You may already be familiar with Mark Twain’s dodge whereby he found a French translation of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and re-translated it back into English. It’s funny stuff, mainly insofar as it demonstrates how un-funny something can get when it is transposed into another language. In the introduction (which is the funniest part of the experiment), he writes,

[The French translator] says my jumping Frog is a funny story, but still he can’t see why it should ever really convulse any one with laughter–and straightway proceeds to translate it into French in order to prove to his nation that there is nothing so very extravagantly funny about it. Just there is where my complaint originates. He has not translated it at all; he has simply mixed it all up; it is no more like the jumping Frog when he gets through with it than I am like a meridian of longitude. But my mere assertion is not proof; wherefore I print the French version, that all may see that I do not speak falsely; furthermore, in order that even the unlettered may know my injury and give me their compassion, I have been at infinite pains and trouble to retranslate this French version back into English; and to tell the truth I have well-nigh worn myself out at it, having scarcely rested from my work during five days and nights. I cannot speak the French language, but I can translate very well, though not fast, I being self- educated.

You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined.

Now, thanks to Google Translate, you can translate and re-translate stories into any number of languages without knowing a single word of any language other than your own. And that’s exactly what we shall do for Audience Participation Friday this week: pick a favorite (and preferably well-known) passage from a book, type or cut and paste it into Google Translate, translate it into another language, then back again into English, and post the re-Englished result below. Also, tell us what language(s) you translated into and back out of.

I should warn you: Google Translate does a better job than you might think. I sent the first page of Moby Dick through the translator (that was for you, Sally and Becca), and it came back word-perfect. I’m thinking they might have certain well-known passages pre-loaded or something. Even the first page of Huckleberry Finn came back surprisingly clean.

The Charlatan’s Boy, however, seems not to have been pre-loaded. The first couple of paragraphs (plus the chapter title) look a little bedraggled after a trip to China and back. The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp becomes the Feechiefen swamp Savage, and poor Floyd becomes Freud:

Here, I jump out of the box and play the Feechiefen swamp Savage …
I do not remember a thing about the day I was born. Or lack of it has not been tried.I’ve tried to go back I can go hours, but I most remember, was the first truck ride back to Freud, looking at myself in the mirror.
I have met people who claim they know everything, their birthday, took place there, who with, what the occasion. But if you really press them on it, in fact they do not remember nothing about it than I do. They only know that someone told them.
I do not care who you are, when it comes to knowing where you come from, you have to take someone else’s word for it. This is a ticklish thing for me has always been. I only know one person who might be able to tell me where I come from, that person isa liar and a fraud.

  • Anonymous
    1:39 PM, 3 June 2011

    I used to make poetry using babelfish in  a very similar manner.  It’s a lot of fun.  🙂
    Here is a translative journey involving the first 23 paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice, or as I prefer to call it, Jane Austen Travels to Korea, Hungary, and Back Again:

    Fortunate to have a universal need for a wife, a man should be the words, does not alter the fact.  However, little may be known for his feelings and opinions of others, enter the first neighbors, the fact that he’s too good of a legitimate property or any other of their daughters is considered fixed in the minds of the surrounding families.   “Dear Mr Darling,” he grows “you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last I.”  Mr. Bennet replied that he did not.   “Yes,” he said, “his wife was only here for a long, and she told me everything. ”   Mr. Bennet could not answer.   “You do not want to know who did it?” Impatiently, his wife wept.
      “Are you telling me that there is no objection to the hearing.   But enough about the guest.”My dear, you know why the wife of the young men in northern England nedeopildeuneun great fortune to the kidnapping, he came off the bench on Monday was a four-digit number that Mr. Morris agreed that he liked, he would take before Michael, and some of his staff expected the house to the end of next week. ” “What’s his name?   “Bingri.   “The man is married and has one?   “Oh, no, dear, of course! One of the great man’s fortune, four of five thousand years. A very good thing for our girls!”   “So what?” They may be affected, how? ”   “Dear Mr Darling,” How can you be so tiresome? “His wife and children when he married his own, I think ought to know.”   “It is the intent to settle here?   “Design?” Come on, how to say! But much, falls in love with one of them is that you could come as soon as likely to visit him.   “I see the opportunity for him. You and your kids can go, or one of them, Mr. Bingley as well as you do the most handsome of the party, while probably still will be good or you can send it to themselves.”   “My dear, you flatter me. I’m definitely playing in the beauty, but I’m not suggesting that anything extraordinary now. Ttaldoemyeon a woman and five men, thinking they would abandon the beauty.   Such as “In this case, women are often not much beauty.”   “But, my dear, you really need to go, and come to town to see Miss Teo bingrireul.
      “Believe me, it is more about the commitment.

