British English? American English? – now there’s Flatpack English

by | Jan 6, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

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

For those fortunate souls who have not experienced the simultaneous horror and entertainment value of flatpack English, these are short documents claiming to be written in English. But they’re not. The more you read, the more you become convinced that you might 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.

It’s not the manufacturers fault. Well, not entirely. It’s very 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 how language cannot be fully mechanised. It’s cheap to use – in a lot of cases it’s free – but be very careful because it has the capacity to drop you very quickly and deeply into big trouble. Search for a free version – I won’t mention any 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 English texts from machine translations. I am required to convert them into comprehensible English and polish them. I have to say, the day is often brightened by a sudden urge to laugh hysterically. Then I realise a lot of flatpack English is never reviewed before it hits the world (including some from large companies) and something inside me dies a little.

Anyway, back to the flatpack bookcase. By now you’ve called a friend, rummaged through your toolbox twice without finding a ’12-milliliter spinner’, discovered that the micro sachet of wodglu [sic] ran out part way through construction and it’s gone midnight. Oh, and there’s a fixing left over. The bookcase looks finished, but like all things flatpack it isn’t quite what you expected and has developed a wobble.

If you go for cheap or free, whether self-assembly furniture or editing/proofreading – then expect to get what you ‘pay’ for. Wobbles included.