Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lost in translation

I don’t know if you aware but in Wales all signage has to be in both English and Welsh. One local council needed a road sign which stopped truck drivers from using certain route to a supermarket. They sent an email to the translation department and when they received a reply they used the Welsh wording on the sign..

The English is clear enough to lorry drivers. Unfortunately the Welsh reads 'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated'
Do you ever use an on-line translator? I do occasionally, but beware because what comes out isn’t necessarily what you put in!
This is an interesting exercise. Type in a line or two of text then request a translation. Then translate the result back into English.
For instance I took the first two lines of William Wordsworth's beautiful Daffodils poem and typed them into the Babel fish translator and this is what happened
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills
Translated to French it becomes
J'ai erré seul comme nuage
Ce flotte sur de hautes vallées et collines d'o'er
Then if you translate the French back to English you get
I wandered only like cloud
This fleet on high valleys and hills of o' er

That’s pretty close but if you then translate the result into German and back, it becomes
I walked only like cloud this fleet
on high valleys and hills from o äh,
Then translate the ‘new’ English version into Italian and back you get
I have only walked like cloud
this fleet on the high valleys and hills from the äh .
Portuguese and back ends up.
I only walked I eat the cloud this fleet
in I am valid and high mounts of äh
Put that through Spanish and back to English and it becomes
I crossed only I eat the cloud
this fleet inside that I am valid and high mounts of äh

When overseas it’s quite common to come across signs which are unintentionally amusing.
This is an extract from a restaurant menu in Poland. 'Salad a firm's own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion.'
And in Thailand: an advert for donkey rides asked 'Would you like to ride on your own ass?'
How about this one from the window of a Swedish furrier: 'Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.'
And finally this sign in a Tokyo bar 'Special cocktails for ladies with nuts.'


  1. I'm still giggling - Wordsworth has more to answer for than even I realised! Plus you've answered my wondering about trying out Babel Fish etc, etc. Obviously not worth the effort. Thanks for this brilliant post. x

  2. there are several sites that publish just such inconsistencies,, and i for one love to keep them in my reader for a good laugh now and then.. the best seem to be the oriental translations..

  3. Keith I love this! I am still laughing.

  4. Very funny and true. I was in Thailand watching a movie with English subtitles. In a very dramatic moment the lead character bursts into the room and says "I am come!!!!" I was the only one in the theater laughing hysterically.

  5. LOL! Your post made me laugh out loud. Thanks so much for sharing this post. *still smiling* :~)

  6. B's friend had the job in Swansea of dealing with street signs for the Council. Her spelling was atrocious and the case that you quote could well be a typical example! She is now teaching in Australia so - what hope for the Aussies?

  7. This was fun.
    I've kept it simple in case you translate it back and forth :-)

  8. hehe this made me laugh too. It is interesting the results you get in those translation tools, I used to have a lot of fun with it when I was younger. Great take on the prompt :)

  9. I just loved this blog! I never thought of translating a translation! Obviously we're all still living in the Tower f Babel!!!

  10. Laughing. There's a tag inside my washer that insists I wash gasoline soaked articles in the machine or I'll be injured. Another reason I don't trust translations -ever. Love this post - it's a big giggle.

  11. haha This is so so funny Keith!
    Things Do get lost in translation, but never your posts, they are the best find!

  12. This was certainly a feast of good laughs! As a translator, however, I will guarantee, seriously, that something is always lost in the translation.

  13. Jeannette St.G.1 Mar 2009, 09:21:00

    this is really funny - but those poor people who are making use of the translator - they probably laugh at us LOL or think, those strange people!
    When living in Germany, I made the mistake to say,"there are pretty buttons on the trees," because I mixed up the word for buds with buttons - I didn't hear the end of it for a looong time :)
    glad I found you

  14. i think you gave me a tummy ache :)

    take a peek into mine at

  15. I just loved this post--I'm still laughing! I've always enjoyed intentionally "abusing" the language, but this unintentional misuse is hilarious. Great post!

  16. ok. I laughed out loud and had to call my whole family over to read the first one. Then they just stayed for the rest. Thanks. We all needed a good laugh.

  17. Keith,
    Love the new look! Lost in translation makes for great humor. My favorite was the riding on your own ass!

  18. That's hilarious. I'm going to try it with something.

    We get lots of signs around here stating lack of something or other at a store or gas station, followed by "Sorry for the inconvenience." About 50% of the time the sign will read "Sorry for the incontinence." I'll bet.

    When we were in Colorado in 1999, we stayed at a ski lodge in some small little town that was actually about an hour from any place of skiing. The Mountain Man returned from fetching the bags to find me on the rolling on the floor after I discovered this sign in the bathroom.

    "Please do not flush diapers or sanity napkins."

  19. I have actually been to Tokyo and have found That very sign.........
    me finks two many wines on this fine evening my friend as i did on that fine night........... I remember her sitting there all dressed in her fine clothes her thighs glistening in the moonlight......her panties........errr
    hang on......who spiked me drink?

  20. What a wonderful posting lol. How the heck did you get your signature at the end?



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