    • Anonymous
      3:51 PM, 3 June 2011

      It occurs to me that “Impatiently, his wife wept” is an excellent encapsulation of Mrs. Bennett’s character.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:16 PM, 3 June 2011

      Thanks, luaphacim. I have no objection to the hearing.

  • Drew
    1:51 PM, 3 June 2011

    Quite appropriately, yesterday someone pointed me to the classic “English as She is Spoke.”
    First the link:

    Now the introduction:

    “In 1855 a little book was published in Paris to little notice—a Portuguese/English phrase book. It was nearly thirty years before it was discovered to contain a rich deposit of pure hilarity. Briefly, Carolinho, who knew no English, had constructed it by taking a Portuguese/French phrasebook written by Da Fonseca and translating the French word for word into English using a dictionary. The result is a book written in a language no-one ever spoke or will ever speak, but which is a masterpiece of unintended humour.”


    Share and enjoy such wonderful phrases as “It is not the season yet; but here is some peaches what does ripen at the eye sight.”

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:25 PM, 3 June 2011

      Drew, that is one of the best things I have ever seen. Amazing! I would love to meet the man who thought it would be a good idea to write a phrase book for a language he could not speak. Such a man would be liable to do anything.

      • Drew
        8:51 PM, 3 June 2011

        He sounds like the perfect protagonist for a novel!

  • Drew
    2:04 PM, 3 June 2011

    I’ve translated this passage from The Yearling to a number of different languages and back again, and in most cases it almost makes it through relatively unscathed, either in spite of or because of the dialect (which the translation algorithm allows to pass through like an undigestible bolus). But here, to Chinese and back, results in some interesting twists, with Penny ultimately recommending some kind of Academy-approved medication for Jody’s heartache.
    “How do you seed Ø things in the world to ‘the people. you know the meaning of man is the low down. thy seed ol ‘ dead in his trick … since the ‘people to live a good thing, a simple. held Fine boy, a strong fine, but ’tain’t easy. life knocked down a man he knocked down a controlled-release tablets and it agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life … I would have wanted life You easily. Easier’n ‘For me, the Third World Academy of Sciences. a person’s heart aches, seein ‘ his young face the world standards. deeply know that they have let their guts torn out of Look, he was torn up. I want to spare you, as long as I can. I want you to frolic with you yearlin ‘. I am the lonely heart, he eased to you. but never’ lonely people. what, how he Do? what he was doing, he knocked down why the controlled release tablets, take him to share with others, continue.”

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:28 PM, 3 June 2011

      Wait a minute…the Third World Academy of Sciences prescribes controlled-release tablets as a treatment for heartache? I thought old George Jones songs were the only reliable cure. 

  • Dan Kulp
    3:16 PM, 3 June 2011

    Not a APF submission just a note here.  I am suddenly struck how “The Charlatan’s Boy” beginning  rings similar to GKC’s autobiography (which I’ve recently started) beginning.
    Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authorityand the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a storyI could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment,I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874,…
    ……whereas my birth (as I have said)is an incident which I accept, like some poor ignorant peasant,only because it has been handed down to me by oral tradition.

    Truly, it may be a common biography opening I haven’t read many.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:13 PM, 3 June 2011

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I shall have my attorneys contact GKC’s attorneys. 

      • Anonymous
        12:23 AM, 5 June 2011

        I imagine that GKC would have solicitors, not attorneys.  :-p

  • Patrick J. Moore
    3:53 PM, 3 June 2011

    Mistress Mary comes to England from India (Hindi):
    When Mary Lennox Misselthwaite Manor was sent to live with her uncle everybody said she was most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true. He is a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and had a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and his face was yellow because she had been born in India and always in one way or another is sick. His father held a position under the British government had always been busy and ill himself, and his mother is a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and entertain themselves with gay people was . He was not at all like a little girl, and when Mary was born tot he hand an ayah, who was made to understand that if he wanted to please the Mem Sahib child should keep out of sight as much on the care of eht her as possible.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:32 PM, 3 June 2011

      Wait a minute. Is Mary M. M. Manor a him or a her? 

