Some things are silly and useless, and yet irresistible. Such is the case with Translation Party. There’s a good description at TechCrunch:

The site is incredibly simple: you enter any English phrase you can think of, and it uses Google’s automated translator to convert it into Japanese. And then it translates it back into English. And back into Japanese. At each step along the way, the words you began with gradually take shape to form something entirely different and (hopefully) awesome. The retranslations continue until you reach what the site calls ‘equilibrium’, when the English and Japanese words translate back and forth into exactly the same thing. Fortunately, it usually takes at least a few steps for your words to reach equilibrium, and the resulting sentences are often hilarious.

TechCrunch gives the example of “May the Force be with you,” which reaches equilibrium with “October 5 power, to please”; you can find many more examples at MetaFilter, whose snarky and obsessive denizens are a perfect audience for this.


  1. I tried this on the phrase translation is not as easy as it looks.
    Instead of “equilibrium”, this led to an endless cycle:
    Translation is not as easy as it looks
    It is not easy to translate visual
    Visual translation it is not easy
    Visual translation is not easy
    It is not easy to translate visual

  2. To clarify: My input was
    “Translation is not as easy as it looks”
    (no period)
    When I tried it again with
    “Translation is not as easy as it looks.”
    I got a different result.

  3. I tried this on Women make passes at men who wear glasses.
    Within five iterations, it began to alternate between:
    Wear glasses, I sent the women and men.
    Wear glasses, I sent the men and women.
    The program wisely fended off an infinite loop and terminated after fifteen back-and-forth iterations.

  4. “He couldn’t organise a decent shit” ended up as “He could not organize a decent shit”. Mark one up for Google Translate.

  5. Did it scold you for using that word?

  6. On the other hand, “It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes” became “In other words, you will see clearly. Invisible!” There is a slight difference in meaning, but otherwise it seems reasonably in keeping with the message of the Little Prince…

  7. Yes, it said “With language like that, you’re a real goodwill ambassador!”

  8. “Do people really say things like that?” came out as “Do people really say things like that?” Perfect!
    Of course, my aim is not to produce the funniest sentence, but to find sentences that are translated perfectly. A perversion of the aims of the site, to be honest.

  9. “Run support is not a pitching stat.”
    ended up as
    “TOTARUPITCHINGU supported to be run.”

  10. It doesn’t do well with the f-word, which I tried purely in the interests of science of course.

  11. Someone once did it with some Madonna song, I think it was into Polish and back…anyone remember? It was hilarious, as can be expected.

  12. I remember they did this at Language Log a couple of years ago, I think it was into Chinese.

  13. Noam Chomsky, sit up and take notice:
    Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
    Green ideas sleep furiously colorless.
    Green ideas sleep furiously colorless.
    I was hoping for a little more awesome than that, but I’ll take what I can get.

  14. Love in the Bath says

    Just looking at the English doesn’t necessarily reveal the full idiocy of some of the translations.
    I tried “All you need is love”, and it came out perfectly in the first back-translation. Trouble is, that’s not what the Japanese means! すべての愛が必要です means “All love is necessary” or “All the love is necessary”.

  15. I suspect the Chomskyphrase works because it has been translated and used literally in Japanese linguisticss – so there are enough identical examples in the corpus that Google can match the complete 5-gram.

  16. Well, not bad, but it hardly helps to build the unambiguous translations that we need in real life.
    To build a *meaningful* equilibrium try this:

  17. Michael Farris says

    Ha ha ha! I broke the sucker with the perfectly (locally) grammatical sentence:
    “”Which fish did you believe the rumor that Billy caught?”
    collected by linguist/novelist Suzette Haden Elgin.
    “In my case, I think I can catch a fish? His claim?”
    It gave up and said:
    “It is doubtful that this phrase will ever reach equilibrium.”
    Human linguistic inventiveness – 1 : Automatic translation (and Chomskyan theory) – 0

  18. Trond Engen says

    “What if God was one of us?” is brilliant. (Well, it goes into a loop after a while, but until then there’s wisdom under every rock.) I have no idea of the japanese parts, though.

