once more with neutrons

Here's another entry taken from the archives of my previous weblog, The Palinode, from the mists of 2003, when cars were powered by coal and the ipods were known as 'stereos'. The meds, they make sustained effort and concentration tough, so here you go.

Recently [or if you like, a long time ago] Mimi Smartypants pointed the way to Multibabel, a site that hijacks the good intentions of Babel Fish by translating a phrase back and forth from language to language, until the original English has been twisted into an unrecognizable syntactic shape. The translation daisy chain goes as follows: English-French, English-German, English-Italian, English-Portuguese, English-Spanish and back to English. Best of all, you can run the resultant phrase through the process again, like feeding mangled metal fragments into a broken machine. It's fun if you're wearing gloves.

Eventually the phrase will stabilize, achieving a consensus between languages. Unfortunately, the consensus does not lead towards universally agreed-upon sense, but towards a Point Of Mutually Assured Nonsense (POMAN). With extremely simple single-clause phrases it takes about three or four cycles (30-40 passes) to hit POMAN. Given something more complicated, when will POMAN be achieved? Because I am who I am, I tried out the gramatically ugly but chart-topping sentence "I'm just burning, doing the neutron dance" (see last entry). It produced unexpected results, which I've taken the time to track for you. Here are the highlights of 250 kicks at the Pointers Sisters can. I've omitted the translations into non-English languages, and wherever possible I've avoided linguistic explanations in favour of more imaginative ones.

1. (original) I'm just burning, doing the neutron dance.

3. (from French) I am burn right, making the dance of neutron.

Two translations in and already Babel Fish has made a conceptual error, confusing the English "just" (as in "only") with the French "juste" (as in "correct"). Babel Fish also neglected to properly translate the continuous form of "I'm... burning". It must be the "just" that's causing the problem, but already the notion of correctness has been introduced. Also, I'm no longer dancing but making a dance, which is, you know, kudos to me.

6. (from Italian) They are the right of the fire and I form the dance of the neutron.

Just a few translations and already things have gotten pretty hairy, not to mention a bit Fascist sounding. I've been taken off burning duty and assigned to a subcommittee charged with administering the neutrons. "They" are a group that somehow embodies the correctness or the claim to the liberty of fire, whereas I'm somewhere else taking care of the dancing neutron. Two passes later and the line reads "I give form to the dance of the neutron," which is even cooler. I picture myself in some kind of metaphysical conservatory, sculpting a dance in the studio for subatomic particles while fiery incarnations proclaim their rights in the lecture hall.

10. (from Spanish) The correct one of the fire and I give the form to the dance of the neutron.

The first translation cycle has been run through, and far from reaching POMAN, the results have produced an unexpected richness. One of the fire-rights creatures has been appointed to join me in directing the neutron dance. Am I jealous, aloof or standoffish? Of course not! I'm honoured to share choreography duties with the correct one of the fire.

16. (from Italian) The corrected one of the fire and of that it gives the shape for the dance of the neutron.

Well this sucks. Obviously something's gotten screwed up, because I've been kicked out of my position as co-choreographer and the fire guy is no longer "correct" but "corrected". Why? What mistake did it make? Was it a crime to fraternize with me? Those "right-of-the-fire" types are just jerks.

24. (from German) Behobenes fire and of this gives it the form for the dance of the neutron.

What? Who the hell is 'Behobenes' and what business does he have with our neutron dance? Where's the corrected one? Where am I? This is nothing but a corrupt bureaucracy at work.

26. (from Italian) The fire of Behobenes and this gives the shape to it for the dance of the neutron.

Whoah... fire of Behobenes. I've got to admit, that sounds kind of cool. I can see why they brought this Behobenes guy in.

30. (from Spanish) The fire of Behobenes and this one gives to the form he to him stops the dance of the neutron.

Oh, great. Thanks, Behobenes. Mad props to you and your fire. Don't come calling when you want your neutron dance started up again, because I was doing just fine. Just fine.

36. (from Italian) The fire of Behobenes and this of gives to the famous shape ch' to it the dance of the neutron.

At this point I'm not sure what's going on, but it looks like they're trying to fix the situation by bringing in the famous shape ch'. I've never heard of that particular shape, but I don't think it's wise to bring in a ringer and hope that all their problems will just go away. I don't care how famous ch' is. If you want a good dance, get a dancer, not a shape.

42. (from French) The fire of Behobenes and that of gives to the form celebrates CH ', this dances it neutron.

See, this is exactly what I feared. Everyone's capitulated to fame and started celebrating "CH '" instead of paying attention to what really matters. If I were on the job you'd get a first class neutron dance every time, not this ridiculous pandering to celebrity. Notice the capitalization now? Gimme a break.

50. (from Spanish) The fire of Behobenes and of gives the form commemorates the CH,', that to the neutron this one dances.

Total sellout. Let's all bow down to CH and forget about the neutrons. Let's just flock to the concerts and watch CH do a tribute dance to neutrons or something, while those hard-working little particles never even make an appearance. Also, notice that than an apostrophe gets its own clause. I think they've brought in a !Kung as a consultant. Well, good luck to them. I've started up an improv troupe with a handful of Higg's bosons and strange quarks.