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Ein “hipsterdoofushacker” mit accordion? Unglaublich!

The German magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) ran an article on Peekabooty on Wednesday entited Im Zeichen Des Teddies: Vorhang auf für Peek a Booty. In my head, I picture well-dressed Germans in Strellson suits marvelling at our work while flipping through Der Spiegel in a Berlin cafe. Perhaps they’re doing this while enjoying some Mentos (The freshmaker!).

Unfortunately, I know very little German, most of it from hanging out with my friends Liz and Nasreen, a very quick lesson in the language taught to me by my charming date in Prague and from “Nightcrawler“, the German member of the X-Men. I turned to Babelfish for assistance.

Ach! Ist ein long, long way to go

Even when people are doing the translating, the meaning often gets mangled or lost. The title for the Scorsese movie Mean Streets once got translated to Greek as “Bad Roads”. I remember laughing at a magazine advertisement for the German-made CD-burning software called Toast (an excellent piece of Mac software, I might add). The headline read “Not only with bacon do you catch mice.” Later it was explained to me that it was a direct translation of a German colloquialism. What they meant to say was “there’s more than one way to do it”; the closest English equivalent might be “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.

Computers are much worse, since they pretty much rely on lookup tables and some pre-programmed rules for grammar. However, the results provide for the kind of amusement you can’t get from a human translator.

The headline translates as “In The Character Teddies: Curtain On For Peekabooty”. It’s followed by this paragraph:

That once as “Hackerbrowser” concerned Peek a Booty had its first public appearance. As “Privacy Tool” is to occur to “Booty” censorship in all world. The final phase of the development becomes the balancing act between attention and proscription.

As Babelfish would put it, I become in the state of confusion.

When a human translator runs across a word that doesn’t translate, I imagine s/he tries to express the meaning of the word by using an explanatory phrase. For instance, the German word schadenfreude would have to be expalined as “delight in other people’s misfortunes”. Babelfish doesn’t have this capability and simply leaves the word as it appears in the original document. Combined with its dubious translations, you get gems like this:

No miracle thus that DC stopped being a group of hackers: Cult OF the DEAD Cow understands itself now as a “prominent developer about Internet Sicherheits Tools”. And DC develops naturally no software, which smells after “Hacking”.

I’m guessing from context (something that Babelfish can’t do) that sicherheits means security. And I’ve been in a couple of poorly-ventilated computer rooms that did smell after hacking.

What about my muck?

My favourite line in the translation is this howler:

Those grew on deVillas muck and quite cult-suspiciously

I swear, nothing grows on my muck. I wash it daily.

I think it’s a reference to the bears I drew for the user interface. I think what they really meant to say is that the bears are great mascots and will become popular icons in computer culture. I hope, anyway.

They did their homework

What doesn’t require translation is the research they did in writing the article. Despite the fact that the Peekabooty site doesn’t have any links to Paul’s or my Web sites nor any pictures of the bears (yet), they managed to find some graphics for the story. They got an image of Boodles the bear — his original name, taken from the gin — and added the caption “nice competition for the Linux Tux” . From a photo on Paul’s site, they made a photo of me and Paul with phreaker legend Captain Crunch. They cropped out The Register’s Andrew Orlowski, who appears in the original photo.

I looked around for any mention of my accordion playing, but there wan’t any. Hmmm. You’d think the Germans would be poopin’ their pants with joy over that.

Thanks, Liz!

Luckily, help is on the way. My friend Liz “Bunny” Phillips is going to translate it for me. I can hardly wait to read it in non-mangled English. Thanks, Liz, and I’ll buy you drinks for the favour!

It’s a nice sunny day. I think I’ll go wash my muck and then go outside.

Recommended Reading

If you want to see the article as translated by Babelfish, copy this URL…

http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/technologie/0,1518,183280,00.html

…and paste it into the “Web Page” field on the Babelfish site.

Mark Twain’s satirical take on German: The Awful German Language.

In the movie South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, Cartman manages to say “German scheisse video” without getting electrocuted by his implanted V-chip. Perhaps the V-chip works for English swear words only. I often lie awake at night pondering these things.

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