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.