Very simple terms are often confusing in another language. A Belgian engineer was working with us at one time. As we were walking down the hall, I told him I was going to stop in the rest room. He said he would come too. When we entered, he said "this is a bathroom!" He thought we were heading for a break room. While in Brazil for a couple of years, I had several experiences speaking Portuguese, some humorous, some less so!
The challenges that arise with translations can certainly be funny, there is no doubt about that. But sometimes the poor translation can be overwhelming to somebody who needs good information. I recall that there was a calibration sequence for a system that I designed, which I also wrote a calibration procedure for. Our technical writer took my instructions and "cleaned them up" when he wrote that manual. Several months later I got a desperate phone call from our field service tech who was attempting to recalibrate the machine. He just could not get the instructions to work. I grabbed our local copy of the manual, which I had not checked previously, and quickly read over the sequence to see what the problem was. I got so confused that I gave up on those instructions, and told our tech that I would fax him new instructions in a short time. I had to go back to the circuit diagram and re-create the calibration sequence from the beginning. We faxed him the new instructions and they worked, and the machine was calibrated.
The calibration was a dead-weight calibration sequence of a very small strain gage dynamometer. We set zero and span for each direction.
Many years ago I worked on a printing press control system that was intended for an Eastern European customer. We submitted a list of display messages for translation, and incorporated the translations into the system. At the last minute, we had to add a couple of messages relating to the mechanical clutches that connected the sections of the printing press. Rather than delay shipment to get new translations, we looked up the "simple" messages in a dictionary. Of course we picked the wrong translation for "clutch", ending up with one that had a sexual connotation in the target language. Fortunately, a quick PROM change corrected our mistake, but our group took some kidding about it for awhile.
Everyday English can be very misleading. I was once in charge of a power transformer test room - a potentially dangerous place - and said to a Bangladeshi employee who was not allowed to work overtime unsupervised 'I am not stoppng tonight', so that he could get away and catch his early train. But he stayed on and was very upset when, a short time later,I started to leave. He said, very reasonably, 'If you are not stopping I thought you must be continuing to work and I could stay.' It would be quite possible to give a misunderstood instruction with more severe consequences, so I became rather more careful in my use of language.
That reminds me of the story about when software engineers were trying to develop an English/Russian translator. When they tested it on a technical document by translating from English to Russian and back again, the document kept referring to a "water goat." They referred back to the original which talked about a "hydrolic ram." This sort of thing led my father to work for a short stint at a French firm in Arizona. They translated their manuals from French to English. He translated them from English to American!
An interesting article.
With so many English (and other language words) having multiple meanings this is what happens. A computer translation has trouble choosing the correct meaning from context in the same way that a human can. Sometimes humans get it wrong too. Humorous yes, but it was only a few years ago that even this level of translation was not possible.
A human reader must take into account the various meanings of words and potential mis-translations. For example, a specification translated from Japanese to English used the term "gouge" to mean the effect of high-voltage arcing through layers of pcb material. Yes, it does make sense after a few minutes of thought.
Or a French translation of "clock recuperation" meaning "clock recovery" from a serial data stream. Only in English "recuperation" means "recovery" from a health problem.
So the humor in all this is the foibles of languages. Let's appreciate and accomodate the results of machine translation while enjoying a few chuckles over the discrepancies.
"Dinde" for Turkey - good one, David.
If you are really really bad at a foreign language and use a dictionary to translate every second word you will get this effect. Especially if you try and be clever and don't use the first word that the dictionary gives (to, supposedly, make your translation a bit more varied. When I was really really bad at French I did something similar and the results, according to someone who spoke French, were hilarious.
The best one I saw in this vein was of a label of something that was made in Turkey. It had been translated to the French "Fabrique en Dinde". "dinde" is the French word for turkey...as in thanksgiving / christmas meal.....