Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Se jábala español

Here in San Francisco, there is a family dental practice called Jang and Associates, best known for their really creepy TV ads. I say "creepy" because Calvert Jang, the founder of the practice, stops near the end of the ad and then looks right at the camera while he forces a broad smile. He looks like someone has attached fish hooks to his cheeks and yanked them suddenly backwards — a method more suited to plastic surgery than family dentistry.

However, what struck me most, seeing one of his ads the other day, was his effort to reach out to the multilingual diversity that is San Francisco. He meant to say, "Se habla español" [say AH-blah ess-pahn-YOL], Spanish is spoken here; what he actually said was, "say HAH-buh-luh ess-pan-YOL," or "Se jábala español" in Spanish phonetics.

If local jeweler Tom Shane can learn (over the course of two decades) to sound like a human being — or at least a well-made robot — in his radio ads, surely Calvert Jang can learn to smile in a way that doesn't look like someone just stuck an electric cattle prod into his private parts. As for the Spanish, if you can't even pronounce "Se habla español" recognizably, you probably shouldn't claim it in your TV ads.

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