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21 Aug

The adventures of Babelfish – I don’t usually do things like this here, but I’ve been in a bit of a silly mood. There is a very good chance that I will be the only one who finds today’s entry amusing, but I guess that’s a chance I’m just going to have to take. First, let me introduce you to the hero of today’s story, my new chair:

“I just plug in a random Korean passage and watch Babelfish mangle it with all the ferocity and tact of a pit bull. It’s kind of like a shredding machine for language.”

This is a Duoback chair, so named because the back of the chair consists of two separate pieces. It is a big step up from my former, single-backed chair. I really like this chair. To get the obvious out of the way, the divided back takes a bit of getting used to, but it is quite nice. I’m sure there is some ergonomic theory behind it, but all I know is that is makes it nearly impossible to slouch in the chair. My old chair was a slouching chair, and I used to sink lower and lower as the day went on. By evening I was usually supine. I guess my wife decided that I should have a good chair, since I sit at this desk all day, so she ordered the Duoback. I’ve only had it for a week or so, and my posture has improved already.

The back of the chair isn’t its only advantage. The armrests are a cushiony rubber that is very comfortable. I have rather bony elbows, and the hard plastic armrests on my old chair hurt so much that I ended up completely removing the arms from the chair. The wheels are also high quality, allowing me to sail across the room with a gentle push of my feet.

But that’s not actually the point of today’s entry, which has less to do with the actual chair and more to do with the instruction booklet that came with the chair. Most of it is fairly dry material—typical instruction booklet fare. Three pages of this booklet, though, are devoted to safety warnings, and I found these amusing. Not so much because of the warnings themselves, but because of the accompanying illustrations, which feature our hero Duoback the Chair and a Dennis-the-Menace-type brat named Duo (with the occasional appearance of a wood nymph named Duri—I kid you not).

To make this exercise even more interesting, I decided to take advantage (and I mean this in all possible connotations of the word) of the free Babelfish service and plug in the warning messages to see what it would spit out. For those of you not familiar with Babelfish, it is an online translation program that spits out some very funny translations. If nothing else, Babelfish knows how to cheer me up when I’m feeling down. I just plug in a random Korean passage and watch Babelfish mangle it with all the ferocity and tact of a pit bull. It’s kind of like a shredding machine for language.

So, without further ado, I give you the Duoback safety warnings, as mangled by Babelfish. (For my readers who may not be able to read Korean, I have provided actual translations of the warning messages for comparison purposes. Note that these are not what I would consider “good” translations—I tried to translate them as literally as possible while still making sense, which is not how I would normally translate. OK, no more ado, I promise.)

Babelfish: “Danger: The chair it is unreasonable and it does not fling roll up at after. When it falls and it is dangerous.”

Actual: “Danger: Do not lean too far back in the chair. It could be dangerous if it falls over.”

Babelfish is obviously trying to tell us that the chair refuses to fling Fruit Roll-Ups, and we all know that most reasonable chairs will not hesitate to fling Fruit Roll-Ups with abandon. Actually, Babelfish is inexplicably confusing the Korean construction for “do not” with the verb “to roll up,” so Fruit Roll-Ups will be featuring prominently in Babelfish’s version of these warning messages.

And maybe I’m alone here, but this illustration brings back memories of the hundred hand slap (or whatever it was called) move from the sumo character in the original Street Fighter.

Babelfish: “Danger: The chair it is unreasonable and get wet at after and to come roll up. When the iron plate is damaged, it is dangerous.”

Actual: “Danger: Do not pull the chair back too far. It could be dangerous if the metal plate becomes damaged.”

The second sentence is actually a pretty decent literal translation, but the interesting thing here is that the first sentence is exactly the same as the first sentence in the first warning message—yet Babelfish translates it differently here. The operative verb in this sentence can mean both “to lean back” and “to pull back,” thus changing the meaning entirely depending on the context (provided by the helpful illustrations). I’m not sure if Babelfish recognized this or just had a seizure.

Babelfish: “Danger: It does not sit roll up in eight hanger. Eight hanger does not win a weight and it is dangerous.”

Actual: “Danger: Do not sit on the armrests. It is dangerous, as the armrests will not be able to support your weight.”

Yet another example of Babelfish’s tendency to choose the wrong option when faced with two different possible meanings. “Pal” in Korean can mean both “eight” and “arm.”

Babelfish: “Warning: Rise to the chair and bibliography roll up. The chair rotates and it is dangerous.”

Actual: “Warning: Do not stand on the chair. It is dangerous, as the chair will rotate.”

