The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

I’m giving you a week off. (via Bengali:) I’m close to you in a week.

By the E, Pat Myers

Hi, everyone. This is the first contest I’m skipping since the week between 907 and 908, back in February of last year. And as it was last time, it’s not this next week that I won’t be around; it’s in mid-August that I’m going beach-camping for a few days with my family. And so this way I can have the Aug. 19 column finished in advance, filling the results section with some of the many worthy but still inkless entries from recent contests — probably a combination of two or three, such as limericks and portmanteau expressions, or the contest to start with a well-known line of poetry and add your own.

For those of you out there who monitor the Loser Stats (kept since Week 1 by Loser Elden Carnahan): I think Elden will credit whatever ink I give out that week to the weeks of the original contests. Since he’s already long since tallied the results for the last “Loser Year,” any results I use will be from Year 20, which began March 11.

And yes, Bob Staake has never met me in person. His not exactly anatomically correct cartoon is simply his way of asking for a raise.


It took almost no time after the initial posting of the Week 977 Google Translate contest to discover that not only that (we knew this) this tool had become in­cred­ibly good — had it been programmed with hundreds of nonsensical classic-rock lyrics or what? — but that the results would sometimes improve in quality when the same process was repeated. So I had to rescind my threat that I wouldn’t use an entry if I couldn’t replicate the mistranslation; I had to rely somewhat on the honor system. I announced this almost immediately on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook; I know that not everyone is willing to join this group (we currently have 388 members), but I think it’s the most sensible way to put out any contest updates, short of bothering the close to 1,700 people on my e-mail list.

(It’s times like this when I’m relieved that the Invite isn’t giving out big-money prizes like the ones for the Washington Post Magazine Humor Contest, which was announced a week ago and can be entered until Aug. 10. It’s one thing to be upset that the Empress revised the rules in midstream if she were giving the winners $140 to $1,000, as the Magazine will be doing for the top finisher in each of three categories (personal essay, photo and tweet). But I posit that a person with a decent sense of humor (and that's you, right? That’s what you put on your online-dating profile!) would not be moved to file a lawsuit after being robbed of this or this or even this.

Anyway, most of the entries did continue to translate the same as in the Losers’ submissions, or very closely to it. All of the really bizarre translations in just one or two languages do pan out — including Beverley Sharp’s change of “drunk as a skunk” into “drunk in America.” Another bizarro, which didn’t get ink but was certainly cool, was Lawrence McGuire’s translation through Latin from “Her face appeared as empty as an Irishman’s refrigerator” to “His face was as blank as the writer of a lion in winter.”

If I hadn’t seen years’ worth of brilliantly original material from 100-time Loser Judy Blanchard, I might not have believed her when she told me she discovered the Nadal-to-Federer “Easter egg” totally by accident. “I watch tennis and periodically play (poorly!), so it was on my mind” during this Wimbledon season, Judy told me when I asked her about it. And “no, I didn’t read about any Google ‘Easter egg.’ Prior to this email, I had only heard about “Easter eggs” (from my sons) in the context of video games.” Neither Judy nor I have checked to see how many languages this works for; surely it’s not just Azerbaijani.

One frequently submitted type of mistranslation was one in which the first statement came out as its opposite. In addition to “Read my lips. There are new taxes,” from First Offenders Mark and Tammy Clements, there were also “Thou commit adultery” (Heather Spence) and “I do not recall that, Senator” turning into “I remember that, Senator” (Larry Gray). And many more.

Weirdly, some people sent in translations that were pretty much the same as the originals, with just a word or two changed, and not in a particularly interesting way. One, for example, changed “These are the times that try men’s souls” to “These are trying times of our lives.” To me, that’s a perfectly good translation, even if it does lose the lyricism.

One of my very favorite entries was killed by management out of a sense of political fairness: Laurie Brink, who sent a long list of funny translations, translated this into Finnish:
“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. — Mitt Romney”
and back: “I like to be able to shoot the people that provide services to me. — Mitt Romney”

So even if it’s just a machine “quoting” Romney as saying he likes to shoot people, The Post doesn’t want to be in cahoots with machine politics.

I believe that Kevin Dopart will be reading the news of his Inkin’ Memorial — his 19th first-place win — while on vacation in Greece (maybe he brought his first Bob-o-Linc with him to photograph it inside the Parthenon). But I’m counting on presenting him with it in person at this month’s Loser Brunch, on Sunday, July 29, at Cafe Deluxe across from Washington National Cathedral. (Join us by telling Elden here.)

Laurie Brink still managed to get big ink courtesy of Romney; it’s still not very nice to the Mittster, but at least he’s not bloodthirsty. Most of Laurie’s previous 26 inks are from our horse name contests, but she really took to this challenge, submitting a full set including several entries based on the Irving Berlin ballad “I’m Sexy and I Know It”: “When I walk on by, girls be looking like, damn, he fly!” (via Thai) “When I walk by a woman, he was seen as a curse.”

But it’s a pair of newbies who got the third- and fourth-place spots, and their choices of shirt, mug or Grossery Bag: It’s the third ink for Jason Talbott, who did huge language-to-language strings for all his entries, and Lorraine Gibson, who I’m pretty sure entered for the first time, is one of seven First Offenders this week. I hope that she and the other FirStink winners will be back for magnets and more.

The HAW this week from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford: Jason Talbott's “I eat a vegetarian.”


Along with Laurie’s “shooting” entry mentioned above, there were a few entries that proved that Google Translate wasn’t as prudish as we are when it comes to certain English words.

Dave Prevar offered several translations of “The darn horn was not in tune with the rest of the band.” My favorite was (via Japanese) “Was not in harmony with the rest of the s--- band horn.”
And the Scarlet Letter goes to musical-theater buff Kathy Hardis Fraeman:
It’s the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.
(via French) This is the oldest established permanent play sh!t floating in New York.

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