A recent post by the “old hack” canehan, after passing on to us a number of amusing bloopers, ends with this intriguing anecdote:

But I was particularly delighted to find I still had a copy of the most famous press release in motor sports, that for the 24 Hours of Montjuic motorcycle race in Barcelona in July, 1979.
At the end of 2 1/2 pages of seriously mangled English, the organisers “…greet to the misters representing of the informative medias in their arrive into the Condal City, and they hope a wire brush stay and their cordial gratitude.”
“A wire brush stay” – often transmuted into ” a wire brush weekend” – became a staple of the motor sport press for many years. One Spanish journalist attempted to work out how the dictionary-wielding translator got to the phrase – we thought his finger had slipped from the right word – but never did find any rational explanation.

So I join canehan in asking: Anyone out there have a clue?


  1. I read the original post, and I can see why this has been travelling across blogs. Intriguing, indeed.
    I’ll be doing some thinking of my own, and get back to you guys.

  2. The only thing that comes to mind right now is that it’s a play on words gone wrong, butchered in the translation. Perhaps something that relates to motorcycles themselves — along the line of “a metalic stay” or “an electrifying weekend”, for example.

  3. marie-lucie says

    Since the event was taking place in Barcelona, could the apparent pun involve some local expression in Catalan rather than Spanish?

  4. m-l, yes, that’s what we thought. But I don’t think anyone’s seen it up to now who’s familiar with Catalan expressions.

  5. I talked to a Catalan friend of mine, and he has no idea whatsoever either.
    My best guess is that the translator simply messed up big time, skipping words in that last part, and replacing others, possibly by going by memory.
    I’m trying to work the sentence back into what the original Spanish could have been.
    >>>the organisers “…greet to the misters representing of the informative medias in their arrive into the Condal City, and they hope a wire brush stay and their cordial gratitude.”
    >>>Los organizadores saludan a los señores representantes de los medios informativos en su llegada a la Ciudad Condal, y envían su cordial gratitud y deseos de una estancia placentera.
    “And they send their cordial gratitude and wishes of a pleasant stay.” reads the last part.
    Perhaps “wire” = “send” through telegraph; “brush” for “wish”; and the “hope” somehow with “pleasant”.
    Just a theory… the best I can come up with.

  6. Interesting theory!

  7. I think I might have it: the original read una grata estancia “a pleasant stay”, and grata was taken as a form of the verb gratar “burnish, scrape, brush”.
    Any takers?

  8. Any takers?
    Yes, me for one. You can even find grata translated as wire brush here and here.

  9. Aha – even better: so there’s a noun grata “wire brush” (which I hadn’t known).

  10. marie-lucie says

    TR, You’ve got it! I went looking at Spanish dictionaries on the internet in order to find grata and/or “wire brush”, but I only found grata/gratar with a different (technical) meaning there. So grata “wire brush” might be a colloquial or other not-quite-standard term, unknown outside of Barcelona at the time of the event described above, more than 30 years ago.
    IP, those are wonderful sites! with much more vocabulary than most “dictionaries”.

  11. You certainly have some astute commenters here. A 30-year mystery essentially solved within half a day!

  12. Aha, so it’s been solved.
    I too had thought of “grata”, but, like Marie Lucie, could not find a way to link it to “wire” or “brush”.
    It was definitely fun. It felt like solving a puzzle… a “real” puzzle. These days, with the internet, you can’t trust that a reader will “work” for his answer, because all we’ll do is simply google the answered question right away.
    This one, though, there’s really no record of it online, so it was truly a challenge.
    So the “wire brush” has been solved, but going to recreating the Spanish original, now. Could this be the whole sentence, or could a verb be missing?
    >>>y esperan una grata estancia y su cordial gratitud.
    It feels incomplete to me.

