Friday, January 13, 2012

Cheap Thrills: the free edition


How it started was with Ben telling me that you could actually listen to different languages being spoken on Google Translate. He’s working on a school report about Russian immigrants, which delights me no end, given that my grandmother was one.

First we simply listened to the voice on the site saying “borscht” (which sounds deliciously like “boordsht” in Russian and, in English, uptightly like “bo-arsht”). Then we listened to some other Russian basics: hello, good-bye, thank you, the pierogi are a little dry, that kind of thing.

Then Ben, recalling one of my gorier Youth Humiliation Stories, said, “Let’s type in What? Still no bosoms?” This is what my grandmother announced throughout my teenagerhood, upon my weekly arrival at her apartment. It was accompanied by the rubbing of her gnarled Russian hand over my miserable flat chest. We typed it in. “Oh,” I said, disappointed. “I can see the problem here. What I want is not the actual Russian, but for it to get translated into English with a heavy Russian accent. Vat? Steel no boozums?” But we settled for the actual Russian of that delightfully shaming line, along with her other: Did you move your bowels?

Then Ben showed me a game he and Ava had been playing, where you translate a line from English through a series of other languages and then back to English. It’s like linguistic telephone, and it’s hilarious. Especially if you share a fifth- or sixth-grade sense of humor with your children.

Your stinky pants are on fire became, via Russian, Vietnamese, Latin, and Portuguese Fire some smelly.

The goat drowned in a vat of cheese sauce became, via a different series, And she drowned goat cheese in the lake here.

I can smell your crack from here became Please log in your odor.

If you need more of a reason reason to devote an hour of your life to this pastime, beyond lying on the carpet laughing, there is surely a lesson here about translation and the power of language, a lesson about the importance of understanding what you’re trying to say and to whom. I’m thinking of that ad campaign, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation," which became, in Taiwanese, "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead." Or that Parker Pen ad, where the slogan in English, about sparing yourself embarrassment, became, in Spanish, “It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Although, I’m pretty sure that stuff has leaked into my pocket and made me pregnant. I’m just saying.


  1. Hilarious! I'm off to try it right now with my daughter. :)

  2. dale in denver5:48 PM

    oh lord, i totally share your 5th - 6th grade sense of humor. i'm sure my 5th and 3rd grade boys (maybe even our kidergartener), as well as their dad will love this.

  3. Duuuude, awesome. It is wrong that my husband and I got more pleasure from this than the 8 year old?

    "You have the background that eats smelly mucus"

  4. Perfect post to start my Saturday with a laugh!!

  5. Anonymous9:20 AM

    I totally see a few glasses of wine and google translate in my Saturday night plans! I would share it with my kids, but I am afraid to let them see just how immature my sense of humor truly is...

  6. This sounds like a great snowy day game for my family. Thanks to you for for sharing it, and of course thanks to Ben and Ava. Kudoes to them for discovering it, which seems very mature even within its immaturity.

  7. It is so funny that you wrote about this now! We are adopting from Eastern Europe and a few nights ago I was getting a little wigged out that we are going to be in this foreign country and not know the language. And my very techy husband said, "oh, there's an app for that...". I thought at first he was kidding. But we downloaded it and started playing with it. But now we have a whole new use for it, too!

  8. That's so funny! My husband and I were debating how to pronounce the word "calk" the other night. I decided to find out for myself and googled it. The site I found had a very proper English man pronouncing all the words. It had us laughing for hours.

  9. Heather6:22 PM

    Okay, I have to apologize if this is too creepy-internet-stalkerish :) I so should be grabbing the moment to do something useful while my kids are occupied, but

    Type the following into the English box:

    this style, but. of beads. sam.

    here's what i got, which is... kind of... close:

    vот стиль, но. бус SAM.

  10. Heather6:24 PM

    eta, if you need to click on any Russian words to alter them into a variant translation, the English to type in is:

    vot stil' no bus sam


  11. Love it!! Now I know what we'll be doing later ; )

  12. I think this is even better than the email forward about funny auto-corrects.

  13. I'm an immigrant, who had to learn English at 8 years old. It took me one year to learn basic English, but 18 years to understand the humor!

    I used to translate everything for my parents and when I think back. it pretty much ended up being your experience on google! I don't what the people thought when they heard my translations!

  14. Oh the joy you can bring to a Sunday morning home with a sleeping feverish 9 year old. Once he awakes there will be joy in mudville! Thank you!! Oh and I have to share that my word verification is fartag which could would be a fantastic if disgusting game!

  15. Oh the pitfalls of translating. I remember when a simple Italian "Keep Off the Grass" sign was translated in the city of Florence into: Do Not Trample the Meadows. What I wouldn't give to trample the meadows.

  16. love it! although, I thought that when you typed into google 'what no bosoms' your name would appear :)

  17. Yelena5:56 PM

    I'm a Russian immigrant myself, and was also subjected to the bosom check by my grandmother! After more than 30 years in the U.S., my mother still "speeks Eenglish vhiz a Rashin aksent," which my kids find hilarious. She can't pronounce the long "ee" correctly, saying "ship" for "sheep." It makes for interesting reactions when she asks at the department store where to find the "bed shits!" :)

  18. Anonymous9:30 PM

    It's nice that there are other moms in the world who don't stick their noses up at this stuff. I mean, why should dads have all the fun? This gem will be tucked away for a day when Dad isn't home. Awesome.

  19. dale in denver12:08 AM

    I just made this: Roast Chicken with Ginger Vinaigrette. Words are totally inadequate to describe how wonderful it was. My kids, after only one taste, are now calling it, "The Sauce" - with head tilted, eyebrows raised, serious voice. In addition to the chicken, we put it on the steamed broccoli and our salad and all three of them were begging for leftovers in their lunchbox tomorrow. Next time? I'm roasting two chickens and doubling "the sauce" so my husband and I can take leftovers for lunch too.

  20. As a professional freelance translator, this geeks me out no end. In translation circles (yes, yes, they exist) there is much talk of how automatic translation apps will eventually make us redundant. Google trans (and Babelfish and all the others) are proof that that day is still (thankfully) a long way off! The problem with being a translator (and living in a place where there are different languages all over the place (south of France)) is that I find myself correcting signs, notices, menus, etc. pretty much constantly. And it drives my daughters mad!
    Thanks for this - I think my girls will find a new source of amusement in translations now!

  21. Can I just say how much I love you guys? Not just the immature-humor support, but also finding out that you are: adopting an easter-european child; from Russia; a professional translator; smart; hilarious.

    As Pundelina says, You have the background that eats smelly mucus.


  22. Love it. This is the kind of thing my husband and I (to say nothing of our 10-yo daughter) think is hilarious. My rainy day plans are all mapped out. :)

  23. On the same topic, you can check out this disastrous outcome of freebie online translation from Hebrew:

    ...and thank you for writing the blog! I'm an avid reader of yours who love you from afar :)