From Iceland — Lost In Google Translation: A Real Head Scratcher

Lost In Google Translation: A Real Head Scratcher

Published April 4, 2022

Lost In Google Translation: A Real Head Scratcher
Alice Poggio
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A short, sad story: Bob, an eager American exchange student, is starting his Icelandic adventure. On his way to school, he scrolls through local news. A headline stands out: “The police are looking for a man with a headache.”  

He thinks: “That could easily be me.” Could he be a test subject escaped from a drug study promising headache-free futures? Has the police force been afflicted by a department-wide bug, and is now forced to roam the streets with blinding headaches looking for this man?

Bob opens the article. The police are in fact looking for someone, and while the pictures don’t show him notably migraine-less, Bob’s questions remain unanswered. He already missed his bus stop, but the obsession grows. He attempts to translate the original headline manually. Lögreglan → police. Good. Lögreglan lýsir eftir manni með… → The police are looking for a man with… Great!  Kollvik→… kollvik? Bob’s eye twitches. Adding insult to injury, google interrupts: ‘Uzbek language has been detected’. 

At this point Bob isn’t too convinced that he isn’t this hunted man. Desperation drives him out of the bus, and onto the streets of Reykjavik. Wading through the crowds of tourists, searching for a local to make sense of this mess. Disheartened, he slumps down on a bench next to an old woman. In this case, the elderly’s inability to mind their business serves him well, she sneaks a peek at Bob’s screen and chuckles. “That’s funny, I think they meant receding hairline” 

There it is. Koll(ur) is another word for head. The translator bots certainly had fun with this one. A word of advice to all expats, find an Icelandic friend, and save yourself these headaches.


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