  13. I second Patrick’s comment. Well done, all of you.

  14. While we’re enjoying ourselves: in my local pub in the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera I once came across a rendering of “tortilla de camarones” (*) in the foreign-language menu as “little blows to the shrimp”. Took us a while to reverse-engineer that one!
    (*) a delicacy of the Cadiz area: a sort of fritter made of batter, parsley and the minute unpeeled shrimps known as camarones

  15. Fantastic! I know this was the right place to find the answer! (de verdad, aunque suene “chupamedias” como diríamos en Argentina)
    I’ve never heard from “gratar” or “grata” as an object.
    Thank you very much, this aenigma has been haunting me for days!
    F.L. is right something, is still missing and wrong with “…hope (…) their cordial gratitude”, but no clue, either. I’ll just sit, relax and see what extraordinary ideas you people come up with.

  16. (Sorry, among other wrongs I may have committed without noticing, I found a too evident misplaced comma in my comment, of course I wanted to write:
    “F.L. is right, something is still missing…” )

  17. From the originator of the query, many thanks indeed to Tom Recht, and to LH for hosting my question.
    I just knew that the LH community would be able to solve the problem in short order.
    I shall inform the older members of the motor racing community among whom this is a legendary puzzle, and TR and LH will become a part of motor racing history – which may or may not impress them !

  18. I’m not persuaded. I think it’s a mistranslation to and fro of the invitation to have a dirty weekend.

  19. If you’re looking for a missing preposition after ‘esperan’ (hope), it’s not necessary. The verb translates in this case to ‘hope for’, not ‘hope’. Nothing else is needed there.

  20. No, Tara, I would say we’re looking for a VERB, a missing verb.
    “Esperan o desean (…) su cordial gratitud” has no sense at all, it would be as if they expected to be thanked by the “misters” (of course they expect that, but this is not something one openly says).
    It must have been a verb like “envían, ofrecen” I don’t know. But what it’s sure is that “their cordial gratitude” (whatever that means) is something the “organizers” give to the “misters”.

  21. You certainly have some astute commenters here. A 30-year mystery essentially solved within half a day!

  22. marie-lucie says

    Julia: I’ve never heard from “gratar” or “grata” as an object.
    And these words are not listed in most dictionaries with the relevant meaning. This confirms my impression that una grata “wire brush” is not in general use in Spanish but limited either to some contexts or some regions or both. (The verb is reminiscent of French gratter ‘to scratch, scrape’).

  23. Paul, I’m thrilled to be a part of motor racing history. Quite a wire brush feeling, so to speak.

  24. Tom. I’m sure you will now, as we initiates do, incorporate it regularly into your observations: “How was it?” “Oh, we had a wire brush weekend”.

  25. Here you can buy a “grata” for €6,10
    There is a picture too; so we know what a grata looks like.
    I suppose it’s a word that’s not widely known outside the group of people who actually work with these tools.

  26. Yes, m-l, you were right, thank you.
    How come the translator of 1979 has come across this word?
    I hope that Paul will let us all use this expression…
    What a wire brush thread!

  27. marie-lucie says

    Julia, the 1979 translator must have looked in a very large dictionary, which for some reason was not available to later searchers. And obviously that person was not a qualified translator, only someone who had a smattering of English and just looked up words in the dictionary without double-checking that they did have the right meaning.

  28. Julia: Well of course you can use it !
    M-L: If I were to bore you with the other 600 or so words of the press release, you would understand how right you are about the translator having only a smattering of English. It’s hilarious.
    Mark you, it cuts both ways. The gentlemen of the British media were totally perplexed by the term “Condal City.”
    As I am still. Can someone enlighten me as to why Barcelona is known as the Condal City ? I get a sense of an area under the control of a count in medieval times.

  29. Oh good, my chance to join in with an answer. Barcelona was once the County of Barcelona, and, indeed, ruled by a Count, or Conde in Spanish. We don’t have an adjective derived from “Count” or “county” in English, so presumably the “translator” was unable to find a translation for “Condal” …

  30. I wonder if this is a dictionary-related snafu at all, or simply a case of a stumped translator asking an English-speaking friend “Hey, how do you say grata in English?” (whereupon the friend, lacking syntactic context, might well take the word as a noun). I would think anyone with minimal dictionary-using skills would look up the citation form, grato.
    Paul, re Condal City – yes, that’s exactly it: Barcelona is known as the “Ciudad Condal” because it was the seat of the Counts of Barcelona. But of course “Condal City” is another translation error: the translator apparently assumed that the Spanish adjective condal had an identical English equivalent.