  19. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” isn’t bad, either.

  20. I don’t know why, but it generally (always?) makes a difference whether you include a period at the end of your sentence. “Ask not …” with a period breaks the sucker.

  21. or rather it leads to the message “It is doubtful that this phrase will ever reach equilibrium.” and if you take the last sentence before this message as your new starting point it rapidly reaches a repeating cycle of length 2.

  22. Likewise, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” stabilized eventually as “Mouth BAKKUMARIGAN, email, Shigeru Ito stairs, glass and razor blades, and pass the excitement of the ball bearing.”
    But “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed” stabilized as “Razor blade into the mouth of excitement, Shigeru Ito BAKKUMARIGAN on top of the stairs, you pass a mirror ball bearing”

  23. This is a little bit depressing:

    You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
    I say you may be fancier, but I do not.
    Can say is that I raise, I do not.
    What is up with me.
    And me?

    Then it adds an editorial comment:

    That didn’t even make that much sense in English.


  24. Nijma, I got to
    Please just imagine my house.
    on yours.

  25. Dreamy Bathrobe says

    Well, if you leave off the full stop, you get something quite different:
    You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
    You are my dreamer may say, I was not only one
    I dream of you may say that I was the only one
    I can say it was a dream that you are my only
    I can only say to you was a dream that I
    Just say it was my dream, my
    I just say it was my dream
    I will say it was my dream
    I say it was my dream.
    I was in my dream.
    I was in my dream.

  26. Great time-waster
    Please give those ripe green apples to me
    translates into
    I will give a ripe green apple
    but for some reason, red apples are different:
    Please give those ripe red apples to me ->
    I was a ripe red apple

  27. I love the narration that develops out of Philip Larkin’s famous opening line:
    They fuck you up, your mum and dad, they may not meant to, but they do.
    If you use the original punctuation (with a full stop after dad), the story runs a little differently, but it does yield this gem:
    MUM is enabled, my father died. In that sense they are not

  28. hsgudnason says

    Appropriately enough, the line that I consider one of W.S. Gilbert’s most inspired: “The Japanese equivalent of ‘Hear! Hear! Hear!'” became “Listen to the sounds of Japan.”

  29. komfo,amonan says

    “Lost in Translation”, using Babel Fish, has been doing something similar for almost nine years.

  30. Things are a bit unstable over there (possibly because Google Translate is changing underneath it). Five days ago, I tested the sentence “The discovery of the letters between Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey entirely demolished Fleckenridge’s theory of the Great Divorce” (an interesting sentence because of its instrumental subject), and got no convergence after 20 steps. I continued the process by hand using GT directly, and eventually (many, many steps later) it converged on “Mr. Woolsey, the basic theory and character, Henry Fleckenridge divorce, Worl destruction found.”
    Today the same sentence converges on “Cardinal Wolsey, Henry Fleckenridge 8, the complete destruction of the natural theory of divorce, to discover the world” after only 15 steps.

  31. “Mr. Woolsey, Henry Fleckenridge characters, and basic theory, in the divorce settlement was discovered, and destroyed the world.”
    (If you use a full stop)

  32. I thought it would be best to try it with a question, to try and find a romantically-comic equilibrium for the childish romantic declaration (I had just finished reading the “Declaration” chapter in Eclipse&emdash;yes, I keep reading Stephanie Meyer). And TranslationParty became the multi-colored Rorscharch-test of my pretty-much-perennial-uncertainty-ridden-polite-and-full-of-self-doubt-unimposing-tone. The question Do you want to be my girlfriend? (which I tried second) is in equilibrium. Now, the first time I tried it, I used the form I have uttered most in the past when in the obvious situation that leads to it. Insecurity abounds, as it oft does with me. Just maybe not about the answer but the question. Run through TranslationParty, a question becomes A question (and runs through other doubts):
    would you like to be my girlfriend?
    Want me to her?
    What I want for her?
    I am with her?
    What I find her?
    How do I find her?
    What if I find her?
    What if I find her?
    Damn! The equilibrium phrase sends me into sinuous and spiralling thoughts.
    I tried another variant.
    will you be my girlfriend?
    How do I get my girlfriend?
    What is she to do?
    What is she to do?
    Fun but scary.

