GOOGLE TRANSLATION: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

An old story that circulates wherever translators gather goes like this.

A Mexican who knew a little English owned a bar in a pueblo near the border. As a rainstorm was approaching, a gringo tourist hustled into the bar. The barkeeper was happy because he knew just what to say.

“Between! Between!” he shouted enthusiastically. “Drink a chair! Here comes the water zero!”  (“Entre! Entre! Tome una silla. Ahi viene el aguacero!”)

Once in awhile, a person will ask me for a word-for-word translation. There may be such a thing, as the hapless barkeeper demonstrated, but the results are often not conducive to effective communication. “Just tell me what it SAYS,” shouts an exasperated client as I try to explain a complex and ambiguous passage.

A translator’s work is to get meaning from the source language and convey the same meaning in a different language. Often, the distance is not great between the words of one language and another language, but sometimes the search for meaning leads to something that is quite different from the source.

Use online translators and bilingual dictionaries with caution, and preferably with adult supervision–someone with enough knowledge of source and target languages to warn you of snafus like these:

  • “Enchufe de los Muebles del Hotel” (Hotel Furniture Outlet)
  • “Meat in your juice” (Carnes en su jugo)
  • “Foot of Lemon” (Pie de Limon)
  • “Hecho en Pavo” (Made in Turkey)
  • “Fresh picture” (Pintura fresca)
  • “Hierro chulo” (Cool iron)
  • “Pope with spicy Mexican sausage” (Papa con chorizo)
  • “To Rome” (aroma)

And from the Chinese translators

  • “Chicken rude and unreasonable” (Jerk chicken)
  • “I can’t find on google but it’s delicious” (Menu item in Chinese)

*“WITHOUT TAILS” (SIN COLAS)

††

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