This translation is so wrong it’s stunning. A human being would have to put considerable effort into translating this message so incorrectly.

Alternate caption: “This is your brain. This is your brain on Duoback. Any questions?”

Babelfish: “Warning: Throw the chair, or, it does not treat roll up roughly.”

Actual: “Warning: Do not throw the chair or handle it roughly.”

Never mind the utter incomprehensibility of the translation, how about that illustration? I don’t know if you can tell from my photo above, but this is no light chair. I weighed it, and it came out to nearly fifteen kilograms (about thirty pounds). It is possible to lift it over your head, but not to hold it out in front of you by one edge of the base like that. I can only conclude that our mischievous friend Duo is unusually strong.

This is also the first appearance of Duri, the wood nymph. It doesn’t actually say that she’s a wood nymph, but you can kind of tell from the color drawing in the back of the booklet, where she has wings. Oh, and that little star shooting out of her head is apparently some sort of tiara, not an indication that she’s taken one too many punches to the face (as I had first suspected). This is what they have to say about Duri in the back of the booklet: “A beautiful girl who rules over the forest land. She travels the dream world with Duo and rescues her friends trapped in the magic castle.”

Don’t ask me what any of this has to do with a chair. It would be weird enough if it ended there, but it doesn’t. In addition to the chair, Dennis the Menace, and the wood nymph, there are a flying elephant (Duo and Duri’s trusty steed in the dream world), a fat guy from cookie land (who looks like he’s had too much to drink, judging by the bright red color of his nose), a “laughing lady” from candy land (who is like a mother to Duo and Duri, according to the book—which would explain Duo’s hyperactivity... all that sugar, you know), a long-nosed witch, and her henchman, a giant who is blind in one eye.

I really wish I was making all this up, but I’m not. There seems to be some obsession with cartoon character mascots in Korea. I don’t know what it is, but every major event will usually have two cartoon mascots (a boy and a girl, of course). Some that you may have seen are the 1988 Olympic mascots and the 2002 World Cup mascots (although the World Cup mascots were rather gender-ambiguous), but it doesn’t end there. It’s almost as if there’s a handbook out there for designing just about anything, and step two or three is: “Design a pair of cartoon mascots.”

In Duoback’s defense, it would seem that these characters are not just mascots, but will be appearing in a forthcoming comic book that will apparently follow the adventures of a boy who tortures chairs for a living and the wood nymph who watches him do it and sometimes joins him in his evil deeds. I wait with bated breath.

Babelfish: “Warning: It does not put in the hand roll up in the chairs and eight hanger lower part portions. Parts for very it is dangerous in the portion which is pushed.”

Actual: “Warning: Do not put your hand beneath the chair and armrests. It is very dangerous, as your hand may be caught between the parts.”

The first sentence is almost comprehensible if you know that “roll up” is code for “do not” and “eight hanger” is code for “armrest.”

It was also around this point that I thought, “For a chair, Duoback sure sweats a lot.” Then again, I guess anyone would sweat a lot if they had to deal with someone as devious and evil as Duo.

Alternate caption: “Warning: There is a rift in the space-time continuum beneath the chair that will cause objects placed there to suddenly grow to twice their normal size.” (I never promised that I was going to make sense today.)

Babelfish: “Warning: It does not enter to the chair lower part roll up.”

Actual: “Warning: Do not go beneath the chair.”

You would think that Babelfish could handle such a short and simple sentence, but again it is thrown by that dastardly “do not” construction.

Alternate caption: “He’s not my kid, I swear! Look, he’s not even blue... and he has no wheels!”

Babelfish: “Warning: The knife back the tool which has a sharp portion rolls up does not use. It gives a fatal wound to chair damage or the human body.”

Actual: “Do not use tools with sharp parts, like knives. The chair might be damaged or you might suffer fatal injury.”

Once again, Babelfish is incomprehensible. Even more interesting, though, is the warning message itself. It actually does include the term “fatal injury,” as if the reader might be unaware that it is possible to kill oneself with a knife. Then again, there are people who are apparently unaware that spilling hot coffee on yourself might burn, so I guess there are probably a few people out there who might be surprised to find that stabbing yourself could result in death. That being said, wouldn’t you think a warning message that includes the words “fatal injury” would merit a “Danger” rather than just a “Warning”?

Babelfish: “Warning: It does not disjoint roll up with option. The A/S the work other than the work directives which it sends from the center does not become.”

Actual: “Warning: Do not disassemble on your own. The chair may not be disassembled except according to a work order from the A/S center.”

