Fortunately not

A Facebook friend posted some stunning photos of herself and friends hiking in Jirisan National Park. Facebook’s auto-translation of the post included the rather worrying “Cancer is not an option to postpone”. Reading the Korean original and some research allayed my concerns, fortunately. The Korean original is 사성암은 미룰 수 없어요. I know that 암 is used in the names of usually smaller Buddhist monastic establishments, usually translated as hermitage, by far the most famous being 석굴암, Seokguram. But 암 by itself doesn’t mean hermitage any more than 사 by itself means temple

So how did the translator get to cancer? The Korean word for cancer is 암, which I previously didn’t know because it’s not included in Korean for beginners or travellers books. The translator encountered a word it didn’t recognise and instead of simply transliterating it (which it did with several other proper nouns in the post), it guessed that the 암 on the end was the relevant part of the word.

Online translators don’t do much better. Google and Bing offer Sandstone cannot/can’t be postponed and Papago (which I have found to be the more accurate overall) the meaningless I can’t delay tetragonal cancer. But sandstone is 사암; 사성암, if it means anything at all, is four star cancer, compare 삼성, three stars. Even though it was the worst translation overall, Papago at least attempted to translate the whole of 사성암. [PS the next day: I commented on my friend’s post and she replied that 사성암 is ‘four saints hermitage’.]

The bigger issues here are how translators deal with proper nouns, and how they recognise that they are proper nouns. Do they transliterate them (eg 경복궁 as Gyeongbokgung) or (attempt to) translate them (eg as Brilliant Fortune Palace or Greatly Blessed by Heaven Palace, just the first two meanings I found)? I suspect that the more famous a place is, the more it is transliterated rather than translated. (There is a map of world countries giving the literal meaning of their name. I am typing this in Southern Land.)

A related issue is the use of common nouns as names. Two Korean-Australian friends named their first daughter 사랑, so once a year I see photos of “Love’s birthday party”. A Korean friend and his wife named their son 우주, so one post included the startling “I put the universe in the car”. 


Autotranslate again

A Korean friend posted on Facebook and its autotranslate gave:

I burned the kids and drove the car to the beach nearby.

Fear not. The Korean original was:

나는 아이들을 태우고 가까운 바닷가로 차를 몰았다.

Google Translate helpfully gave:

I took the kids and drove to a nearby beach.

태우다 (which word I didn’t previously know) means pick up, carry, take and set on fire, burn. In the context of food, both are possible, but in the context of children, surely not (99.9999% of the time, at least).

Behind every (great/successful) quotation is a mis-attribution

A Facebook friend shared the following:

Winston Churchill loved paraprosdokians, figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
6. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
7. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.
8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
9. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out, I just wanted pay checks.
10. In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put “DOCTOR.”
11. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
12. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street…with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
13. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.
14. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
15. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
16. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
17. There’s a fine line between cuddling and…holding someone down so they can’t get away.
18. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
19. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
20. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
21. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
22. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
23. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
24. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but now it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one.

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smucky translators

A Facebook friend wrote

얀센 백신 접종 3일 차! 
주사 맞는 순간 조금 뻐근한거 말곤 일정들도 다 소화하고 아주 무탈하다. 감사할 일~

Facebook’s autotranslator provided:

Yansen vaccine Graded work car!
The moment when the injection is a bit of a bit of a bit of a bit of a bit of a bit of a bit of Something to be thankful for ~

Bing got closer:

Janssen vaccination day 3! 
The moment you get the shot, you’re a little bit smucky, and you’re digesting all the schedules and it’s very, very hearty. What to thank…

I would question why it has smucky in its dictionary. Apparently it means sweaty and yucky (Urban Dictionary and azdictionary, which also seems to be a user-contributed dictionary), but wouldn’t that be swucky? (Pages for Mac autocorrected it to sucky, which doesn’t help.) 

Papago (associated with Naver) has: 

Jansen’s third day of vaccination!
Aside from being a little stiff at the moment of the injection, I digest all the schedules and feel very free. Something to be thankful for~

Between them, I get the idea, but they’ve obviously all got problems, which I’m not going to get to the bottom of at 10 pm on a public holiday Monday before going back to work tomorrow. I have no idea where to start with all of that. I might start using Papago more often, though.

(By the way, Jans(s)en is Johnson & Johnson. The closest transliteration to my pronunciation is 전슨.)

PS I have no idea how autotranslators work or how to improve them.

PPS Smucky may become my all-purpose insulting adjective, alongside the nouns smuck or smuckiness and the verb smuck. (Smuck you, you smucky/smucking piece of smuck!)


I don’t know whether Facebook simply decided to show me a post of ‘Words you can’t stand’ on some language-related Facebook page, or whether a friend commented on it, but I spent a few minutes scrolling through people’s discussions of the usual suspects.

One person said something like: “Any word with TARD in it, because you really mean the r-word”. 

I immediately thought of custard and mustard, and also bastard (which some people might take offence at, for other reasons) and bustard (which is close enough to be possibly questionable). 

The Free Dictionary has come to my aid with a list of words containing -tard, including, in their various forms:

tardy, dotard, petard, retard as a verb and noun and retarded as an adjective, costard, dastard, leotard and unitard, stardom, stardust, tardigrade and ritardando

Of these, the only objectionable word is retard as a noun, which is of course what the original commenter really meant, no doubt thinking about words like (you know which words I’m going to say after the break)

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I am trying to sell some old furniture through a ‘Buy, Sell, Swap’ group on Facebook. Someone in the group has advertised “furnitures” for sale. In current-day standard English, this is a plain mistake, but it may gain some usage under the influence of second-language learners and speakers. It makes sense, and there’s no doubt what people mean when they say or write it.

The more I investigated, the murkier it got. There’s a group of uncountable nouns which represent a collection of items, or more accurately there’s two groups of uncountable nouns which represent a collection of items. A flock of sheep consists of sheep (rams, ewes and lambs, a limited list), but furniture consists of tables, chairs, couches etc (a potentially unlimited list). Google Ngrams shows that a furniture appears overwhelmingly as a noun modifier of store, factory, manufacturer etc (and that its usage skyrocketed before 1890 and 1910, so I don’t know what people called it before then) and that furnitures is used just often enough for it may not to be a plain mistake. Among other things, it is used with the verbs are and were. Two of the most common collocations are furnitures thereunto and furnitures whatsoever, which suggests that it has a legal usage. Continue reading

Never said before

A sentence never said or written in the history of English. The husband of a former colleague posted on Facebook rhapsodically describing their young daughter. He concludes:

Her laugh is constant and sounds like a million angels tinkling in a pond of liquid happiness.

Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata

Various articles (for example) have been written as to why the name Benedict Cumberbatch can survive being transformed into Bandersnatch Cummerbund, Bandycoot Cumbersnatch, Bendandsnap Candycrush and more.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a link to a series of photos rendering famous actors’ names into (supposed) Italian, sometimes based on sound and sometimes on meaning (which I didn’t bookmark, so I can’t link to. Seek and you will find). Among them is Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata. Say what? Google Translate doesn’t recognise Ingombranteinfornata, instead suggesting Ingombrante infornata, which it translates as bulky goods. Ingombrante by itself is cumbersome and infornata is batch. Continue reading