The Travails of Translation

la-fg-nice-france-crash-20160714-snapNBC news perhaps has an opening for a French translator. Whoever broke the story on their website about the tragic incident of a terrorist slamming his truck into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks rendered the Mayor of Nice’s tweet of warning:

in English to read:

Dear nice, the driver of a truck appears to have made dozens of deaths. Stay for the moment to your home. More info to come.”

Obviously, the web workers were in a hurry.  Obviously, they fed the tweet through an on-line translator. Obviously, in light of the slaughter, complaining about a translation from French to English is petty — if not in bad taste.

However, I grew up on the National Lampoon.  I am a connoisseur of bad taste, so allow me to continue and offer this advice to anyone needing to quickly translate.  Render the awkward computer-generated translation into the vernacular.  You don’t need to know French to take the raw translation above to change the text to this:

Dear Citizens of Nice, a truck driver is reported to have inflicted dozens of deaths.  For now, stay home.  More info is to come.

Of course, the original tweet isn’t as specific as it might be.  The Major might have tweeted

It appears that someone has plowed a truck into a crowd, and he may be a terrorist, so stay home until further notice.

But for all I know the nuances of the French language would somehow subtly convey the nefariousness without having it literally spelled out, but chances are Mayor Estrosi was himself in a hurry, not weighing words, or even more likely, assigning the tweet to an underling.

[Sigh].  I fear this infectious mayhem isn’t going to cease anytime soon.  I fear that it will make us grow callous, that we’ll start to brush off the loss of individual human lives and start carping about minutia, as I have done here, albeit with half a tongue in half a cheek.

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