  33. As a regular and heavy user of Google Translate (for English-Chinese), I can only say that the Japanese section is far worse than the Chinese. There is something about Japanese that is less amenable to direct translation. One problem is word order. Google Translate may be good at low-level phrases (and not even there, Chinese Google Translate renders “the financial status of the Japanese government” as literally “of the financial status, the Japanese government” in Chinese), but it totally sucks at sentence level word order. Since Japanese is further from English than Chinese in this respect, you already have the recipe for massive cockups in translation.
    But in addition to that, there seems to be something about the Japanese way of putting things that is quite alien to both English and Chinese. The omission of subjects, the use of transitive and intransitive verbs, the use of quite different grammatical fillers from English (という, こと), and a lot of other things I’ve never been able to figure out, all seem to throw algorithms like Google Translate into a tail spin.
    In the example above, Google Translate gets off to a massively bad start by translating “Would you like to be my girlfriend?” as 彼女が私の希望ですか?, meaning “Is she my hope?” At least English – Chinese yields a reasonable equivalent in Google Translate: 你想成为我的女朋友?’You want to become my girlfriend?’ Japanese is so far off the mark that one can only shake one’s head in wonder.
    One problem is the use of the pronoun 彼女 ‘she’ to mean ‘girlfriend’ in Japanese — an understandable source of error. But even worse is the failure to translate “would you like to” into any kind of meaningful Japanese — even なりませんか would have done it! But no, for some reason the algorithm goes off and substitutes ‘希望です’ ‘to hope for, to be …’s hope’. What’s worse, ‘My girlfriend’, complement of the verb ‘to be’, is catapulted up into the subject slot ‘彼女が’. And ‘my’, which should be before the noun it possesses (‘girlfriend’), is most enigmatically placed after it. So even after the very first pass, Google Translate has completely mutilated the sentence and rendered it unfit for intelligible consumption.
    The return passage is even stranger. A sentence that could be straightforwardly translated into English as “Is she my hope?” comes back as “Want me to her?” The mind can only boggle at how they arrived at this, and I’m not even going to try to guess.

  34. To clarify:
    Kanojo-ga watashi-no kibō desu ka?
    She (subj.) my hope is?
    A fairly literal translation of ‘Would you like to be my girlfriend?’ would be:
    (Anata wa) watashi no kanojo-ni narimasen ka?
    (You (topic)) my girlfriend not become (question)?
    where …になりませんか …ni narimasen ka? is a wording used for invitations. Lots of other quite awkward wordings are conceivable, but the actual wording served up by Google Translate is just … totally out of the ballpark!

  35. OK, what is even weirder is that “You want to be my girlfriend?” is translated into Japanese as:
    Anata-wa watashi-no koibito-ni naritai desu ka?
    You (topic) my girlfriend want-to-become (question)?
    This is what the translation should have been in the first place! What is the problem with Google Translate?!!?
    Incidentally, the above translates back into English as:
    Do you want to be my lover?
    Eventually it reaches equilibrium at:
    Do you want to be my girlfriend?

  36. yes, I keep reading Stephanie Meyer

    This is totally unrelated, but I may just start reading her too… friends tell me that no book has made them loathe its protagonist more deeply than Breaking Dawn, yet (or because of that) they couldn’t put the damn thing down. It may be worth reading just for that effect.

  37. “Biggie Biggie Biggie can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me”
    somehow became:
    “In my case, I can not see the federal government billions of dollars? Words, listen to the brainwashing”

  38. I flat-out didn’t believe you, so I tried it myself:
    Biggie Biggie Biggie can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me
    I can not see that as a huge federal case? Sometimes your words hypnotize me is
    A case I can not see the huge federal? The brainwashing that you sometimes hear
    In my case, I can not see the federal government billions of dollars? In some cases, the brainwashing of the ear
    …And it all happened so quickly!

