Lost in Translation

Babel FishThe Babel fish is one of the great literary devices; a fish that ‘feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain.’

Douglas Adams created it for H2G2 as a universal translator since ‘the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language’.

But something so useful comes at a a cost. As Adams tells us, ‘the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation’.

I sometimes thinks the web is the real world equivalent of the Babel fish.

Yesterday’s post demonstrates that a lame joke on one side of the world can unintentionally causes offence on the other. It seems the more we speak, the less we understand each other.

Tower of BabelOf course, the Babel fish was more than a nod in the direction of the Old Testament when mankind spoke one language and built the Tower of Babel as a symbol of their unity and mutual understanding.

God didn’t much like the idea of an uppity mankind and so he went down and ‘confounded their language that they may not understand one another’s speech’ and ‘scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth’.

And we’ve been in blissful ignorance of each other ever since, at least until now. Thanks to the web and an international media, we hear what someone in a foreign land is saying and then take great delight in misconstruing their meaning.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

2 comments… Add yours
  • Reader Wil 24th January 2012

    How wonderful to be able to understand fast speaking Frenchmen! Great invention! Thanks for your comment and explanation about your name giving! I was named after my grandmother Wilhelmina. She was probably named after our queen. Have a great day, Ian!
    Wil, ABC Wednesday team.

  • Jay from The Depp Effect 24th January 2012

    I’ve always fancied a Babel fish.


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