English is a subtle and complex language. Because of its relative complexity it has the flexibility and scope to express shades of meaning. Sometimes that occurs in a contextual way, and sometimes it occurs through metaphor. As with many elegant structures, it can sway like a tree in high winds, or even fail catastrophically, wrenching away from the roots of meaning when someone either hasn’t understood or taken the trouble to learn the basic framework of spelling. “To” and “too” have meanings that are not interchangeable, though it’s a tribute to the human spirit that so many continue to try. The YouTube comments section provides the next level up. Comments are have become the text equivalent of a Terracotta Army of rigid abominations. The possessive “your” is now used routinely as an abbreviated substitute for “you’re”. It’s a solution that “busy” people with more fingers than sense reach for habitually. YouTube comments are in fact a rich and bountiful harvest of just about everything other than reason. If you’ve ever watched dogs fighting over a rag, you’ve got the picture.
Within any domain there’s always going to be a hierarchy. That’s what gives a domain its utility. Within the language domain there’s a scale of ignorance that starts at a low level with simple spelling errors. Eventually that graph sweeps upwards in an almost vertical climb to an altitude of outright idiocy (see SMS-speak) where even birds can’t fly. Unfortunately, bird-brains can fly there, and do. If only they had some natural predators, comments sections would be readable again. These things matter because when words lose their meaning through laziness and ignorance, anything is possible. Misunderstandings are the least of the consequences. If someone can’t be bothered to pay attention to the detail of something as fundamental as language – the very tool that allows what’s inside your head out into the public domain in a comprehensible way – what else are they missing?
We enjoy ranking things because doing that gives us a sense of how they relate to each-other in terms of inherent value. It won’t come as a surprise then to find that in my world spelling mistakes have a league table all of their own. Generally I ignore the commonplace errors because they’re just too commonplace. Occasionally, however, a rare few manage to climb to the thin atmosphere above cloud cover where the errors are so enormous they hang in space like bloated indictments of state education. I suppose it’s no surprise that I should have a few favourites. One honourable mention goes to people who think it’s possible to “tow the line” – though they never say where they’re planning to tow it to. Another, less honourable mention goes to a TV guide that described how an investigation into the remains of crewmen from the Mary Rose would reveal what their “roll” on the ship was. In their place I’d have gone for a ciabatta rather than a roll if Henry VIII had thought to pack any.
By far the best example which has reigned from its throne serene and unchallenged in my memory for about twenty five years, is a handwritten message on a ragged strip of cardboard. I saw it attached to a fence. It stated in handwriting that betrayed an elevated state of agitation, emergent psychiatric problems, and some basic confusion “If you park hear you will be toad.” This is a curse from an incoherent wizard who has confused the act of tugging on a rope for a stoic amphibian, along with the need for a hearing aid. The long straight lines of each word written in black marker pen on the notice, gave it the aspect of a kidnapper’s non-negotiable ransom demand breaking through a window. Predictably, there was a loose accretion of exclamation marks at the end of the sentence, some leaning up against each-other like umbrellas about to fall over. Obviously I don’t know what the author’s home life was like, but the evidence pointed to it being a minefield. One can only hope whoever wrote that notice found professional help in time, and by professional help I don’t mean a book on spelling and grammar.
A hybrid development of this randomness has occurred since on-line language translators have been available. The days of appealing to expertise when asking for something to be translated from one language to another are long past. It manifests not so much as errors of spelling, as errors of understanding or meaning. Mechanised (or automated) translations don’t always grasp the more subtle meaning of a word or sentence. Instead they just batter away at words until they submit. It’s a linguistic variant on “Robot Wars.” What emerges from that fun factory can be like having a cigar explode in your face, and not in a funny way.
Menus translated into English are among the weirdest of the mechanoid works. I’ve never been adventurous when it comes to food. Food is something too serious to be left to chance or gambled with. A voice from my childhood said once “My stomach and I are old and dear companions. We’ve enjoyed some delightful experiences together – and some tragic ones too I might add.” In that context it’s understandable I’ve been casting a nervous eye over a menu I’ve compiled from bad menu translations. The more I read it the more I wonder if there are risks to food (and language) I haven’t considered.
I swear that all of the following are real:
Prisoners of fat baked comedy
Retreat and think of cakes
Fight against landlords
Various types of dread**( Author’s star choice)
Main Courses – Chicken:
Chicken rude and unreasonable
Unique chicken smell
She would evaporate slippery chickens were north
Hill bacteria stupid chicken
If you’re not in the mood for chicken there’s always:
Jumbo Cock Irony Barbecue
Jumbo Hormone Barbecue
Appetising Groping** (Author’s star choice)
Rude and unreasonable sheatfish
Infant consumption of fish farmers
Lady Boy Crab
Queer crab sukiyaki
The demon moustache squid roasts
If you feel like something a little more adventurous then you could try:
Nestle stir-fries an emperor for a short time
Frog raised by man-power in casserole
A lampshade is broken
Derived from Italian, trousers, topped with ham and like a dumpling
Stir-fried wikipedia with pimientos
Fear of farmers, like duck blood
Mountain delicacies miscellaneous bacteria pot monsters
Variety of opinions
The fragrance of dog
Customer get angry
Donald Duck tits salad** (Author’s star choice)
Choco Cake – Over-optimism modest chocolate and a soft marshmallow lead you in elegant tea time
Milk Caramel – A caramel is very sweet. And it is delicious. Everybody is pleased with it. I also laugh together. It is my pleasure. Do you eat?
Cruel fruit juice
Silky Black Boss
Chinese herb tea bags – getting drunk last night
Intoxicant Fertile Jianshi
The beer of high official manifestations** (Author’s star choice)
In fact, just keep that beer coming please. After “Various types of Dread”, “Appetising Groping”, and a side order of “Donald Duck tits salad” I need something robust to wash it down.