The iPad BBC News piece that caught my eye a few days ago amid the usual medley of ongoing war and financial fear news was about a phone call translator app about to be offered by NTT Docomo, Japan’s biggest mobile network, enabling people to talk to each other on the phone without knowing each other’s languages. The NTT Docomo promotional illustration shows a woman asking a man in Japanese to make a reservation; the man, who supposedly speaks no Japanese, hears the request in English with a slight delay.
Oh, the joys lying ahead for phone hacks, corporate lawyers and other serious pranksters worldwide! Reservations for a flight to Istanbul ending up as airfare bound to Kabul. Blame game lawsuit fist fests between airlines reservations and translator phone apps. Life as a ‘toon experience, as in comics showing bland speech bubbles with true thought bubbles above the talking head [hostess at a cocktail party greeting guest arriving on time, “you are so wonderfully punctual!”, and matching thought bubble, “these country bumpkins never know the right lateness etiquette…”]
And then there are the unintended babelized translations on account of software still too crude to know or co-opt the nuances, as shown years ago by the Babelizer software toy. So I went to Bing Translator, which comes nearly at the top of the results list when you google “Babel Fish”, which is top of the list and used to be the online translation tool up to about 10 years ago, but now you click, click, click and nothing happens (the Wikipedia blurb on Babel Fish says it´ll redirect to Bing, but all I see is all Google action freezing.) I decided to bing-translate Jim Carrey‘s take on the famous quote “behind every great man there is a great woman”:
Behind every great man there is a woman rolling her eyes.
I got Bing to translate it from English to French, French to Hindi, Hindi to Japanese, Japanese to Russian and back to English – to check if the English at the end would be the same as I’d started with, and the languages in between English corresponding to nations where I could easily envision public men used to great amounts of private eye rolling by their wives (it was a toss between France and Italy, but 58 year old Hollande and his 11 year younger girlfriend felt more married than Berlusconi and whatever 18-year old the septuagenarian has his, huh, eyes on at the moment.) In the end, I got this:
The woman behind every great man is rolling his eyes.
– which is a whole novel take on the issue; it’s no longer the woman behind the man rolling her eyes, but she is making him roll his eyes. Examples of the former: Nancy Reagan (wife of Ronald), Laura Bush (wife of “Dubya“). Examples of the latter: Marilyn Monroe (connected to JFK) and Monica Lewinski (connected to Bill.)
You could say that the Bing translation job took the wives of perhaps not so great, but certainly spectacular, men in the eye of a vast global public; and replaced them by the mistresses of men in the eye of an even vaster global public reveling in the schadenfreude of their spectacular affairs.
Not the same thing at all.
Which kind of women stand behind ALL great men?
Apparently, all kinds, but this is really besides the point. The important question here is rather: Which kind of men stand in front of great women? Clearly, the lucky ones. Now imagine phone app translators routinely churning these more to-the-point translations for us!