      • Drew
        8:53 PM, 3 June 2011

        That’s the “Secret.”

  • Kristen
    4:10 PM, 3 June 2011

    Here is part of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy sent to the Basque region of Spain, and then Japan, and back to England:
    Whether you, to your question is that:
     Mind whether or not living ‘Tis the sublime
     Slings and arrows of outrageous fate
     Or take arms against a sea of ​​problems
     And until the end of an era? To die, to sleep
     More, we said at the end
     EA’s natural heart pain and one thousand
     ‘TIS the end of the: flesh is heir
     That hard. To die, to sleep.
     Might have a dream, to sleep – oh, there is friction:
     That sleep of death what dreams may come for
     When we shuffle off this mortal coil an a
     We do stop – a respect that
     Disaster is the life for so long.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:33 PM, 3 June 2011

      Kristen, this reminds me of the butchered-up soliloquy that the Duke (or was it the King?) delivered on the raft in Huckleberry Finn.

  • Drew
    9:36 PM, 3 June 2011

    Here are the final sentences (or sentence fragments) from The Great Gatsby, sent to Azerbaijan and back. I’ve tried sending this through various translations, and “orgastic” always makes it back alive. (Naturally, it being a non-word.) There was one language that translated it back as “orgasmic,” but I forget which one, and the rest wasn’t all that amusing anyway . . . but Azerbaijani drops in a strange phrase that doesn’t seem to appear in the English.
    In the same year by year recedes before us the green light Gatsby orgastic believe in the future. This eluded us then, but no one’s issue – we will work faster than stretch out our arms in the morning … A beautiful city –

    Thus, we beat it back ceaselessly into the last ships to carry the current.

    I cannot for the life of me figure out how “a beautiful city” got in there. It seems to translate “fine morning” into “beautiful city,” and then in the backwards translation, “tomorrow” becomes “in the morning.” So rather than have morning mentioned twice, “a beautiful city” appears as if out of nowhere.

    Japanese is pretty good, too.

    Gatsby is a year away before us, that year, in light green orgastic believed in the future. It can not escape our eyes it’s a problem – we have our arms from being extended further to run faster tomorrow … And one fine morning –

    So we beat, boats against the current borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    “It can not escape our eyes it’s a problem!”

  • EmmaJ
    10:39 PM, 3 June 2011

    I tried this in several languages, but Google’s attempt at supposedly translating to Korean and back to English again was the best by far.
    Leave it to Psmith

     Drooping like a wet sock a great
    library of Blandings open windows, siroseo he Earl of Emsworth, so amiable and
    boneheaded peer, looking out over his domain on the documentation to write his
    spine when his habits were not.

    It was a lovely morning, the soft summer air was fragrant
    with the scent. However, the depression of the manor look of pale blue eyes has
    occurred. His brow furrowed and his mouth was peevish. And this is all the more
    that he was in good health normally only available to men with hair as big
    income was more than I was happy. The authors describe the Blandings magazine
    article had said: ‘Little Moses grew up in the cavity of the stone, close to
    the present, the place seems to be a lot of plants and bushes.’ Was not a bad
    description of the owner. Calm and unruffled placidity 50 years, covered with
    moss, like the Lord Emsworth was given to the curious. Very few have had the
    power to disturb him. Even his young son, Michael. Freddie Threepwood only
    occasionally and could do it.

    for an excerpt from the original:

    • EmmaJ
      10:41 PM, 3 June 2011

      Hmmm… HTML formatting fail. Jonathan, I don’t think I can edit this or delete it. Would you mind fixing this for me? I really only meant for the book title to be bold + italics 🙂

    • EmmaJ
      10:43 PM, 3 June 2011

      Also just noticed the part about “Michael” at the end. Note: there is no one named Michael in this passage, or even in the whole book, as far as I remember.

  • Fellow Traveler
    1:31 AM, 4 June 2011

    Tolkien gets translated into Latin and back again:

    the pit from the Hobbit was left alone. Not a nasty, foul, wet hole,
    filled with the ends of worms and an odor of fat, nor a dry, on the bare
    sandy hollow in to nothing to eat or to sit there was a hole of the The
    Hobbit–that comfort.

    perfectly round porthole, painted green gate to allow the leg of the
    knob with the brass in the midst of the exact. They are opened to the
    door of a pipe tunnel to the palace in the unsightly as a man of very
    wise and comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls and tiled
    the floor of the carpeted, equipped that is polished lots lots of the
    chairs of The pins of the Hats and coats of – The
    Hobbit a lion of food. the tunnel, and went and the wound is not enough
    in a well side of the mountain – all the people of the hill about the
    many thousands, it is said – and very many of the doors out of it about
    the on this side, and the next. iliac there is no going to the The
    Hobbit: rooms and bathrooms, Joas, pantries (lots of these things)
    wardrobes (be
    set to obey the mansions of himself with all his raiment), kitchens,
    dining-room full of all the same the floor, and, indeed, from the same
    place. the best of all the rooms on the lefthand part of it (went in),
    for these alone have the power were set round windows looking over the
    gardens of the window at all any more the top of the meadows to the

    The same is become The Hobbit The Hobbit WELL-TO-DO, and his name was Baggins. Bagginses
    lived about the time of a hill of about the mind have I considered the
    most respectable men of the people, not only because most of them rich,
    but also because the case will never do anything or anything unexpected:
    you could tell what he would say in the Baggins to ask or any trouble
    to ask for. Explain how the Adventure, a story, having a Baggins and has been found, and which manifestly do an unexpected event. has he lost his neighbors, I have respect, without obtaining the – Well, you will see is innocent; at the end.


    I love the “lion of food!”

    • Fellow Traveler
      1:34 AM, 4 June 2011

      And the “wise and comfortable tunnel!”

    • livingoakheart
      3:23 PM, 6 June 2011

      Having memorized this passage, I find it ever-more humorous compared being with words in my head.(From French back to English)

  • Laura Peterson
    2:27 AM, 5 June 2011

    English to Latin and back:
    “Call me Ishmael. A few years ago – as long as he does not care at all – with a small, or where no price in a coffin, it makes no difference to the shore, especially in my own, I thought I would sail to the wet and see a little of the lands. There is a way I have a driving off the spleen and regulating power of a circular motion. As often as the grim wrath he did I find myself out of himself as often as the mouth of the wet, drizzly November in my soul, where did I find myself between them, a coffin of their own accord before the granary and of bringing up the rear all the funeral will speak, and especially whenever my get such a whether the hypothesis of the upper me, that requires the character of a strong moral do not let me into the public power industry , And the people methodically knocking Hats Off – then I think with high A time to get the cause of the sea at the same time.”

    Couldn’t resist. There were other translations that made a little more narrative sense, but I had to post this one for my favorite part: “I thought I would sail to the wet and see a little of the lands.” Also the sudden appearance of the “public power industry.”

    This was fun!

  • livingoakheart
    3:28 PM, 6 June 2011

    I know it’s late, but there was no MacDonald. From English to Afrikaans to Czech and back.
    Old Ralph Rinkelmann his living comic sketches, and all but lost it again by tragic poems. So he was the only man to be elected king of the fairies in Fairyland sovereignty is optional.   It is certainly very strange that the fairies should be a man, the king wants, but the fact is that I have all the knowledge and power, can not help feeling that some people are taller than they are when they can not fly or play tricks. So sometimes, as happened to twice the normal number of rational voters chose a man like Ralph Rinkelmann.

    From The Shadows, G MacDonald

    • livingoakheart
      4:05 AM, 7 June 2011

      The most humorous results seem to consistently come from a combination of Japanese and Afrikaans.

  • Becca
    12:20 AM, 7 June 2011

    Hilarious idea, JR. Welcome to Dr. Seuss and his pale green pants. Driven through Hindi to Afrikaans to Chinese and back.

    Ah. . . 
       I walk at night I do not see any terrible. I have never been afraid of Nothing. Not so. 
    I was deep in the jungle Then, I engaged in espionage activities. I have a pair of gray-green pants Ah with them! 
    I’m afraid. But so far, I stopped What are pants? What is the pants in the evening can Can tolerate in the air? 
    Then they go? These empty pants! They kind of jump started. Then my heart, I must admit, This begun. 
    I got out. I soon came out When I go, sir can. I’m afraid. However, this pants I do not care. No, sir. 
    After a week passed. Then a grin – the night itching (I work And some laughs – get itchy parent )…… 
    Ah, I made a spinach. I started to go back through the city When taking a corner pants And almost hit me! 
    I chuckled – itching for Lost But I do not care. I ran home! Believe me, In fact, I have a scary! 
    Now, the cycle never “Pale green pants to ride; Especially in light green pants scary No one with them!

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