Friday, August 07, 2009

Lost Golf Balls Is a Pretty Boy

Google's translation tools are great for getting a rough idea of what a foreign phrase means or conveying the gist of the text from a page on a foreign website. But if you have any familiarity with the foreign language you are using it to translate to or from, you often notice errors that creep in--particularly errors involving "over literal" translation.

There's a new website that has some fun with the phenomenon. It's called Translation Party and the idea behind it is to take a phrase you type in English, translate it to Japanese using the Google tools, translate back to English and so on and so on, stopping only when the translation achieves "equilibrium."

The definition of equilibrium in this context is that the English and Japanese translations are exactly reflexive. I.e., they always translate back to the same words when taken on a round trip through the other language.

Can you think of some phrases to type in that might really wreak havoc? I can: Chanderlisms.

Here are a few that I tried on Translation Party:

"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket."

Which only achieves equilibrium as:

"I was in her hip pocket, I could feel his smile."


"You boys are as cute as a couple of lost golf balls."

Which you may or may not recognize as:

"Couple, lost golf balls is a pretty boy."

Sounding something like a parrot might say. Then there's:

"A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window."

which turns into:

Kick a hole in the stained-glass window of the bishop as a blonde."

Finally, this phrase is particularly challenging:

"He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food."

It never reaches equilibrium! Each translation back is different than the one before, no matter how many round trips you take.

I figure only Raymond Chandler could manage that...


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