Recursive Translation

When something is translated to another language, and then translated back to its native language (sometimes with further translations in between).

Even when this isn't a "Blind Idiot" Translation, it will still lose something when translated back. Or maybe gain something.

This often happens with bootleg movies from other countries (although it's a mystery why they didn't just use the original language track). A big cause of Translation Train Wreck.

Free online computer translators do this a lot, especially Babelfish, which quickly went memetic for its ability to produce hilariously mangled results in this manner. Amplified by the fact that even a one-way machine translation will invariably produce stilted grammar and have difficulty with homonyms.

This can also happen with running phrases through an automated translator and back again, which is a popular internet game, and a way to invoke Intentional Engrish for Funny. See Translate The Loan Words Too for when this happens because a translated work includes foreign words.

Compare Either World Domination or Something about Bananas, which is translating something to your own language and coming up with two possible results: one which makes sense and one which doesn't.

Want some fun trying this out? This site iterates over multiple languages. For a single language, there's this site (it uses Bing) and this site (it used Babelfish before switching to Google Translate when the former was discontinued).

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • A positive version of this: in Bleach, the term Shinigami was translated as "soul reaper" in America. Tite Kubo himself said that this is actually a much more applicable term, and it is actually what is used now.
  • A lot of anime is available as Hong Kong bootlegs, and is notorious for this. The best example comes from a Hong Kong bootleg of Gankutsuou, or as it refers to itself, the "Cunt of Monte Cristo"!
  • Some English translations of Japanese media (such as the Slayers: Super-Explosive Demon Story manga as published by Central Park Media) contain the phrase "Stone of Sages", as a result of "Philosopher's Stone" being translated to Japanese (as "Kenja no Ishi") and then back to English.
  • The English subtitles on the Asian (Region 3) release of Gate Keepers 21 by (the long defunct) Century universe were clearly translated from the Chinese script without reference to the Japanese audio at all, since Engrish terms like "Geito Open!" were rendered as something like "Open the door to the alien world!". They also used the Chinese readings of names, e.g. Miu becoming "Miha".
  • The Japanese DVD releases for the first three Pokémon movies contain the English dub, including a subtitle track that translates the English version into Japanese.
  • The Sailor Moon manga quotes two poems by William Blake and William Butler Yeats. The translators for the Tokyo Pop/Mixx version didn't recognize either of the two poems, and translated the Japanese translations into English.
  • Howl's Moving Castle has Michael being called Maakaru. When it was dubbed into English instead of back to Michael it got turned into Markl.

    Comics 
  • Lord Death Man's clunky name is a result of this trope involving one strange interpretation of the word shinigami.
  • An in-universe example that loses nothing but is hilarious anyway can be found in Astérix the Legionary. Obelix's usual denial about his weight has induced him to try on a too-small breatplate, that flies off and strikes centurion Nefarius Purpus in the face.
Purpus: *in Latin* @#$%!
Hemispheric: *in Proto-Germanic* What did the centurion say?
Interpreter: *in Proto-Germanic* He said "^&*+".
Purpus: *in Latin* What did you say to him?
Interpreter: "@#$%".

