"Vertaalmachines zijn helemaal je van het."

How do I translate this Dutch idiom that roughly means "Translation machines are the best of the best"?

If I use translation software, I get: "Translation machines are totally you of it."

I run into such problems a couple of times a week. Because for the last few months, everything I’ve written has appeared in English. And it turns out, translating my work is not that easy at all.

Often it goes like this: I write an article, put it through a translation machine, check it, and pass it to Shaun, the copy editor at The Correspondent.

And we often find ourselves puzzling together over dilemmas in the piece. That was especially true this week when I published a piece about translation software, looking at how it handles the finer points of language.

For example, how do I explain that "eten" in Dutch can be either a verb or a noun, depending on context?

How do I show that DeepL, a translation tool, does a pretty good job at translating Dutch to a non-Dutch speaker?

And how do I express that Duffeling is a very good translation for Dursley, Harry Potter’s terrible family?

I think Shaun and I came up with some good solutions. And we even managed to get some Russian in.

It don’t mean sh*t

Last week, I also wrote about translation in this newsletter. I used "YouTube staples" as an example, which the translation computer translated to Dutch as if YouTube produced the metal things to fasten papers together. Not exactly what I meant.

Someone emailed that it was funny I chose this example. As it turns out, the word "staple" partly comes from old Dutch. I learn something new every day.

Someone else answered the question whether there is software for handwritten music. "A music program that converts photos or scans of handwritten music notation into digital music notation is called, as far as I know, PhotoScore ... Whether the handwritten sheet music ‘translates’ into the digital domain as well as a nicely printed piece of music on paper I doubt ... "

Finally, I had a little catchphrase contest. In my book, I refer to the scientific community that prefers to publish significant results. "Red wine has zero impact on your health" simply doesn’t work that well.

I write that the mantra is "Geen verband, niet interessant". This literally means ‘"No connection, not interesting", but I figured there must be a better translation, that preserves the rhyme of the original.

I was right because I received great suggestions. Hans Westerbeek gave a whole list, such as "skip if there’s no relationship" and "don’t care if the relationship isn’t there". But his personal favourite, and I agree with him, is "if there’s no link, spare the ink".

Ben Brandenburg came up with "nobody will blink without a link" and "no relation, no citation".

A third reader gave perhaps the most beautiful phrase, allegedly by economist Adrian Pagan: "It don’t mean sh*t, if it ain’t got that fit".

I’m going to discuss it with my English editor, thank you all!

Before you go ...

... Speaking of translation, I came across this old article this week. When officials asked for a translation of a road sign to Welsh, they got a reply.

See you soon in cyberspace!

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