This goes way back, so you either never saw it or have forgotten it.


This may also be known as Telephone Daisychain in the US, but here in the UK we’re a bit circumspect about the term daisychain.

You may have already played the Online Translation Game. You go into, say, Google Translate, type something relatively straightforward, then translate it into another language, The target language needn’t be anything too exotic. Italian, French, German. Magyar is always fun, because the results are in the Roman alphabet, so the words look recognisable, but they aren’t. I got all the names for characters in my story Villamkard by getting Magyar translations of words such as lightning killer  and maniac. Urdu or Gujarati might be a laugh, but you won’t have a clue if it’s right or wrong. This applies to any of the Cyrillic languages, or Chinese, or Japanese.

This is the fun bit. Copy the translation, and go to another site. Babelfish, is quite good. Take the translated text, drop it in, and get it translated into some other language. Copy that, pop over to Babylon or any one of the plethora of online translators, and drop the translation in with another different target language. Finally, if you’re bored now, copy that, then go back to Google Translate, drop it in, and translate back into English.

The result will be complete gibberish. Things really do get lost in the translation. It’s a very very funny way of whiling away a few spare minutes.

There is a serious side to this. Way back when dinosaurs were evolving into birds, the ad agency I was working for had a massive client that produced specialist pet and animal feeds. The idea was a Europe-wide blitz, and that meant all the literature and ads, promo materials, everything, had to be branded in umpteen different launguages. The parent was always English, so we had to think of a tagline that would translate readily. We came up with ‘Advanced Dietary Management.’ Not exactly mindbogglingly clever, but it had a certain workmanlike charm to it. It was OK getting this into French, Italian, German, but we ran into a lot of grief with the Scandinavian languages. We would have professional translators give it a shot, but what they tended to do was transliterate, not translate. With Finnish (which is strictly Suomi) we got a back-translation from another source. Advanced Dietary Management had mysteriously metamorphosed into the rather confusing Forward Eating Boardroom. You can get a sense of meaning but it’s not right. And those were just three simple words in a tagline. There was some pretty serious science in a lot of the materials, and we couldn’t let that go out hobbled by inaccuracies.

We all aged about 10 years in three months. Or as Promt would have it on back translation from Finnish, ‘We are all-year-olds around ten years three months.’ See what I mean?