Friday, July 29, 2005

The Ass of Babel

In a recent debate on grammar at, the subject came up of non-native speakers and the natural poetry of their English. That thing we natural-born Americans lack and covet, unusual arrangements of words, bizarrely beautiful syntax, like “opening the light” and walking “under the rain.” Someone mentioned that she uses the Babelfish online translator ( when composing poems, and I had one of those outloud Yeah! online moments. I decided to try it myself.

The technique: pass the problematic passage through several languages, then back to English, and see what happens.

Like this:

Ass Backwards

Then in Dutch:

ezel achteruit
(rest reverse)

To France:

l'âne marche arrière
(the ass reverse gear)

Then Spain:

el asno marcha atrás
(the ass reverse gear)

France again:
l'âne va en arrière

(So ass in French is ane? Coincidence? I think not.)

And back to English:

The ass goes behind.

And indeed she does.


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