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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Bloemen Voor Algernon

The beautiful thing about the Internet is that it can actually make you feel smarter. We have instant access to information, references, news, trends and data of every conceivable kind. It’s exhilarating.

The awful thing about the internet is that these effects are usually temporary. As quickly as we learn something — or appear to have known it all along, perhaps — it’s gone again. Take away the internet, and we’re as drool-dripping dumb as we were before our search turned up gold.

Exactly this thing happened to me today. I was playing one of those Scrabbly games on my phone — because everyone needs their daily dose of vitamin neeeeeerd — and struck up a match with some anonymous ‘net user, as usual.

We traded a few turns, and then he sent me the following message:

Wat is dit voor een woord???

Now, I don’t know what the hell that means. I tried reading it backwards — still nothing. I squinted at it for a while, wondering if it was some new kind of AOL-speak Esperanto I haven’t heard about. But no; I couldn’t understand a word. I might as well be reading Cosmo.

So I pulled up Google Translate, and typed it in.

Apparently, the sentence above — minus the excessive punctuation; hence my initial AOL-ish suspicion — is in some language called “Dutch”. Wherever this “Dutchland” is, they apparently use lots of vowels. Also, question marks. Funny people, these “Dutchicans”.

On the good side, Google told me that the person was asking the meaning of one of the words I’d just played. As it happened, I actually knew what this word meant — unlike the usual nonsensical ‘UT’ and ‘XU’ and ‘QANAT’ crap you have to play to win the stupid game. And I’m a nice guy, always willing to educate others when one of the four pieces of information in my brain might help someone out. So I decided I’d tell him the definition.

The question was: how? I don’t know Dutchese. And this guy, possibly, wasn’t fluent in English.

(Because that totally seems like a good time. I love playing word-based games in languages I don’t speak. That’s a real hoot. Boggle is just so much more satisfying when I’m getting my ass kicked in Cyrillic instead.)

Of course, the answer was right in front of me. I hit the “flip” translation arrow, typed in my answer, and Translate spat out a bunch of ‘oo’s and ‘ee’s surrounded by v’s and w’s and the occasional j in response. I diligently copied it over to my phone, fully expecting that I was declaring to this stranger:

“I’m sure my sentences were getting mangled somewhat in translation, making him think I was either a small Dutchean child or that I’d been bonked on the head by a windmill.”

My hovercraft is full of eels.

(On the bright side, I am no longer infected — you want to come back to my place, bouncy bouncy?

If that doesn’t make any sense to you, just ignore it. It probably just means you’re not irretrievably old, and didn’t sit up on Saturday nights in your far-gone youth watching Monty Python on PBS. Or the BBC. Or possibly the Dutchen Broodcasting Neetwoork.)

To my surprise, a few minutes later I got a message back. And to my further surprise, when I translated this one, it didn’t ask me what the hell was wrong with me.

(Nor did it say, “Drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait til lunchtime!

Which would have been frightening. But also quite impressive.)

Instead, the message (when translated) made perfect sense. So I translated another reply into Dutcherish, and tapped it in. We went back and forth a few times like this, conversing. I was actually having a conversation with someone in another language! A language I couldn’t speak a word of — and was quite possibly made up; I mean seriously, “dit voor een”? That sounds like someone lisping in Morse code.

But dammit, we were talking! For real, and understanding each other. I’m sure my sentences were getting mangled somewhat in translation, making him think I was either a small Dutchean child or that I’d been bonked on the head by a windmill. But it was working. It was a legitimate conversation.

And then I had to leave the computer. So I still had the game, and I had my phone, and I had this Dutch guy tapping messages to me, but no Google Translate.

(Okay, technically I still had Google Translate, since I have an Android phone. But I was walking and carrying something, so I only had one hand free.

I can play pseudo Scrabble with one hand. I can type with one hand. But translate, on top of that? That’s crazy talk. I’m no hero over here.)

I figured I’d get away with a quick break, and I’d be back to the computer soon enough. But as soon as I stepped out, Meester Dutchy messaged me.

And then again.

And again.

Was it a single three-part message? An insistent question? Was he having some sort of wooden clog emergency? Who the hell this side of Antwerp knew? I certainly didn’t. But I realized I couldn’t just let it go until I got back. I had to respond.

So I looked back over our first ten or twelve messages, gathered all the Dutchish syntax and grammar I could, and gave it the old Nether college try:

Soorie, II doon’t kneewen whoot yoo sayeen. Tulip boorken Tiesto durken Anton van Leeuwenhouk un boork der hoork der.heerk de boork.

It’s just possible I panicked and threw in a little Swedish that I learned from that chef guy on the Muppet Show. I’m sure it’s similar to Dutch. More or less.

Anyway, the guy never wrote me back. Also, he stopped playing the game. Maybe he got his finger stuck in a dam or something; whoo caan zay, reeally?

Probably, it’s for the best. I’m pretty sure if he does respond, it’s not something I want to plug into Google Translate. Internet or not, I’m still smart enough to know that.

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