Fun With Google Translate

I have a word problem. I really, really like words. A lot.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that on my trip to the Balkans I took pictures of words to look up later.

Nor should it come as a surprise that I can spend hours playing with Google Translate.

Forget squirrels or shiny things — these are the rabbit trails I follow for amusement.

For instance, this photograph was taken of the tray back on my Croatian Air flight.

I recognized molimo vas from the language app I used before the trip. It means please. However, I wanted to figure out the rest of the words even though the translation was right below it.

Vežite se dok sjedite means Sit while you are sitting. (Google Translate: Croatian to English) But vežite, by itself, get translated tiePerhaps the literal translation is something about tying yourself in your seat?


The one time I was brave enough to use Croatian was in the Franciscan monastery in the Old City Dubrovnik. “Dvije,” I said to the man at the ticket table, indicating that I wanted two tickets.

“For that you get in free,” he said, in perfect English. He was delighted that I attempted Croatian.

Inside, we visited a beautiful garden and an art gallery. A war scar was framed on the wall.

Udar granate means A missile shot according to the sign below.  Google Translate (GT) says it means grenade attack. Close, I guess, but different.


This one is a mystery.

GT translates ĆIVU FRANA CUNDULIĆA NAROD means THE LIVING OF FRANCA CUNDULIĆA NAROD so maybe it’s a person’s name.

But if I drop the capitalization, the same words mean  a living shroud of crowds of people.

If I drop the “narod” because it’s on a separate line, and just look at the first line in all small letters, it means (according to GT) some cranium brake or the black break crank.

I kind of thought our guide said it was a music hall, but who knows?


I used the public restroom at The Tunnel of Hope Museum outside Sarajevo. There I encountered my first squatty potty. It caught me by surprise, especially when my phone fell out of my pocket. Ew. Thank goodness it didn’t fall in. I took a picture of the toilet itself to show my children, and then this one of the sign on the tank to see how it translated out.

Molimo ne bacajte papir u wc šolju, već u kantu za smeće translates to Please do not throw paper in the toilet, already in a garbage can (GT: Bosnian to English) Not bad, really.


Last, a tee shirt.

I have no idea what the guy thought when I snapped this picture. This was after the soccer game (fudbalski) — and it looked like one of those “I’m with Stupid” shirts.

GT defaulted to German for Er heiratet, translating them he marries.

We were in Bosnia at the time, so I tried to force a Bosnian translation — but GT said it meant Er hieratet.

The other team was from Croatia, so I checked the Croatian translation, and GT said, That’s a heir. I thought GT would know that it should be an, not a. But I’ll forgive GT because the words were, after all, German.

GT couldn’t translate Wir sind nur sum saufen hier from Bosnian or Croatian. In German, however, the words meant we’re just drinking here.

A groomsmen shirt. Wedding humor.

When words are playthings, and Google Translate is available, fun is all around. I found that on my trip.

The Good Guide

G is for Flannery O’Connor’s story that wasn’t called “The Good Guide.”

That’s not a typo.

She wrote a story called “The Artificial N——” — I can’t even bring myself to type the word — and her editor pleaded with her to change the title to “The Good Guide.”  FO stood up for her title, saying it was the essence of the story.

At Laity Lodge, this story was the topic of Dr. Ralph Wood’s final talk for the retreat. It is a story of pride, betrayal, and grace.

As soon as Dr. Wood introduced the story, as soon as he said the word, as soon as he dropped that bomb, every heart turned toward the one man of color in our midst.

Every heart turned that way, I’m sure, though every eye politely stared straight ahead or focused on some speck on the floor.

He might as well have called a Jew to the front and offered to tattoo a number on his or her arm.

We are stung by certain words, by the sheer profanity of them, as we should be.

At the beginning of the retreat we were challenged to write two words on blocks of wood. One was to be the word that represents that thing that holds us back from our art. The other was to be a word that we would like to see eliminated from the English language.

I immediately knew my two words. I scrawled the first one onto a block, but couldn’t bring myself to write the second because, in my mind, it is such an awful word that it makes me want to throw up just to look at it.

I took a deep breath and finally scribbled it onto the block. Quickly, I laid the block face down on the sofa. I really didn’t want to see it.

Words can be such powerful things, can’t they?

Writing it down felt like I was empowering it, the last thing I ever wanted to do.

All those blocks were burned, though, in a vortex of fire on the last night.

The blocks were stacked on a potter’s wheel, doused with lighter fluid, and lit with the wheel spinning.

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

I wish it were so easy to rid our country of hate.