The Blizzard Gets Stronger?

More On the Strange Results from Free Online Translation Sites: Bulgakov’s “Varenukha,” A Spicy Fruit Liqueur? Or “The Blizzard Gets Stronger?”

the blizzard gets stronger

Varenukha?

the blizzard gets stronger

or Varenukha?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In earlier posts I’ve hinted at my fascination with the strange and humorous forms that language sometimes takes in online translation applications (see posts-Google-translate: original Russian vs Google vs MeGooglisms- Russian to English). These delight me on a number of levels: for the assurance I get that there is still something a human can do better than a computer, for the comedic value I see in this sort of verbal slapstick, and for the insights into the nature of language I gain from looking at how and why it can go so wrong.

Recently I discovered another free translation site that I find even more entertaining than Google or Bing (formerly Windows Live Translator); translation.babylon.com is especially notable for its greater tendency to insert proper names, often unnecessarily, and to translate a single word as an entire phrase, occasionally an English quote or idiom. I was especially struck, and remain puzzled, by its preference for rendering the name of one character from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita–Varenukha, (Russian- Варенуха)–as the English phrase “the blizzard gets stronger.” After Initially suspecting that this was what was going on, I plugged in a number of other sentences that contain this name to be sure I was not mistaken. Sure enough, when “Varenukha” was in its nominative form it invariably became “the blizzard gets stronger.” If it had any other case ending (e.g. Варенуху/Varenukhu–accusative, or Варенухе/Varenukhye–dative) babylon would simply leave it untranslated. The confusion here is compounded by the fact that Варенуха is the name of an alcoholic liqueur made of fruits and spices, and of Ukrainian origin. As Bulgakov has a tendency to choose names for his characters that evoke some element of their personality (see post-The Nature of Bulgakov’s Names), it is likely that he had in mind this sweet, spicy intoxicant when choosing a surname for his director of the Variety Theater rather than “the blizzard gets stronger.”

the blizzard gets stronger

Mikhail Bulgakov

To illustrate the bizarre tendencies of this online translator I am listing some examples of sentences from Master and Margarita below. Each includes an original sentence, the translation of it by babylon, some thoughts, such as they are, about what might be going on, and my own translation of the same sentence (all of the babylon translations are shown exactly as they appear in the site’s results field):

 

 

Original:

В то время, как случилось несчастье с Никанором Ивановичем, недалеко от дома № 302-бис, на той же Садовой, в кабинете финансового директора Варьете Римского находились двое: сам Римский и администратор Варьете Варенуха.

 

Translation by babylon:

At that time, as has happened with misfortune Никанором havent received, not far from the house No. 302-bis, on the same Orchard, in the cabinet financial director of Museums Rome were two: the Rome and the administrator Venerates the blizzard gets stronger.

 

My Comments:

This is the first sentence of chapter 10, and where Varenukha is first introduced to the reader. O.K., maybe Varenukha is being translated as “Venerates,” (or not) but still, where does “the blizzard get stronger” come from? I have not been able to find any forms of “blizzard,” or “snowstorm,” or “to get stronger” that in any way resemble any part of this sentence. If someone out there is aware of any, please let me know.

There some other things in this sentence that deserve mention: first, why “havent” is missing its apostrophe is a mystery to me (and this word is, apparently, the translation of the common patronymic–“Ivanovich.” Other completely different renderings of “Nikanor Ivanovich” {Никанор Иванович} are shown below); “Orchard” is understandable as, aside from the fact that it is capitalized, it is only from the context of previous chapters that one would know that this refers to a street in Moscow called “Garden” street, or “Orchard” street; “Rome” is also excusable as the proper name “Rimsky” is also the adjectival form of the Russian for “Rome.” Again, aside from the capitalization, and the fact that Bulgakov happened to like using the names of famous composers (the reader has already met a Berlioz and a Stravinsky in this tale), one could easily make this mistake.

 

My translation:

At the time when misfortunes were occurring for Nikanor Ivanovich, on the same Sadovaya Street, not far from house 302-bis, in the office of Variety’s financial officer Rimsky there were two: Rimsky himself and Variety’s administrator Varenukha.


Original:

–      Доллары в вентиляции, – задумчиво сказал первый и спросил Никанора Ивановича мягко и вежливо: – Ваш пакетик?

 

Translation by babylon:

Dollars in ventilation, – perfectly true said the first Eigth spoke and asked to put it mildly and politely: – your pod?

