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In Tootsie, Julie complains:

My lines sound like subtitles for a Czech movie.

I live in Czech republic, so I have no idea what do Czech movie subtitles look like in the US. Is there anything characteristic about them? Poor grammar, or something else? What is Julie trying to express?

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  • It's poorly phrased; it would make more sense if she was referring to Czech subtitles on an Non-Czech film. Nov 30, 2017 at 15:12
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    @JamesMcLeod: I don't think that's the case. I think it's in reference to literal English translation of a foreign language. Sort of like having Google translate write the subtitles: technically (mostly) correct, but devoid of idiomatic sayings, literally translating proverbs that are meaningless in English, sounding stunted and not particularly eloquent, etc. It's essentially calling the Czech language an unrefined language, and then translating that word-by-word thus making it even less refined in English.
    – Flater
    Nov 30, 2017 at 16:54
  • That fits the context better, doesn't it. Nov 30, 2017 at 17:00
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    I'm not sure for what did I deserve the downvote. Can I improve the question? Nov 30, 2017 at 17:19

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I don't think it's a Czech-specific quip, actually.

I believe the idea is that the lines are crude and not very intelligently written, as if someone were translating actual decent dialogue from a language they have poor command of, making the translation very rudimentary and child-like. Or possibly, if there was not a robust movie industry in that nation in the early 1980s, the quality of the output was considered pretty poor. Or some combination of the two.

So, languages that were pretty common in the "western" and US part of the world would not work, even if the country was not really familiar (where the language was Spanish, French, German or Italian) or if there were not examples of any movies from a country. Portuguese? Maybe, but a Slavic or Balkan nation or language would be ideal for that line. Probably not Poland, because there was already a Polish stereotype about intelligence that was commonly used in jokes, so there might be some confusion about intent.

"Czech" was merely chosen because it's a country an English speaking audience would be aware of, but there would be almost no movies, as of that time, that anyone could reference, making it an obscure scenario.

They could have easily used Romania, Bulgaria, but could not use Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, etc (nations that were, at that time, considered part of the USSR).

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