    Film 
  • The above-pictured scene from a hilarious Chinese bootleg of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (rendered as Star War: The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West), which, when translated from English to Chinese and back to English again, rendered Darth Vader's Big "NO!" as "Do not want", a phrase that quickly became a meme for squick. In comparison to the same subtitles rendering "Jedi Council" as "Presbyterian Church" (via "congregation of elders"?), this is downright tame. Not to mention that "Padme" became "The Plum Of" in the subtitles at one point, and "Anakin Skywalker" became "Allah Gold", which seriously sounds like a Muslim credit card. Oh, it gets even better: The chancellor is D and the Presbyterian Church want to know him at fuck.
    • The reason for the "Do not want" situation is that the word for "no" ("bu" in Mandarin) in Chinese is rarely used on its own — it's much closer to "not," a negator adverb, and if it were used on its own in this situation, it wouldn't make sense syntactically and would need to used with a verb. Thus, they translated it as "bu yao", which means, "Do not want."
    • "Allah Gold" was likely an attempt to translate 阿拉金 (a la jin), a corruption of the official phonetic transcription of the name "Anakin": 安納金 (an na jin). The "West" in "Backstroke of the West" was probably another attempt to translate a phonetic transcription, in this case "Sith" (西斯, xi si). The first character 西 does indeed translate to "west".
    • For more examples just from this bootleg, see here.
      • For an updated version of the same one: Click here.
  • A couple of The Lord of the Rings foreign subtitled examples:
  • This used to be the case for Metropolis, as the American cut was the most complete one remaining (and even that was only about ľ of the original film). Fortunately, this was rectified with the rediscovery of the full text of the original German title cards in censorship records. They have since been retranslated into English and combined with recently rediscovered footage to create a more complete version of the film.
  • There's a Chinese bootleg of The Avengers, which has things like Loki proclaiming that "he does not like the thunder guy", and Hawkeye wanting "a bait and some eyeliner", among others.

    Literature 
  • Uncle John's Bathroom Reader has an article called "Leave Ready Zagromyhat To Us!", which is all about this trope.
  • The book English As She Is Spoke. The author took a Portuguese-French phrasebook and a French-English dictionary and produced his Portuguese-English phrasebook, which is incomprehensible to English speakers and is only read for comedy value.
    • I have mind to vomit.
      • "Do you miss anything?" (The result of translating "Don't get any on you" from English to Portuguese to French, then back to English).
    • "Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'To craunch a marmoset'?"
  • Pale Fire plays with and lampshades this, with protagonist Charles Kinbote translating back into English from a copy of Timon of Athens that has ostensibly been translated into Zemblan. As a result of lost fidelity, Kinbote can't figure out where John Shade lifted the title "Pale Fire" from for his poem.note  But then, translation's not the only thing that's recursive in this book.
  • Played with in a section of Frigyes Karinthy's "This Is How YOU Write", where he translates a philosophical poem by one of his contemporaries into German, then back to Hungarian, then repeating the process several times. The first recursive translation turns the poem into a skit featuring the Jews Ufer and Hertz. The second one yields an ad for Hertz Salami.
  • Even the great Jules Verne is not immune to this trope: for example, most English translations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea use the term "duck gun" instead of "Parrott Rifle", the former being any sort of fowling piece, the latter being a heavy naval cannon (named after its inventor, Robert Parker Parrott) commonly found aboard U.S. Navy ships of the day.
  • The Jorge Luis Borges story collection "A Universal History of Iniquity" consists of accounts of historical evildoers, and Borges quotes from nonfiction works, but in keeping with Borges' Mind Screw style, often alters details from the source text, sometimes in a seemingly arbitrary way. For instance, the chapter on Monk Eastman is to a significant extent Borges translating passages from Gangs of New York (the book) into Spanish (while also throwing in his own alterations). English translators then had to translate those passages back into English and decide how much Translation Correction they should do while still remaining faithful to Borges' aims.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in an episode of NewsRadio; Jimmy James notes that while his new autobiography, Jimmy James - Capitalist Lion Tamer, is selling poorly domestically, the Japanese version is doing extremely well. He decides to have it translated back into English, but finds himself at a loss when he hosts a reading, sight unseen, of the new Jimmy James - Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.
    "I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street... many days no business come to my hut... my hut... but Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no. I never doubted myself for a minute for I knew that my monkey strong bowels were girded with strength like the loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... dung."
    "...Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans... and pants to match. The monkey clown horrible karate round and yummy like cute small baby chick would beat the donkey."
  • A Spicks And Specks game called "Turning Japanese" used this. The contestants had to guess the song lyrics after they'd been translated into Japanese and back. Guess what show's opening lyrics these are:
    If there is strange something
    At your neighborhood
    Whether who calling if
    Destructive person

