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US English? UK? Or Flatpack English?

You know how it is. You’ve bought a cheap bookcase that ‘just’ needs a screwdriver and ten minutes of your time to put it together. You open the box, lay out some odd-shaped pieces and find the instructions. Instructions? More like destructions. You’ve found a thin sheet of paper containing directions on how to build the thing, and they’re written in ‘flatpack’ English.

For those fortunate enough to have avoided the simultaneous horror and entertainment value of flatpack English, this is a short written set of instructions that claim to be written in English. But they’re not. The more you read, the more you become convinced you’d have a better chance of understanding it in the original language. The diagrams don’t help either and are coyly deficient in detail at the most crucial points of the build.

Copyright: Goodday / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: Goodday / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s not the manufacturer’s fault. Well, not entirely. It’s highly likely that someone has used machine translation. Not quite as sinister as some sci-fi movies would lead you to believe, but machine translation is a prime example of why language cannot be fully mechanised. It’s cheap to use – in some cases it’s free – but be very cafeful because it has the capacity to drop you very quickly and deeply into trouble. Find a free version and try it out – I won’t mention a specific service but most will screw up a translation for, I am sure, purely comedic effect. It’s like the drawbacks of using spell check times a thousand.

I sometimes work with texts from machine translations from one of my regular clients. I am required to convert them into comprehensible English and polish them. I have to say, the day is often brightened by the sudden urge to laugh hysterically. Then I realise a lot of flatpack English is never reviewed before it hits the world and something inside me dies a little.

Anyway, back to the flatpack bookcase. By now you’ve called a friend, rummaged endlessly through your toolbox looking for a ’12-mililiter spinner’, discovered the micro sachet of ‘wodglu’ ran out part way through and it’s gone midnight. Oh, and there’s a screw left over. The bookcase looks finished, but like most things flatpack it isn’t quite what you expected and has developed a wobble.

If you go for cheap or free, then expect to get what you pay for.

Wobbles included.

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