  31. (In other words, what Zythophile said.)

  32. Actually, English does have an adjective for count: comital. If you google “comital city” (with quotes) you’ll get a few dozen hits, referring to medieval French and Italian cities, Gloucester, Hamburg, etc.; none, as far as I can tell, refer to Barcelona. Interesting quote from Chris Wickham’s Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society 400-1000 (p. 177): “A comital city still had a bishop in it as an independent counterweight; an episcopal city had no balancing force at all.”

  33. marie-lucie says

    a case of a stumped translator asking an English-speaking friend “Hey, how do you say grata in English?”
    I don’t believe the “translator” knew any English speakers, otherwise the “translation” would have been immeasurably better. It is quite obvious that the translator had to look up just about every word in a dictionary, not just this one word.

  34. mollymooly says

    “A 30-year mystery essentially solved within half a day!”
    More like three-and-a-half years

  35. mollymooly was in the right direction three years ago!
    Compensation and reparations seem necessary…

  36. No offense to mollymooly, whose Brillo suggestion was very ingenious, but it wasn’t in the right direction at all. Amazing memory—I had completely forgotten that brief digression in a thread about Chinese.

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    It seems like one could generate a quite similar puzzle via machine translation from English into another language if the English input had “grate” as a typo (or transcription error by a non-native speaker transcribing a spoken original) for “great,” subject to whatever features of the MT program would decide whether to interpret “grate” as a noun or a verb when it was in a syntactic position where it ought to have been an adjective. I guess “grater” rather than “grate” would be even closer?

  38. I was thinking of grate & congratulate.

  39. Well done, mollymooly. My seniors brain had forgotten I posted that query, but I’m glad LH overlooked it and now we have the solution.
    There happened to be a Cassell’s Spanish-English dictionary lying on a table in my local library today so I looked up “grata” and it gave “wire brush” as the sole meaning. It gave “grato” as “pleasant” but I see in one dictionary that it takes either form, gender agreement I assume.

  40. Actually, English does have an adjective for count: comital.
    Well, there we are, something else new I’ve learned from LH – the word is C19th in English and, of course, from medL, according to the OED, which does at least call it “rare”. Certainly much rarer than “royal”, “ducal” or “baronial”, and edged out by “marquesal”, too, I’d guess.

  41. Trialling the HTOED, I find 5 adjectives in “society > the community > social class or rank > nobility > rank > earl, count, or countess > relating to count or earl [adjective]”: belted, margravial, countly, comital, margravely.

  42. “Marquesal” is pushing it, isn’t it? At least it’s spelt right, (with an E).

  43. Apparently there are only 34 marquessates.

  44. komfo,amonan says

    Zythophile’s contention that the word ‘comital’ is just a baby sent me, laden with doubt, to oed.com (free till Saturday), where his/her contention was confirmed: 1859. ‘Countly’ goes back to 1847. I just figured it’d be hard to write a post-fall-of-Rome history of a western European state without those words; I figured wrong.

  45. @Zytophile:

    Well, there we are, something else new I’ve learned from LH – the word is C19th in English and, of course, from medL, according to the OED, which does at least call it “rare”. Certainly much rarer than “royal”, “ducal” or “baronial”, and edged out by “marquesal”, too, I’d guess.

    Actually, “ducal” and “baronial” are so much more frequent (two orders of magnitude) that an ngram plot featuring all terms is useless.
    Limiting the search to the rarer terms http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=comital%2Ccountly%2Cmargravial%2Cmarquesal&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3” rel=”nofollow”>isn’t too informative either. I’d guess that the sharp spike in recent use has to do with people misspelling “committal” rather than with a sudden resurgence of interest in earls and counts.

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