M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, May 01, 2009  

Thinking about our friend BuenaOnda, living in Mexico City amid flu pandemics and earthquakes and that giant meteor that's headed straight for that central plaza thingy. So I thought I'd share an old story about her. And what a shit I am to her sometimes.

Our friend BuenaOnda is coming for a visit this weekend, a month and a half after moving to Chicago. She’s been attending grad school and working as a Spanish translator down there. Which reminds me of a story.

A couple of years ago, BuenaOnda was getting ready to go to Chile for a semester. As you can imagine, this involves a great deal of preparation—administrative, financial, and linguistic. I couldn't really help her with the first two, so I thought I'd give her a little opportunity to practice her Spanish. So one day, I wrote her an e-mail from work. Pretty standard, really. How's it going, what are you doing this weekend, do you want to see a movie with us, that kind of thing. Except I sent it in Spanish.

Of course, all the Spanish I know is what I learned from watching telenovela stars suck in their cheeks and glare at each other while surfing past Univision. So in order to communicate with my friend en Español, I had to run my e-mail through Babel Fish. I was all over it. Plus I'm a sucker for anything that has a name from Douglas Adams.

Anyway, a couple of hours later, I get a call from Trash.

“Why did you do that to BuenaOnda?” she demands.

“What?” I say, all innocent-like.

“She just called me up, totally freaking out, going ‘when the hell did M. Giant learn Spanish? Why is he better at it than I am?’”

“Huh,” I say. “Sounds like she's lost it.”

Finally, Trash gets me to confess what I've done. Actually, “confess” is probably the wrong word to use, considering how pleased I am with myself. I was just trying to do something unexpected. Getting my friend to nearly lose her shit over it is a huge windfall.

Keep in mind that this was before so many of us discovered the joy of mistranslation by software. For those of you who still haven’t, it turns out that while Babel Fish is a remarkable resource, it is subject to the limitations of machine translation. These limitations, I soon learned, are severe. Getting a computer-translated e-mail is a lot like getting a letter from a Chinese pen pal. It's like that episode of NewsRadio where Jimmy James holds a reading of his book, translated from English to Japanese and back. You end up with phrases like “Jimmy has fancy plans” and “American yum-yum clown” and “Donkey donkey donkey donkey.” Futhermore, for some reason it translates Trash’s name as “Dark-brown.”

So when BuenaOnda got this e-mail from me, saying the Spanish equivalent of:

“Hello! How is to the thing leave? Because they are the end of the week is good being. So now blibbety over toothpaste blah blee bling pants movie with forever liking. For Dark-brown is a eight needed. You you something when special is time. Purple monkey dishwasher. There what?”

Her growing confidence in her Spanish collapsed like a house of Kleenex.

See, she thought she couldn't understand it because my Spanish skillz were so much madder than hers. When in fact even Pablo Neruda would have been unable to decipher that guirigay.

(That's Spanish for “gibberish.” Or at least it is according to Babel Fish. It could mean “buttplug” for all I know.)

By the time I had a chance to talk to BuenaOnda about it, she had already printed it out and shown it to her Spanish professor, who quickly exposed my perverse composition as the buttplug it was.

I like to think that it was a character-building experience for her. BuenaOnda, who now speaks Spanish fluently enough to work at the U.N., still gets all righteously indignant and calls me horrible names when she tells this story. Which just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It's almost as much fun as when she sends me e-mails in Spanish.

posted by M. Giant 7:54 AM 3 comments


I once wrote an email to an exchange student named Alejandro, who was going to be staying in our household. Although he speaks and reads English, I decided to get fancy by running my email through the translation software into Spanish. He prefers the nickname Ale, so that's how I referred to him in the email. He later asked me about it, explaining the Spanish translation version read "Dear British or American malt beverage..."

By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 1, 2009 at 7:07 PM  

I just invoked "purple monkey dishwasher" today. That one never gets old.

By Blogger Marissa, at May 1, 2009 at 9:25 PM  

Hey! I've learned almost all my Spanish from Univision telenovelas, and I can now understand almost everything they say! It works!

Also, there is a blog where we recap and discuss the shows in English, and that is a good way to improve your Spanish and have a good laugh at the same time. I won't tell you the blog address since I am now a recapper and don't want to be accused of using your blog to peddle my own unpaid wares.

Thanks for the laugh, and now I'm going to start using "guirigay" to mean gibberish rather than "monserga" as I had been...and giggling to myself about its possible alternate meaning.

By Blogger Julia, at May 4, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

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