  39. komfo,amonan says

    Biggie borrowed that lyric from Slick Rick’s 1985 hit “La Di Da Di”. So I input the original lyric, with standardized punctuation.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, can’t you see? Somehow your words just hypnotize me.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, How can I meet you? Hypnotize me your word of it.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, can I meet you? Words I will hypnotize you.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, How can I meet you? My words are brainwashed.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, can I meet you? Have been brainwashed to me.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, How can I meet you? I have been brainwashed.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, can I meet you? I have been brainwashed.
    Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, not, How can I meet you? I have been brainwashed.
    The English bounces back and forth between those last two, eluding equilibrium.

  40. To Be Or Not To Be
    Please Do Not.
    Please Not.
    Whereas languagehat’s book titled “Uglier than a Monkey’s armpit” without a full stop becomes “Grotesque than the armpit of the Apes” but with a full stop becomes “Grotesque monkey from the axilla”.
    Personally, I’d buy both of them.

  41. “Everyday is a holiday”
    swiftly converts to
    “Sunday is a holiday”
    I’d hate for it to be my boss.

  42. Biggie Bathrobe says

    The strange case of “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie” becoming “federal government billions of dollars”.
    If you look at the Japanese you can make out how it happened… sort of.
    Biggie, Biggie, Biggie is interpreted quite liberally as 大げさなほどの巨大なていないこと, which means something like ‘something so huge as to be exaggerated’ or ‘exaggeratedly huge’ (I’m not sure about the ていない). One can only marvel at how the algorithm waxed so creative, but there it is.
    As for the return leg, somewhere in the deep dark recesses of the algorithm, ‘don’t make a federal case out of it’ has been duly recorded by the Google computers as a fitting equivalent to ‘exaggerate greatly’. So that is where the federal government comes from.
    The ‘brainwashing’ part isn’t hard to fathom. ‘Hypnotise’ is translated in the very first Japanese version as ヒプノタイズ hipunotaizu, which is a foreign word (possibly half Japanised by now). A human translator who did this would be castigated as ‘too lazy to try and find a decent Japanese equivalent’. Google Translate’s subsequent substitution of a more natural Japanese equivalent (洗脳 = ‘brainwash’) is a bit off the mark but not totally out of line.

  43. Thanks, I was wondering about that!

  44. Bathrobe, not says

    To see how totally screwed up the Google Translate approach to translation is, you just need to see its final output for this sentence:
    “He is a part of the problem, not a part of the solution”
    There is nothing zany or entertaining about the version that Google comes up with. It’s just that the entire meaning is reversed:
    “He is not part of the problem is part of the solution”
    Until the algorithm can come up with ways to parse sentences properly, including the correct assignment of negatives, possession, verbs, etc., it will continue to be grist for sites like Translation Party.

  45. All this happened, more or less.
    This all happened more or less.
    It is less what happened.
    It’s not what happened.
    In what has not happened.
    Not what happened.
    Is not what happened.
    What’s going on is not.
    back into English
    In what’s going on.
    back into Japanese
    What’s going on?
    What’s happening?
    What’s happening?
    Equilibrium found!

