Quirky Turkey

Linguistic Idiosyncrasies – Signs, Labels and Menus That Don’t Necessarily Help

Photographs by Mike Vickers

Feature photo above: Beloved brand Marks and Spencer’s illegitimate Turkish cousin.

Although Turkish is a venerable language, first appearing around the 11th century, its current form is surprisingly modern, only dating back to 1928, when Ataturk ordered the change from traditional Ottoman Turkish script to Roman letters. It’s not an easy language to learn, but at least now most of the letters are recognizable – I really feel sorry for my nephew who now lives in South Korea and is trying to learn a pictographic alphabet!

There are 29 letters in the Turkish alphabet, with no ‘q’, ‘w’ or ‘x’, so the Turkish for ‘X-ray’ is Röntgen, named after the pioneering German scientist who was rather surprised to be the first person to see his own bones while they were still intact and residing comfortably inside his body.

The written errors and idiosyncrasies between English and Turkish are frequent and often entertaining. I’d like to point out that I’m certainly not denigrating any Turk who has made the considerable effort to learn even a few words of English, a notoriously difficult language with hundreds of irregular verbs and a real struggle for many to successfully master. For example, try explaining sentences such as these:

‘Hold on, Captain Holder, you’re telling me that even though both holds were holed below the waterline by a wholly huge rock, half the hold still holds whole sole and the other half hold still holds whole haddock!’


‘Do you want me to repeat that?’

‘Yes please.’

Or one of my favourites, the head-scratching:

‘I thought it was tough drive from Loughborough to Slough, although the thoroughfare did pass through the thoroughly lovely borough of Woughton.’

Yeah, see what I mean!

I fear matters have continued to deteriorate now that smartphones are auto-correcting incorrectly on so many occasions. Actually, that’s not the problem, the problem is that people are either too lazy to check or too illiterate to recognize their mistakes. For instance, can anyone point out the errors in this advertisement: Wanted, labrador, for pushing wheel barrow and genital building duties. In addition, the proliferation of speed texting continues to make so many peeps dum thru losng unecs vowls frm xcesiv txtng!

My own Turkish remains, how can I put it – painfully rudimentary, and after many years experience here, I can still only manage a few simple sentences. On the other hand, Jan’s skills are far in advance of mine and her written Turkish is very good indeed. In my defence, linguistic incompetence does seem to run in our family. My sister, who lived here for a good few years, once ordered a baked estate agent for her dessert, confusing emlak with elma, the Turkish word for apple.

Technically, English is an Indo-European language with a common Latin root shared with Romanian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. Turkish, however, is an Altaic language from Eastern Asia, so there are almost no points of commonality. This can often result in raised eyebrows, quizzical smiles, a friendly shrug of the shoulders and an unspoken understanding that it’s unlikely you actually want to roast your shoes in garlic sauce. However, although the spelling may be wayward and the grammar a little stuttering, the intent of Turkish signs is almost always made clear – and that’s the most important thing, don’t you think?

With that in mind, here’s a few examples of some lovely linguistic hiccups, deceits, cross-overs and mysteries that I’ve seen over the years.

Why take a couple of pills when you can spray on your favourite analgesic. It can even clean the sink.
It’s worth ordering just to see what arrives. My money’s on liver, but you never know, could be a diver!
You’ll find a branch of Primarc in this local Shoping Enter.
The world-famous top London store has a little known subsidiary here in Turkey, where you can buy clothes and also, judging by the spelling, something to keep your milk cool.
Seen outside a men’s toilet. For some it is indeed a slippery slope. So it proved to be for luxuriantly moustachioed Peter Wyngarde, one of the 70s top TV actors. Us oldies remember it well, but for those of you who are younger, check out what happened the internet. Oh dear.
What the seal said when it saw the shark!
And while we’re on the subject of fruity language, I was intrigued by this combination of signs. Prostitution is legal in Turkey and I’ve been assured there are brothels in most towns, but was this an unfortunate coincidence or a hidden message? We’ll never know.
There’s nothing worse than crumbly nyakers. Seen in IKEA in Antalya. So, it’s not just the Turks…
Don’t ask me what a Hair Roester is because I don’t know.
Baby wipes. Honestly!
It looks like Lidl, but it’s not. This is local store Idli. You see many examples of this kind of linguistic trickery in the tourist areas around Fethiye…
… like at this bar. Guinness is a unique word and difficult to manipulate, but hats off to this bar and their commendable effort to do so.
We saw this poster slapped on an electrical panel whilst waiting at the traffic lights. Take a close look and you’ll see some slightly disconcerting imagery. Think ABC’s hit: Shoot that poison arrow through my hear-ar-ar-eart!!!
Jan bought some comfy anatomic footwear in Kaş, but a fold in the carrier bag revealed these were possibly much more than just normal sandals. Expect to see her win the 100 metres at the next Olympics wearing these glow-in-the-dark beauties!
Another wonderful menu.
We bought this doorstop in Fethiye market. Anyone who’s watched Game of Thrones will understand.
Another one where I’m at a complete loss to explain, but I think the cat’s grooming herself so she can look her best when the hunky coastguards come to rescue her.
We’ll never know
…but we do understand this one. Ask for two-eyed eggs and that’s what will turn up on your plate.
You have to ask the question, is this actually about your possessions or do people fall overboard so regularly that the captain has to put up a disclaimer notice? If so, why have you chosen to be on his boat?
Ah, now that’s unfortunate!
So’s this.
Sometimes, honesty is the best policy. We came across this cheerful admission at the entrance to Ephesus.
Finally, a cracker on which to finish. I love this one. Check out the illuminated sign above the door. There’s an ‘I’ missing, somewhat ironic as this is an opticians.