From Iceland — Lost In Google Translation: The Sea Bids Farewell—To Itself

Lost In Google Translation: The Sea Bids Farewell—To Itself

Published July 5, 2022

Lost In Google Translation: The Sea Bids Farewell—To Itself
Photo by
Screenshot / Vísir

Climate change is really taking a turn for the (even) worse, with the ocean recently deciding to call it quits and bid us all adieu. We knew sea levels were rising but had no idea the water had decided to say goodbye entirely!

But wait, that’s not the only thing wrong with this headline. Apparently the sea has only been working for half a century—a miscommunication that would make any historian, oceanographer, or geologist run for higher ground.

This headline conjured up images of the ocean rising out of the ground, or worse, disappearing entirely—leaving Iceland and the rest of the world high and dry. We at The Reykjavík Grapevine were mightily baffled by this reported turn of events, until we looked out the window and realized good ol’ Google had muffed it up again, pulling a fast one on all of us in the process.

The original headline reads “Kveður hafið eftir rúma hálfa öld á sjó,” but our friends at Google translated it to “The sea says goodbye after more than half a century at sea.” Believe it or not, Icelanders have multiple words for “sea.” In this confusing kerfuffle of a sentence, “hafið” and “sjó” are effectively both referring to that big body of water—but in fact fisherman Kristján Björnsson is saying farewell to the sea (hafið), after he spent over 50 years at sea (á sjó). It’s a happy retirement message with a nautical twist.

So it looks like we’re safe from a desolate, waterless future—for now. Maybe the folks over at Google were trying to send us a warning message. They are, after all, in California, so they know a thing or two about drought.

So don’t make the water mad, or it may retire…forever

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