Posts tagged ‘translation’

Let Me Translate For You

As any student of algebra will tell you, sometimes translating words to equations is harder than the actual math. For instance, the following limerick looks like a real bear:

A dozen, a gross, and a score,
Plus three times the square root of four,
Divided by seven,
Plus five times eleven,
Equals nine squared and not a bit more.

It’s a mouthful to read, but once you translate it to the equation below, you recognize that it is perfectly true.

Poem Equation

This poem was written by Leigh Mercer, a panhandling palindromist who earned money by drawing sidewalk caricatures. He is also the one who gave us the famous palidrome, “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama!” Although the poem above is often attributed to math textbook author John Saxon, it originally appeared in Games Magazine long before Saxon ever put it in a textbook. 

What can be more difficult than translating language to an equation is doing the opposite — taking an equation and figuring out the text from which it was derived. For instance, the equation 21x = 63 could correspond to the problem, “Walter Melon has 21 bags, each with the same number of apples, and all together he has 63 apples. How many apples are in each bag?” Or, it could correspond to, “How many dice do you have if there are a total of 63 pips?”

The following are some equations that were generated from quotations by famous people. Can you determine the original quotes and identify the authors?

  1. Humor = Tragedy + Time
  2. Success = Work + Play + Keeping Your Mouth Shut
  3. Necessities ≠ Wants
  4. lim (time → infinity) Lovetake = Lovemake
  5. Hesitation / Risk = Age
  6. Man = What He Has Done + What He Can Do + 0
  7. Results ∝ Effort
  8. Action = –Reaction
  9. Goals – Doubts = Reality
  10. Vlife ∝ Courage
  11. History = Σ(Things That Could Have Been Avoided)

 Original Quotes

  1. “Humor is tragedy plus time.”  – Mark Twain
  2. “If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein
  3. “Our necessities never equal our wants.” – Benjamin Franklin
  4. “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – Paul McCartney
  5. “Hesitation increases in relation to risk in equal proportion to age.” – Ernest Hemingway
  6. “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do — nothing else.” – John Galsworthy
  7. “The results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply.” – Denis Waitley
  8. “Action and reaction are equal and opposite.” – Gertrude Stein
  9. “Your goals, minus your doubts, equal your reality.” – Ralph Marston
  10. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
  11. “History is the sum total of all things that could have been avoided.” – Konrad Adenauer

May 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm 3 comments

Lost in Translation

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

December 11, 2010 at 12:15 am 1 comment

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.

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