Lost in Translation

December 11, 2010 at 12:15 am 1 comment

Lots of things in life are non-commutative. For instance, getting dressed. You typically put on your underwear and then your pants; unless you’re my Alzheimer’s-afflicted neighbor, you likely wouldn’t do it the other way around.

Teacher: What’s 9 × 6?
Student: 54!
Teacher: Great! And what’s 6 × 9?
Student: 45!

As Chad Lower indicated in his comment to the recent post Qatar, Afar, translation devices are also non‑commutative. In the post, I gave the Arabic translation for “Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, 40 rials.” When the translated text is entered into an Arabic-English translator, the following is the result:

Mathematical Jokes Four Residents Mathe, SR 40

Of course, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks may be difficult to translate to any language. But similar results occur when more common idioms are double translated. For instance, when “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” was translated to Russian and then back to English, the result was:

Management around a similar chicken with its disconnected head

Although the result was reasonable — “running” was replaced by “management,” “like” was replaced by “similar,” and “cut off” was “disconnected” — the final product doesn’t make much sense.

In his 1993 book Comic Sections, author Desmond MacHale predicted this problem:

One of the problems that may face future generations of mathematicians is the task of translating languages using the computer. A good way of testing the efficiency of such programs is to take a given phrase; translate it into, say, Russian; translate it back again using the inverse program; and, compare the output with the original. Here are a few examples:

Out of sight, out of mind → blind lunatic

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak → The whiskey is okay but the meat is rotten

Seventeen years later, we can test Professor MacHale’s prognostication. Can you identify the common English idioms that gave the following results when double translated?

  • In desperate position
  • Do not awake valiantly while sleeps silently
  • The bird in a hand costs two bushes
  • Last, but not in the last instance
  • Six of a floor and a dozen from another
  • Behind of these eight spheres
  • After bitten, twice timid
  • The smaller of two harms
  • To feel similarly to one million dollars
  • Two pushes of a tail of the lamb
  • Two bricks, timid from a cargo
  • Decorated to ??????? (the translator actually gave a bunch of question marks, apparently unsure of how to deal with what had been entered)
  • Generally, if to reflect
  • First class
  • First class (yes, this is deliberate, because two different idioms gave the same result)

Hint: All but the first two idioms on the list above involve numbers.

The answers follow some spoiler space below.

 

Original Idiom Result of Translating from English to Russian then Back to English
Between a rock and a hard place In desperate position
Let sleeping dogs lie Do not awake valiantly while sleeps silently
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush The bird in a hand costs two bushes
Last but not least Last, but not in the last instance
Six of one and a half dozen of the other Six of a floor and a dozen from another
Behind the eight ball Behind of these eight spheres
Once bitten, twice shy After bitten, twice timid
The lesser of two evils The smaller of two harms
Feel like a million bucks To feel similarly to one million dollars
Two shakes of a lamb’s tail Two pushes of a tail of the lamb
Two bricks shy of a load Two bricks, timid from a cargo
Dressed to the nines Decorated to ???????
On second thought Generally, if to reflect
Second to none First class
First class First class

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

MJ4MF on Bookviews Breaking News

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Chad T. Lower  |  December 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    I love the example of things “not math” may not be commutative. When I teach this topic in my classroom, I use english phrases as well. For example, “dog house.” As a side note, I play the same game with the commutative property: “one night stand.”

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

Past Posts

December 2010
M T W T F S S
« Nov   Jan »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to the MJ4MF blog and receive new posts via email.

Join 246 other followers

Visitor Locations

free counters

%d bloggers like this: