Lost in translation

Don’t use Google translate for your foreign language homework. Period. Sure, if you’re just looking for the general idea of a passage of foreign language text, this tool is nifty. However, translation is one area where it is best not to succumb to our robot overlords.

Translation technology has yet to surpass the skills of actual human translators with their years of study of grammar and syntax and how one language’s idioms translate into another’s.

Case in point: This video from CDZA takes the text from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s theme song and runs it through all languages on Google translate and then back into English. Hilarity ensues.

 

 

Still, it’s amazing that we have come as far as we have with computer translations. Here is a video by Google that explains how its translation program works.

 

If all else fails, you can fake your way through translation like British comedian Catherine Tate does in this video.

Or maybe not.

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AP vs. Chicago

The Onion posted a funny (well, funny to me) article yesterday about copy editing:

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

NEWS IN BRIEF • News Media • News • ISSUE 49•01 • Jan 7, 2013
  • NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbookgang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This is obvious hyperbole about a real note of contention among punctuation slingers.

There are notable differences between these two styles. For starters, Associated Press style is aimed at newspapers. It’s founded on the idea that people must write briefly so as much information as possible can fit onto pages. Thus, only numbers one through ten are written out (numerals are used for higher numbers), state names use the postal code, and the Oxford (or serial) comma is nowhere to be found.

Chicago is focused on other publications, such as books. Space limits are not a focus, so numbers through one hundred are spelled out, state names are spelled out, and my beloved Oxford comma retains its prideful position.

Are you interested in learning more about the differences between these two styles? Here’s a link to AP vs. Chicago, a blog about the subject.

Erbs and herbs

British people call those green things you keep in your spice rack herbs, pronouncing the H. Here in America, We call ‘em erbs, without the H sound. Is one way more correct than the other? Well, no. Different pronunciations happen within different dialects of one language. But, how we got to our different pronunciations is pretty interesting.

The word herb began being used in the 1300s. It came from the Old French word erbe, which came from the Latin word, herba. When herb came into being, Latin had lost its H sound, and it also was not pronounced in French. So, originally, herb didn’t have the H sound. (Point one, Americans.)

Move ahead to the nineteenth century. Britons decided to go with a technique called “spelling pronunciation,” which means they pronounce the H in herbs because, as Eddie Izzard explains, “there’s a fucking H in it.” (Point one, Brits.)

According to The American Heritage Dictionary’s usage note on herb, this means British people also pronounce these related words with an H: herbaceous, herbal, herbicide, and herbivore. However, this is not the same for Americans. We pronounce herb and herbal without the H sound; but, we pronounce herbaceous, herbicide, and herbivore with the H. Even stranger, we pronounce the male name Herb with the H.

So, if we were to pronounce herb as history had it originally, the American pronunciation would be on target. Yet, at least the British people are consistent with their hard H pronunciations. Bully for them.

Severe weather etymology

I have previously written about the etymology of tsunami. Today we are delving into the history of words for other serious weather systems.

Note: I received all my information from the Online Etymology Dictionary—an amazing, exhaustive resource that I strongly encourage you to check out.

blizzard
The first citation of blizzard comes from 1859, though it gained popularity after a particularly hard winter in the United States during 1880. It is believed that the word is onomatopœic. In addition, in the 1770s, American English used the word blizz to mean a “violent rainstorm.” It came to be used to mean a winter storm thanks to people in the Upper Midwest of the United States.

hurricane
Hurricane entered the English language in the 1550s from the Spanish word huracan. However, it took time (as is usual) for the spelling to become standardized. In the late sixteenth century, there were 39 recorded spellings, including forcane, herrycano, harrycaine, and hurlecane.

tornado
Tornado began in the 1550s, when it meant a “violent, windy thunderstorm.” It probably came from the Spanish word for “thunderstorm,” tronada. Tornado came to mean an “extremely violent whirlwind” in the 1620s.

typhoon
In the 1550s, typhoon in English was spelled tiphon, coming from the Greek word typhon, which means “whirlwind.” During this time, it meant a “violent storm, whirlwind, tornado.” In the 1580s, it took on the meaning of a “cyclone, violent hurricane of India or the China Seas” after a translation of an Italian story of a voyage to the East Indies in which the author encountered a touffon.

Airplane call signs

 

If you’re flying and your airplane doesn’t fall from the sky and leave you burning to death in a horrible crash, you might be able to thank my friend Joe. He just graduated from air traffic control school. (Congrats!) And it was because of him that I got to learn the awesomely fun call signs air traffic controllers and pilots use.

Here’s the list:

A – Alpha
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Hotel
I – Igloo
J – Juliet
K – Kilo
L – Lima
M – Mike
N – November
O – Oscar
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S – Sierra
T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
Y – Yankee
Z – Zulu

Apparently, air traffic controllers use their initials when they make contact with pilots. If I were in charge of air traffic, and let’s all be thankful that I’m not, my initials would be “Echo Romeo.” Pretty cool, if you ask me.

What would yours be?