    Incomprehensible something
    Of the illusion which has done and it is
    Whether who calling carefully
    The destructive person of the illusion which that it has gone does not see
  • Mentioned on QI, Fred MacAulay talks about how at a German Burns-Nicht supper, the Ode Tae a Haggis had been translated from Scots into German, then from German into English, where "Great Cheiften au the Puddin' Race" had become "Mighty Führer of the Sausage People".
  • Doctor Who gives us a rare in-universe example: Melody Pond, translated into the language of the Gamma Forest and back, becomes River Song.
    • Ironically, this was all thanks to a Stable Time LoopMelody was named after Amy's best friend, who later turns out to be Melody, while River only took that name after the Doctor called her that, and the only reason he did that was because that's how she originally introduced herself to him.

    Video Games 
  • This bootleg Vietnamese copy of Pokémon Crystal contains some ridiculous mess-ups like "volcano bakemeat" (Cinnabar Volcano Burgers in the official translation) and "elf monster" (apparently this means Pokémon Professor, as in "People call me the Pokémon Prof.!" in the genuine English translation but now "PEOPLE CALL ME ELF MONSTER" in the bootleg).
    • "EGGIE DRUG BAG FUCK", apparently means "EGGIE put the Potion in the Bag." (Presumably, the bootleg was in Chinese at some point, as "fuck" is a common mistranslation of the Chinese word for "do," as "doing someone" is a Chinese slang term as well.)
    • A fisherman's original line of "I fish until I drop, and I battle until I drop too!" becomes this.
    • Not to mention the rival's epic rant: 'I AM VERY DISGUSTED WITH THE TRASHY MAN. IN SPITE OF THE MONSTER, AND THE COACH, ONLY TRASHY, I WILL BEAT DOWN THEM ALL. FOR THIS I MUST STRENGTHEN MYSELF. THE MONSTER IS THE SAME TOO, COLLECT ALL THE TRASHY, RIGHTEOUS FELLOW ALL ARE UNPARDONABLE. YOU DON'T AFFECT ME. THE TRASHY STROLLING IS AN EYESORE.'
  • Sonic Adventure 2 was written in America, but apparently got translated into Japanese and then back into English. The result? Narm. Lots of it. They didn't change the cutscenes to fit the different sentence structures (and length), causing lines to overlap. Not so bad when it's Sonic and Shadow yelling at each other, but sometimes the overlapping lines are spoken by the same character.
    • There's also one scene where Dr. Robotnik is watching the news, and reacts about a second too early.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had an in-universe one via the official guide. The name of the dragon "Mirmulnir" translates into English as "Allegiance Strong Hunt", but the guide liberally refers to him as "Loyal Mortal Hunter." If that were translated back into the dragon language, it would be "(something)-Joor-Ah."
    • Not to mention that dragon names most likely can't contain the word "joor," as they need to be a Shout, and dragons can't really understand mortality, and deep understanding of the words involved is the first step in using the Thu'um (the words also seem to need to make sense on their own. One word in a dragon's name can't just be a modifier for another word in the name).
  • The MOTHER 2 section of the Updated Re-release MOTHER 1+2 seems to take its dialogue not from the original Japanese version, but from the English translation of the game. Which means the game was translated from Japanese into English then back into Japanese, which is the reverse scenario of the Sonic Adventure 2 example above, but with less narm.
  • Metal Gear 2 has a boss character named "Black Color" in the MSX version, whose name comes from a recursive translation of Blackcollar from English to Japanese and back to English. In later versions he was named Black Ninja.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Someone managed to take the Hotel Mario intro, run it through Babelfish, and create entirely new words from the recursive translation. The word gidrovlicheskiy has become a popular word in the YouTube Poop Community.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the website Translation Party. It translates phrases from Japanese back to English until it reaches equilibrium, or translates the same from Japanese to English.
  • Conlang fans participate in conlang relays to learn one another's languages.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in the Bad Translator, where you can put any text, then it translates it back and forth from random languages up to 35 times, resulting in interesting Non-Sequiturs.
    • 35 Translations later, Bing gives us: "The text and the first game, Fellow, about language • bamboo 14 over 35. Guía llanura enjoy"
    • They managed to turn "I" into "And".
  • YouTube artist Malinda Kathleen Reese has made an art out of taking popular songs, especially Disney songs, and using recursive Google Translate runs to render the songs incomprehensible, including:
