Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Cold calculations at the cinema


Scanning the list of movies playing in town, I regularly try to guess what their original titles were and am usually right. Confronted with something called COLD SISTERS, I figured it was some little-known B-noir probably starring two women fighting over a man and read on down the list. It wasn’t till I was cross-checking with an actual list of English-language movies that I saw that Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO was playing and had to double back to see how I’d missed it in the French listing.

It turns out that my brain, in its infinite wisdom, had read SUEURS FROIDES [Cold Sweats] as SOEURS FROIDES [Cold Sisters]. It was an easy mistake to make.


Thinking of Madeleine and Judy as “sisters” puts a whole different spin on the story.

Consider something

Translation, something I do on some level every waking hour of my life, is an art not a science. I am frequently frustrated with people whose approach is word-for-word or who don’t appreciate nuance, intention and meaning. As a professional endeavor, it’s not easy work (though it can get easier) but it requires a lot more effort than most people would think.

Douglas Hofstadter, a guy who’s way smarter than me (he’s a cognitive scientist at Indiana University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author), agrees. In a story over at ESQUIRE about what real AI will be like and how many fake AIs are out there, he cites GoogleTranslate (a modern Towel of Babel) for not performing as advertised.

“Real translating involves understanding what is being said and then reproducing the ideas that you just heard in a different language. Translation has to do with ideas, it doesn’t have to do with words, and Google Translate is about words triggering other words.”

Granted, Google wouldn’t have made the same Hitchcock mistake I did, but it would never have been able to puzzle out that 7H58 CE SAMEDI-LÀ [7:58 This Saturday Morning] is BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD which I guessed immediately because I am a human whose brain, while frequently frustrating, is better than a computer swapping words for other words.

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

2 thoughts on “Cold calculations at the cinema

  1. You are totally right about translation. Where I used to work in Canada, all of our publications were translated from English to French and we had an army of translators doing the work but all of my English colleagues could never understand why it took so long and why the French people always complained that the French version wasn’t always very good…one of the main problem was that the English documents were badly written and it becomes awfully difficult to translate…

    I do use Google Translate to translate our blog but it is simply to get me started. I then spend time editing what Google has provided…sometimes it works fine (for straight forward sentences) and sometimes it provides very good laughing materials! (Suzanne)

    • I use GT too, but I think more like you do (if in reverse). If I’m working on something and want to make sure that it’s CRYSTAL CLEAR, I’ll pop the text into GT and see how it translates since I suspect end users may be doing the same. If the Spanish / French version doesn’t make sense, I try to simplify my English. My big concern comes from people who just don’t understand that it’s not as easy as swap one thing for another and get frustrated at the time it takes, or the care one can put into it, or the many many follow-up questions required to get things just right.

      When we rule the world, things’ll be better, non?

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