Rrow itself.

A recent Avva post (mostly in Russian) links to an essay by Jaspreet Singh Boparai (who “recently abandoned academia to cultivate the Muses”) about translation between Latin and Greek and between both those classic tongues and English; he has many interesting things to say (“Cicero frankly acknowledges just how bad a lot of translations were in his day”), finishing up with a piquant anecdote about Reginald Foster (see this LH obit post), and I recommend the whole thing, but I’m going to excerpt the same bit Anatoly did, where he translates “Lorem ipsum” into English:

‘Lorem Ipsum’ is a piece of text that looks like Latin but is in fact gibberish. […] At first glance this has the feel of an authentic Classical text because it is in fact a scrambled version of a passage from De Finibus Malorum et Bonorum (1.32–3) in which Cicero discusses the mistaken idea of scorning pleasure whilst extolling pain. A difficult passage even before scrambling, because (as is so often the case with Ciceronian philosophical texts) it is easy to lose the thread of the argument, once you tire of how long the sentences are. This makes it a perfect template for nonsense.

At the time this was sent to me, I had not yet read De Finibus Malorum et Bonorum. This ignorance was a Godsend: it meant that within twenty minutes I was able to produce the following:

Rrow itself, let it be sorrow; let him love it; let him pursue it, ishing for its acquisitiendum. Because he will ab hold, unless but through concer, and also of those who resist. Now a pure snore disturbeded sum dust. He ejjnoyes, in order that somewon, also with a severe one, unless of life. May a cusstums offficer somewon nothing of a poison-filled. Until, from a twho, twho chaffinch may also pursue it, not even a lump. But as twho, as a tank; a proverb, yeast; or else they tinscribe nor. Yet yet dewlap bed. Twho may be, let him love fellows of a polecat. Now amour, the, twhose being, drunk, yet twhitch and, an enclosed valley’s always a laugh. In acquisitiendum the Furies are Earth; in (he takes up) a lump vehicles bien.

He goes into detail about how he translated it, then says:

My translation of “Lorem Ipsum” was published on 14 March 2014, with typically shrewd and insightful commentary by my friend. This paragraph may well end up being the single most widely-read text that I ever write.

That link goes to Nick Richardson’s LRB Blog post; the commentary is indeed enjoyable:

It’s like extreme Mallarmé, or a Burroughsian cut-up, or a paragraph of Finnegans Wake. Bits of it have surprising power: the desperate insistence on loving and pursuing sorrow, for instance, that is cheated out of its justification – an incomplete object that has been either fished for, or wished for. Some of the new coinages are intriguingly ambiguous: ‘concer’, both cancer and conquer (and conker); ‘some won’, a prize and a person; ‘tinscribe’, to engrave on tin? The words for two (‘duo’) and who(‘qui’) have been elided to produce the sound of the chaffinch (‘twho, twho’); a later elision produces the inebriated twitcher who’s listening to it.

This strange not-quite-meaningful-but-not-quite-meaningless-ness may be one reason there are so many comedy Lorem Ipsum generators online. Most of them try to make the text more suggestive by inserting words not typically associated with first-century Latin glosses on ancient philosophy. Bacon Ipsum, for instance: ‘Bacon ipsum dolor sit amet deserunt short loin officia filet mignon,tenderloin ham consectetur ut anim’ – it’s like a menu. Gangsta Lorem Ipsum puts in izzles and tizzles. And Samuel L. Ipsum (’motherfucking placeholder text motherfucker’) gives you a selection of some of Samuel L. Jackson’s more memorable lines. But none of them is a patch on the original, a renaissance avant-garde masterpiece.

For Lorem ipsum at LH, see my 2007 April Fool’s post, and note the blog of that name I posted about later that year.

By the way, in the same post Anatoly reproduces a translation of “Jabberwocky” by Nikolai Ershov; like the first commenter, I find it too quirky (“Слишком заковыристый”). But all such attempts are of interest.


