Gained in Translation

by Kieran Healy on March 1, 2010

Brad DeLong:

DragonDictate for iPhone had better learn not to write “Martian” when I say “Marshallian”. Just saying.

It’s not often you see a case where the jokes literally write themselves.



Brad DeLong 03.02.10 at 1:49 am

It’s satisfying that nobody dares to comment…


zebbidie 03.02.10 at 9:59 am

i can’t comment I’m afraid of the Martians.


a.y. mous 03.02.10 at 11:55 am

Brother, you asked for it.

“Brad DeLong has got the hots for Marshallian demand function but Marshallian should get autocorrected to Walrasian.”

turns, via Microsoft Word 2007, UK English, into

“Brad Delong has got the hoots for marshaling demand function but marshaling should get autocorrected to abrasion.”

which becomes

“Brad Belong has got the hoots for marshaling demand function but marshaling gets autocorrelated to abrasion.” via the web browser’s built in dictionary.

Pretty much on the mark, innit?


r gould-saltman 03.02.10 at 9:33 pm

. . . and with a quick trip into and back out of German via Babelfish,

“Brad belong have the Gejohlen for arranging demand curve, but arranging keeps self one on the other referred with wear”.


Henry (not the famous one) 03.03.10 at 1:54 am

I’d offer a different exercise: English that sounds as if it had been translated from the German, even though it was written by a monolingual English speaker. The classic example is a headline from the Daily Worker sometime in the 1930s that Al Richmond mentions in his memoirs: “What means the strike in steel?”

I see a lot of this in the writing of my fellow lawyers. Orwell could have explained it once he stopped sputtering.


ajay 03.03.10 at 10:49 am

5: or translated from the Russian or Chinese, as in the case of a lot of Anglophone Communist rhetoric (running dogs, right-deviationists, etc.)


yabonn 03.04.10 at 9:37 am

In other fun with translation news : it seems that the Millenium series, translated into USAian, are about the nanny state. n+1 comes to that conclusion, Wonders at the Difference, points, giggles :

Only loosely related, I know, but c’mon.


Jamey 03.08.10 at 1:58 am

As an amateur comedian, I find this extremely threatening. The great fear of your average working man is that he will be replaced by technology and thus no longer be needed (and thus, no longer paid).

But it’s the comedians who should be afraid. Imagination is no longer required to generate amusing mistakes. Machines will do that for us. (On the down side, when machines get things wrong, their mistakes, if mistakes are the right word, are just as likely to be threatening as amusing.)

But seriously, I jest. Humans are sensitive to context, and there is no such thing as context free rules. And sensitivity to context, and the inadequacy of rules to capture them, is the essence of humor. Kafka should not be funny. But he is.

Ok, back to jesting, I work for a government agency. Spell check once suggested that in my letter I tell someone that I was going to schedule them an ideological exam, rather than an audiological one. Ouch. If I were a supervisor, I would hate to be in the position of having to explain to someone that we weren’t prejudiced against them politically, but it’s only because we didn’t care about them, we viewed them as a file number, not a person. The fact that you are a number, not an individual, actually works to your favor in bureaucratic contexts. Most of the time.

In the past, the cry of the humanist was “I’m a man, not an animal”. In the future, the cry of the humanist will be “I’m an animal, not a machine.”

Sorry, I’m rambling but I’ve had a few man v. machine rants that I’ve had stored up to unload. Another check mark in the machine column. Machines feel no need to rant.


Substance McGravitas 03.08.10 at 3:22 am

Machines feel no need to rant.

Good news everyone! You can program them to rant.

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