  46. Robe Bath, not says

    Actually, the more you look at it the less funny it becomes. The algorithm is just so screwed up it’s impossible to take seriously. It is demonstrably incapable of translating even the simplest expressions from English into Japanese and vice versa.
    All this happened, more or less.
    This is translated as:
    Korera wa subete, ōkare sukanakare okotta.
    These (topic) all, more or less happened.
    Why did it move the comma into such a totally irrelevant position? This lays the groundwork for the subsequent degradation. The next pass into English just leaves the comma out.
    This all happened more or less.
    So now ‘more or less’ is welded to the verb ‘happened’, opening the way to a new interpretation:
    Kore wa, subete ga okotta no ka sore ika to narimasu.
    This (topic), all happened (expression of doubt) became less than that.
    The sentence is ungrammatical and inscrutible. The algorithm appears to be interpreting ‘happened more or less’ as ‘did it happen (or) it was less than that’. This is such a bizarrely twisted way of parsing the sentence, resulting in what is quite simply ungrammatical Japanese, that one wonders whether the creators weren’t consuming too much saké on the job.
    When this is translated back into English as
    “It is less what happened”, it would be charitable to say that the system is making a wild guess.
    Then back into Japanese as:
    Sore wa amari nani ga okkotta no ka.
    This (topic) not-much what happened?
    Where does ‘amari’ come from? It means ‘too much’ or in a negative sense ‘not much’. It’s hard to see how ‘less’ could ever be translated as ‘amari’.
    The algorithm then makes a big guess and translates this back into English as ‘It’s not what happened’. This is a total stab in the dark.
    From there it moves on to the totally ungrammatical Japanese sentence (starting in a particle!):
    ni nani ga okkotta no de wa nai.
    ‘to what happened isn’t’
    Apart from the nonsensical particle that starts the sentence, it’s not too bad, although the meaning is rather different. It means ‘It’s not a matter of what happened’.
    However, the opening particle throws it for six, and we get in the return pass:
    ‘In what has not happened.’
    Back into Japanese as:
    de nani ga okotta no ka shite inai.
    ‘(particle) what happened (question particle) not doing’
    Even without the particle that starts the sentence, it is quite ungrammatical and hard to figure out exactly what it could mean.
    I won’t keep going, but frankly, this algorithm is so totally screwed up, it leaves literal translation in the dust for absurdity.

  47. Fascinating thing.
    The best one I have done that it appears no one else has was:
    “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down.”
    It goes quite a bit, and then becomes
    “Mercy of God.” which I found quite amusing.
    It also adds a footnote which reads:
    “That internet joke is funny in any language!”

  48. …. I typed ‘bonk’ and it translated to ‘sex’

  49. Sounds good to me! ‘He bonked her’ is another way of saying that he had sex with her.
    Google Translate has got everything but the kitchen sink in there, but it still doesn’t add up to a well-furnished apartment!

  50. Just to clarify: translationparty doesn’t use Google Translate. I hate it when people screw over Google Translate, ’cause it’s probably the best automatic translator out there. I don’t know what translator they use, but it’s not Google Translate.
    Example: I personally like putting quotes from songs in there. I typed the quote ‘We gotta hold on to what we’ve got, it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not, we got each other and that’s a lot for love, we’ll give it a shot.’ from Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a prayer into Translationparty. The equilibrium was: ‘Tend to love each other, Shigmitsun.’ Then I copied the quote into Google Translate and switched back and forth until it reached equilibrium. The result was
    ‘We need to have what we have. Whether it is made or not is different. There is each other, there are many for love.’ which is not perfect, but those are grammatically correct sentences and with a little bit of phantasy you can still read the same meaning out of it.

  51. January First-of-May says

    I vaguely recall that Translation Party did use Google Translate at some point in the past, but at some point GT changed their API terms of use in a way that made such repeated queries much harder, and they switched to something else.

    I’m sadly not aware of any other extant website that does the “translation chain” thing (either with GT or something else).

  52. David Marjanović says

    I hate it when people screw over Google Translate, ’cause it’s probably the best automatic translator out there.

    Whatever the EU uses for some of its pages on is even better, but it doesn’t seem to be available to the public. (The pages are marked as having been machine-translated; they look machine-translated, but it may take you a minute to notice.)

  53. Well, it helps if you’re translating material like (first thing I clicked on):

    Promoting safe and healthy workplaces for people of all ages is vital to sustaining Europe’s workforce. Currently, workers exit the labour market at the age of 61 on average – much younger than the average official retirement age (65) set by many EU Member States.

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