  1. Rob Grayson says

    Brilliant. I especially enjoyed “let him love fellows of a polecat”.

  2. It’s beautiful. But why did he maintain a Latinate “acquisitiendum”?

  3. David Marjanović says

    Not bad… not bad at all.

  4. But why did he maintain a Latinate “acquisitiendum”?

    Odd that he doesn’t address that, but my guess is that since “adipiscing” looked like it had an English verbal ending, he substituted a Latin one in his version.

  5. Why only now I thought of asking GT for a translation.

    It is important to take care of the patient, to be followed by the patient, but it will happen at such a time that there is a lot of work and pain. For to come to the smallest detail, no one should practice any kind of work unless he derives some benefit from it. Do not be angry with the pain in the reprimand in the pleasure he wants to be a hair from the pain in the hope that there is no breeding. Unless they are blinded by lust, they do not come out; they are in fault who abandon their duties and soften their hearts, that is toil.

    We need Mr. David Eddyshaw to comment on that

  6. I’m so glad to have heard A.I. described as a bulshitting machine. No other description fits it so perfectly.

  7. @Y, a revoluton happened several years ago, as a colleague of my friend described it, “computers got smarter over these two years more than over the previous 40”.

    I would be careful with speculations about how smart they eventually (and that assuming no quantum computing etc) will be.

  8. Sure, but much what I’m seeing here and now is bullshitting: the machine faking a superficially plausible answer even when it doesn’t have a correct one, sometimes more and sometimes less obviously to the human eye.

  9. bullshitting: the machine faking …

    I guess ChatGPT will offer an opinion on Lorem ipsum if asked nicely. That’ll be some gold-plated bullshitting.

    I would moderate drasvi’s colleague’s claim: computers have been getting ‘smarter’ (although a word I would avoid) at a continuous but exponentially-driven rate (Moore’s Law ‘innit).

    Which means that at any point in the past 40~60 years you could say “computers got smarter over these past two years more than the previous <whatever>”. I guess each generation discovers this for itself — the ‘recency effect’.

    Eliza in the 1960’s was an adept bullshitter. Ah, we were so credulous back then.

  10. yes! and to me (80s child), the auto-generators have nothing to do with AI, but do have the specific feel of Eliza hooked up to a massive cut-up pile (or of ABULAFIA in eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum*).

    that said, the googletranslation has a lot of flavor, even flavour, but can’t do the kinds of moves that happen with “acquisitiendum”, or (i think, i have less than little latin) “cusstums”.

    * author of writing that’s stuck in my head for thirty years despite being (deliberately, perfectedly) awful: “i count the nights / the sistrum sounds / o death thy victory”

  11. Keith Ivey says

    Odd that he doesn’t address that, but my guess is that since “adipiscing” looked like it had an English verbal ending, he substituted a Latin one in his version.

    That’s what the essay says:

    To return to the first sentence of ‘Lorem Ipsum’: ‘adipiscing elit’ looks like adipisci velit with an added ‘ng’ and a subtracted ‘v’. Adipisci velit translates roughly as ‘he may wish to acquire’; but velit (‘he may wish’) must lose its first letter to become ‘ishes’; and if the English ‘-ing’ is tacked on to the end of adipisci in Latin then it only seems fair play to deface the English equivalent with the Latin –endum. That being accomplished, I altered the whole slightly for (as it were) coherence.

  12. Thanks! I lazily did ctrl-F on “acquisitiendum” instead of actually reading the whole thing over, so I missed it.

  13. I somehow had missed Boparai’s essay altogether. His lovingly abusive tribute to Reginald Foster is great (Foster was here.)

  14. I propose an anti-Turing test: when you can’t tell the difference between bullshitting from AI and bullshitting from a person, computers will have truly mimicked humanity.

  15. Didn’t Engels write a book called Anti-Turing?

  16. Ahead of his time in so many ways…

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