 

My Comments:

Off to a good start, this translation breaks down pretty quickly. The word meaning “thoughtfully,” or “wistfully,”–задумчиво–is, for some reason, given as “perfectly true.” The word order is changed to make the word for “first” attributable, incorrectly, to the “Eigth spoke.” And this term is especially intriguing.  Beginning with what is presumably a misspelling of “Eighth,” these two words can be derived from nothing other than the name, again, “Nikanor Ivanovich.” In addition to “Никанором havent” and “Eigth spoke,” this name is, depending on its inflection, also translated as: “Boniface Alexandre Ivanovich,” “Boniface Alexandre Deputy General Director of Svyazinvest,” and “Deputy General Director of Svyazinvest Nicanor.” This is all rather inexplicable, but especially “Alexandre.” There is nothing in “Nikanor Ivanovich” even remotely suggestive of the rather common Russian name “Alexander,” regardless of how it might be spelled.

 

My translation:

Dollars in the ventilation,” said the first wistfully and asked Nikanor Ivanovich softly and politely, “Your packet?”


Original:

– Лжедмитрий, – сказал Варенуха и заговорил в трубку телефона:

 

babylon translation:

The Simpleton mourns the bitter fate, – said the blizzard gets stronger and you are scared to pick up the handset of a telephone:

 

My Comments:

I love this one. This is part of the dialogue between Rimsky and Varenukha. They’ve just gotten word that someone claiming to be a coworker of theirs, Stepan Likhodaev, has been detained in far off Yalta. The first word, “Лжедмитрий,” is most often translated as “False Dmitri,” the historical name given to any one of a number of men who had claimed to be one Dmitri, an heir to the throne of the Tsars, who had already died under suspicious circumstances (he is thought to have been murdered by Boris Godunov), during the succession crisis known as The Time of Troubles in the early 17th century. This is Varenukha’s way of expressing his belief that the person in Yalta is a pretender, and not the real Likhodaev. I am still trying to figure out how one word that literally means “False Dmitri” could be construed to be “The Simpleton mourns the bitter fate,” or where there is any word here that carries the meaning “are scared.”

 

My translation:

“A False Dmitri,” said Varenukha and began speaking into the telephone receiver:


Original:

Варенуха опять принялся по телефону разыскивать Степу где попало и, натурально, нигде его не нашел.

 

babylon translation:

The blizzard gets stronger again firefighters on the phone looking for Степу where has come into contact with, and nigiri-sushi, nowhere is it is not found.

 

My Comments:

This is interesting to me mostly for the inclusion of “nigiri-sushi”, which may be one of the meanings for the word pronounced “natural’no” (stress on the second ‘a’; Russian- натурально), though I haven’t found any reference to such a meaning.

 

My translation:

Varenukha again set about using the telephone to find out where Stepa had gotten to but, of course, did not find him anywhere.


Original:

В дверях появилась все та же женщина, и оба, и Римский и Варенуха, поднялись ей навстречу, а она вынула из сумки уже не белый, а какой-то темный листок.

– Это уже становится интересно, – процедил сквозь зубы Варенуха, провожая взглядом поспешно уходящую женщину. Первый листком овладел Римский.

 

babylon translation:

In the doors is the same woman, and both, and the Rome and the blizzard gets stronger, have risen to meet, as well they sye that time ‘eals all things from the bag is no longer white, but some dark sheet. Is it becomes interesting, – процедил through your teeth the blizzard gets stronger, visa support glance hastily outgoing woman. The first safety data sheet (MSDS) mastered the Rome.

 

My Comments:

This is when I decided that this site must be a joke, for in the phrase after “they have risen to meet,” which is fair, one finds correct translations of “from the bag,” “no longer white” and “but some dark sheet.” This leaves only она вынула unaccounted for in that sentence. The meaning and construction of these two words are simple; the pronoun for “she” and the past tense, feminine singular form of the verb “to take out; pull out.” But “they sye time ‘eals all things?” Really?

Thinking this looked like a transliteration of some Scots dialect in verse, a-la Robert Burns, I did a web search for this phrase, but only found a similar line from a poem of George Orwell, from his novel ‘1984.’

they say that time heals all things
they say you can always forget
but the smiles and the tears across the years
they twist my heart strings yet
George Orwell, ‘1984’

 And then there is, among others, the issue of “MSDS” (Material Safety Data Sheet) given in the last line. . .

 

My translation:

In the doorway appeared the very same woman, and both Rimsky and Varenukha got up to meet her, but now she took from her satchel not a white, but some kind of dark sheet.

“This is getting interesting,” Varenukha hissed through his teeth, following with his eyes the hastily departing woman. The first to seize the sheet was Rimsky.


Original:

– Всего доброго, – удивляясь, сказал Варенуха.

 

babylon translation:

All the best, – he casteth out devils through the blizzard gets stronger.”

 

This is, on the face of it, a very easy sentence to translate and makes no reference that I am familiar with, to devils, or anyone’s casting them out.

Given the plot and substance of this book, though, I am tempted to attribute all these bizarre translation outcomes to the devil’s work.

 

My translation:

“Good-bye,” said Varenukha, amazed.


Черт знает что такое!

© 2013, John Dougherty. All rights reserved

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