Old Russian Joke Meets Japanese Reality

There is an old joke that when the hot line between the white house and the Kremlin was installed, the strategists were very concerned that a mistranslation might set off a world war, so they invested heavily in machine translation projects.

One way in which machine translations get tested is that you take a text in the first language, translate it to the second, then translate it back. If it's recognizable, you're doing well. Well, the story goes that the Army came up with computer program it thought would do the trick, but the folks at the White House demanded a live demo. At the demo they input the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”.

After a round trip via Russian, it came back as “blind drunk”.

I'm reminded of this by Translation Party which will take your English text, translate it to Japanese and back and repeat the process until it achieves what it calls a “equilibrium”. Inputting “out of sight, out of mind” I got “Vision and heart”.

So far, the most steps I can get it to do for a short saying is 11 (“Every llama thinks his load is the heaviest” becomes “All the heavy burden of Rama and his”).

And my weirdest is “Pot calling the kettle black” which quickly became “Runny nose, laughing eyes KUSO”.

(And “measure twice, cut once” went into an endless loop.)

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7 Responses to Old Russian Joke Meets Japanese Reality

  1. paulo says:


    “don’t Taze me bro”

    finds equilibrium at:
    “And taze, me, my friend”

  2. Jon Weinberg says:

    “Pot calling the kettle black” is a product of machine translation being too good. The machine translation jumps right to the Japanese version of the idiom, which is apparently something like “the discharge in the eye laughing at the mucus in the nose,” and reaches equilibrium on a slightly garbled version.

  3. Jon Weinberg says:

    I do like the way “the elephant has a large body” converges on “required”.

  4. CB says:

    “It is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” wouldn’t reach equilibrium. Just before the program stopped running it came out as “enriched by passing the needle to fill the space of a camel, it is difficult”.

  5. Jon Weinberg says:

    CB — If you paste that result into the top of the page for another go-round, it finally reaches equilibrium at “To do so, by passing a needle, fill the space like a camel, it is difficult to do”

  6. Andrew DeWeese says:

    If the lumber and wood chuck wood chuck wood? ?

  7. I used “Yellow is Mellow, Brown is Down” and got “Ieromerou, Brown down”

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