Whenever fellow WordPress bloggers are kind enough to “like” one of my posts or follow my blog, I repay the courtesy by visiting theirs. (I was reared in the American Midwest, where we avoid meaningful conversations but are unfailingly polite.)
Some of my visitors are from other countries and, naturally enough, write in other languages. I know precisely one, English, and regularly screw that up, splitting infinitives and so forth. So if I want to understand what writers of other languages are saying, I require translation.
This is where the fun starts, at least for those of us using Google Chrome, which helpfully asks:
If you hit “Translate,” you will find what appears to be a perfectly lovely piece of prose, such as this post in Portugeuse (titled, according to Chrome, “I thrilled me”) from As historias de Ed …
De repente, de lá do meio do povo, um moço, num paletó desbotado, pelejando para combinar com as calças surradas destoantes, mas com uma humilde vontade de parecer adomingado, junto de uma mulher idosa, em seus cabelos branquinhos, levantou-se de sua mesa e perguntou à senhora da recém-chegada, a que se levantou da “minha mesa”, se ela tinha um real para poder juntar com a nota de dois que ele balançava no ar. “Queria comprar um salgado para minha mãe”, ele acrescentou.
rendered as this:
Suddenly there from the people , a young man in a faded jacket, struggling to match the pants worn dissonant, but with a humble desire to look adomingado, next to an elderly woman in her whiten hair, got up from his desk and asked the lady recently arrival, which rose from “my table” if she had a real power to join with the note two he swung in the air. “I wanted to buy a salty for my mother,” he added.
Now, generations of formally schooled writers have been counseled to “murder your darlings” — to unsentimentally delete dubious prose, especially if one’s ego is attached — but it’s only in the modern age that we have computer-aided translation to serve as hit man.
I can’t help but think of David Cronenberg’s cinematic rendering of The Fly, in which brilliant scientist Seth Brundle, played by Jeff Goldblum, unwittingly splices his genes with that of an insect while testing a teleportation device.
The error becomes evident as the boyishly beautiful Brundle begins to grow coarse, not-human hair, and later, to shed human body parts.
This kind of development naturally raises questions, which Goldblum feeds to his teleportation computer. Its answers are chilling: a secondary element — an unseen housefly — teleported with him, and their genes fused into the mutant horror Brundle is rapidly becoming.
A little backstory: Earlier, we learned that the machine had no problem faithfully regenerating inanimate objects, but blundered when it came to living creatures. It was unable to grasp the mystery — the poetry and the nuance — of the flesh, until its hapless inventor tweaked it.
But when faced unexpectedly with teleporting not one, but two living beings, it failed again, reconstituting what had been separate entities — each beautiful in its own, singular way — into one monstrous mishmash.
Am I making my point?
The scientist reacts with the kind of horror I can only imagine a writer might feel upon discovering her or his work translated by Google Chrome into the linguistic version of Brundlefly.
Ah, well. I suppose it’s a good reminder, at least, to not take ourselves too seriously. As the tagline of As historias de Ed wisely observes:
Todos os dias, vivenciamos coisas diferentes. Quando com sorte, elas se nos apresentam engraçadas.
Every day, we experience different things. When lucky, they present us funny.