keeping consistency of translation to link the two is a nice little added benefit when you can’t very faithfully translate the original titles anyway.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Jeff Kriger Says: February 26, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Just a heads up—In the opening of your article, your Chinese character titles differ by exactly no characters:

    “Breaking Bad 绝命毒师 (Juémìng Dúshī)
    Better Call Saul 绝命毒师 (Juémìng Lǜshī)
    The two differ by exactly one character!”

  2. 毒師 sort of sounds like 廚師 and, as you know, Walt was a very good “cook.”

  3. Here’s a couple similar cases I’ve come across that I enjoyed. The Scream series of movies known as 惊声尖叫 (Jīngshēng Jiānjiào, “Terrified Screaming,”) while the unofficial companion Scary Movie parody series is 惊声尖笑 (Jīngshēng Jiānxiào, “Terrified Laughter.”)

    MacGuyver is known in Chinese as 百战天龙 (Bǎizhàn Tiānlóng,) while the parody MacGruber character from SNL is 百战天虫 (Bǎizhàn Tiānchóng.) I guess I’d go with something like “Fierce Heavenly Dragon” for the former and “Fierce Heavenly Worm” for the latter maybe, but it’s clear that these don’t work very well in English. The use of 虫 is pretty clever too because the word grub can (intentionally?) be seen in MacGruber’s name.

    I like these a lot because the swapped out characters in both examples not only rhyme, but contain the same tones. I’m sure there are more cases like this out there.

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