I’m pretty sure that “A/S center” is konglish (Korean-English), as I did a Google search and all of the relevant sites that came up were Korean, at least on the first few pages. Anyway, it stands for “after service center.” I think the idea is that it’s a place where you can have a product serviced after you buy it—which makes absolutely no sense to me, since why would you need to service a product before you buy it? I think that’s why we just call these places “service centers” in English.

Alternate caption: “Fix chair... check. Now to go fix Dad’s car!”

Babelfish: “Attention: Roll the chair slowly from the interior. It rolls too much and easily it goes and until the other thing it is damaged.”

Actual: “Attention: Roll the chair slowly while indoors. It rolls very easily and could damage other objects.”

As I mentioned above, the chair does roll quite nicely. It’s a very smooth ride on straight-aways, but the handling is a bit rough around corners. In other words, I might take it drag racing, but I wouldn’t do laps with it.

I’d also like to note that the illustrator got a bit lazy here, using the same drawing for Duo that appeared in the second image (except this time he appears to be pushing a deformed black star).

Babelfish: “Attention: To operate the various lever lightly. When it operates too much strong, there is a danger which will break.”

Actual: “Attention: Operate the various levers gently. If you use too much force, there is a danger they will break.”

This one confused me a bit at first. Just as in the illustration, my chair only has one lever. I looked through the rest of the booklet and saw that some of the other models do have more than one lever, thus the mention of “various levers.”

In other news, I now have lever envy.

Alternate caption: “You fool! I told you not to play with the lever! Now you will face my fist of fury!”

Babelfish: “Attention: The chair which it sees is 1 reference.”

Actual: “Attention: This chair is to be used by one person.”

Once again, Babelfish shows its startling ability to completely mangle short, simple sentences. This is also the second (and final) appearance of Duri. We can see that she has moved up from “innocent” bystander to accomplice. I’m guessing that this is her last appearance because further conspiracy between Duo and Duri would likely be too violent for young viewers.

Another recycled image here, too (see the third image above).

Babelfish: “Attention: The back of chair the sharp portion the magazine rolls up by the hand.”

Actual: “Attention: Do not grab the sharp portion on the back of the chair with your hand.”

I think this illustration is really depicting the last moment of Duoback’s tortured life here on earth, as Duo finally tires of his plaything and pushes him down the stairs.

Babelfish: “Attention: To remove the foreign material quality of wheel portion at any time. The wheel will not roll well and not to be there is a danger which will fall.”

Actual: “Attention: Regularly remove foreign substances from the wheels. If the wheels do not roll properly, there is a danger the chair will fall over.”

Like any good soap opera, comic book, or science fiction series, the illustrators here not only pretend that Duo didn’t just murder his chair, but that they are now good friends. Either that or Duo drugged Duoback and is now planting plastic explosives in his wheels.

Babelfish: “Attention: Use chair work rest on the bottom. The bottom is pushed, or, ccic there is a route danger.”

Actual: “Attention: Use a chair support on the floor. There is a danger that the floor will be pressed down or torn.”

Babelfish has a complete nervous breakdown and just starts spitting out nonsense here. I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t understand the verb “to be torn,” so it just attempts to Romanize the first syllable and then continues on with the translation as if the second syllable were a separate word. Only a computer could be so blindly obstinate.

I’m pretty sure “chair support” refers to a floor mat to be placed beneath the chair. Most Korean floors are covered with a linoleum-type covering, and it would be possible to rip it if you dragged something sharp across it. The chair’s wheels are very smooth, though, and I can’t imagine them ripping anything, but I guess you have to cover all your bases (and if you’re warning users not to stab themselves with knives, I guess you have to warn them not to tear their floors, too).

Babelfish: “Attention: Insert the back of chair rightly. The right and left is different.”

Actual: “Attention: Affix the chair backs properly. The right and left sides are different.”

Somehow, Babelfish manages to get this one right—at least right enough for it to be comprehensible.

I suppose it should also be noted that inserting the chair backs improperly causes the base of the chair to turn blue.

So, that’s it for the warning messages and fun with Babelfish. I have to admit it was a lot more amusing (both the images and the translations) the first time around. I usually read through my entries at least two or three times, though, and after several readings it ceased to be funny at all—so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if it was ever funny in the first place or if I was just overtired. So if you didn’t find this funny the first time around, it’s probably not going to get any funnier on a second reading. Babelfish is an acquired taste, I guess, like goat cheese or kimchi.

Well, that’s all for today. The weather is absolutely beautiful outside, so I think I’m going to go out and stare up at the perfectly blue sky and fluffy white clouds. You can only sit in front of a computer for so long before going batty (although I think I may have already passed that point... oh well).

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