Monday, April 20, 2009

Stirring Up Hook

Dr. Pauly's "Tao of Poker" blog recently included a Babel Fish translation of a text from its original French to something akin to English. Babel Fish is renowned for producing unusual prose and it occurred to me that when dealing with poker lingo the online translator would have a particularly tough time. So I carried out a few experiments.

In order to establish the reliability of Babel Fish poker translations (hereafter BFPTs - I used to work for NASA and have never outgrown acronyms), I used it to translate text from English to a second language and then back to English again. Clearly if BFPTs were perfect the text produced by this process would be identical to that entered.

The fundamental finding of this research is that BFPTs are not perfect.

German provides a particular challenge. The English word "poker" is translated not as the card game but as the object that you use to poke a fire. Which, thanks to German compound nouns, is re-translated back into English as "stirring up hook." Now at some level this all makes perfect sense. A poker is indeed a sort of hook that is used to stir up ashes and coals and so forth. However it does represent a central problem for the reliability of German BFPTs.

To provide an example and simultaneously avoid copyright infringement I used Babel Fish to translate a portion of my April 9th blog from English to German to English. The original text is:

Behind door number 2: cocktail waitresses with fake tits and free drinks, people who are bad at math who came here of their own volition and not because of a university Gen Ed requirement, bathrooms that always have enough paper towels and that are free from the angry scrawl of students who just failed my class and see fit to describe in fourth-grade handwriting and grammar their theories about how I am gay and/or nailing that girl in the front row in the denim miniskirt that they wanted to nail but never got anywhere because the girl in question found them indistinguishable from all the other terminally dull guys in baseball caps and sweatshirts, and... oh yes, sorry, I digressed. Behind door number 2: POKER.

The German BFPT of this passage is:

Behind door No. 2: Cocktail waitresses with falsified Tits and freely beverages, people, which are bad at Mathe, which came of their own expression of will and not because of a requirement Universitätsgen OD, bathroom, the always sufficient Papiertücher have and of the annoyed Scrawl of the class participants, the straight my category and fit, around in the fourth degrees handwriting and in the grammar to describe their theories left survey, how I am homosexual and/or am free the nailing of this girl in the first row in the Denimminirock, which they wanted to nail, but never received, everywhere because the girl, that nisht found them too differentiating of all other chaps in the baseball caps and the Sweatshirts, blunt at the end and… oh, is sadly questionable, I deviated. Behind door No. 2: STIRRING UP HOOK.

Given that I have a tendency to employ long, rambling, run-on sentences that frequently, but not always, include multiple nested clauses, it occurred to me that using my own prose to test BFPTs was not entirely fair. So I found some relatively simple questions involving poker and carried out BFPTs through various languages. The original questions in English and the BFPT results are presented below.

Some critical questions when playing poker: How big are the blinds? At what level do the antes kick in? How often should I defend my blinds? How do I build my chip stack? Who is the chip leader at the table? Are my opponents good poker players?

BFPT via German:

Some critical questions, if stirring up hook is played: Are the curtains as large? On which level does the Antes step inside? How often should I mean curtains to defend? How establish do I mean splinter piles? Who is the splinter leader at the table? Are my competitors good stirring up hook players?

BFPT via French:

Some critical questions while playing poker: How much large are the lamp-shade? To which level the settings do give a kick inside? How much times I should defend my lamp-shade? How I build my pile of piece? Who is the chief of piece to the table? Are my adversaries good players of poker?

BFPT via Italian:

Some critical questions when they play mace: How much large they are the blind people? To that level the advance payments gives of soccer within? Every how much time I would have to defend my blind people? How I construct my battery of the integrated circuit? Who is the head of the integrated circuit to the table? Are my adversaries good players of mace?

All of this raises a troubling issue. I coach poker players many of whom have first languages other than English. When I tell them "stealing the blinds allows you to add poker chips to your stack" do they instead hear one of the following BPFTs?

To steal the blind people allows that you add the integrated circuits of mace to your battery.

Theft of the curtains permits you to add stirring up hook splinters to your pile.

The flight of the lamp-shade allows you to add pieces of poker to your pile.

Stealing the zonneblinden permits you add pookspaanders to your battery.

The theft of blinds allows in you in order to adds the chips poker in your pile.

That you steal blind, it makes that the tip/chip for the poker is added to your accumulation possible.

To steal the curtains allows that you add chips of póquer its stack.

To steal shutters makes possible for you to add to [oblomoki] of poker to your stack.

I should emphasize that my research into BFPTs is in its early stages and I have few conclusions at this point. With a sufficiently large Federal grant I would be prepared to devote myself to this project. However, it is my personal feeling that anyone attempting to apply BFPTs to Omaha terminology should be discouraged. Asking Babel Fish to get its gums around "a nut low draw with an inside wheel wrap and twin backdoor flush draws" strikes me as cruel and unusual punishment.

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