    • "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan has such nonsensical bits like:
      • "You are a depressed banana I met" note 
      • "Mr. President, I want a man....from you." [cut to Obama appearing to look at the singer as if to say, "What?"]
      • APPENDIX DOMINATING DEATH!!!
      • "Hi, I had to cut poverty in the school gymnasium"
      • "mysterious as the dark long of the shoes!"
    • "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Frozen is pretty much a downer song since it's about Anna trying to get Elsa to play with her and Elsa shutting her out, and also includes their parents dying at sea in a ship accident. But it becomes awfully hilarious when Google Translate is used on it. Most egregious is the fact that Anna's ambitions really get bigger and bigger the older she gets. First she asks, "Do you want to build a snow male?" in the first verse, "Would you like to build a Yeti?" in the second verse, and lastly, "Would you like to build a snowman corporation?"
    • "Give Up", also known as "Let It Go Official Google Translate Version". Some of the lyrics sound very close to the original lyrics, like "I am the wind and the weather" ("I am one with the wind and sky"), but some make absolutely no sense, like "On the rise for radiation" ("And I'll rise like the break of dawn"), or "Let the storm rage on" becoming "Let us very angry!". Elsa also seems to respond to the translation, when "I do not care what they're going to say" turns into "You do not care what you're saying!" Funnily enough, the line "The cold never bothered me anyway" at the end of the song translates back perfectly.
    • The translation of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea's "Problem" is notable for a line that sounds like Google Translate apologizing for its recursive translations being so hard to understand: "Literal hair, some overweight into my shoulder / I should make more sense, and I understand that". It's also interesting that Iggy's A Wild Rapper Appears verse is completely different, but still has some semblance of a rhyme scheme at some points - "Now is the best / Likely you may request / I let you home page, you may be, then I learned the late my text".
    • Malinda has translated Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You". Here are some examples:
      • "I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree" = "I am a duck in the shade of a tree"
      • "All I want for Christmas is you, baby!" = "All I want for Christmas is your baby!" In other words, the singer wants to steal her boyfriend's children for Christmas.
    • Malinda translates "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", er, "I Do Not Know a King," from The Lion King. Some of the highlights:
      • The Zazu singernote  acts confused and breaks character listening to Malinda's comprehensible phrases
      • "Free to do it all my way" becomes "For me, everything is free"
      • In Zazu's solo, "I think it's time that you and I arranged a heart to heart" becomes "I think me and the time....*gasps* heart disease! *collapses to the floor*"
      • "Out of service, out of Africa, I wouldn't hang about" becomes "In on African clothing service, well I refuse to be!" This singer actually corpses as he says "African clothing service"
      • "Let every creature go for broke and sing" becomes "When each creature rent go broke"
      • "It's gonna be King Simba's finest fling" becomes "King Simba would be a great malfunction".
  • CollectiveCadenza did something similar with the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - the key difference is that they start with a translation to one language (Mandarin Chinese) and back, then gradually add more recursive translations until it's been run through every language available on the site. Naturally, the results get more and more bizarre and unintelligible as the video goes on. For instance, when recursively translated to and from Mandarin Chinese, "You're moving with your aunt and uncle in Bel Air" becomes "you, your aunt, and uncle in Bel Air"; Once it's run through 64 languages, it inexplicably becomes "I HAVE NOTHING!"

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A computer in a lab was running a beta of some translation software package and translated "Out of sight, out of mind", a famous expression meaning "If you hide something, sometimes people forget that it existed in the first place." into Chinese and back to English, and the printout read "Invisible idiot".
  • Before the advent of Internet piracy, Polish gamers had to visit bazaars and benefit from disc-copying piracy. Some of these pirates were private enterpreneurs, but quite a piece of market was alleged to be held by organised crime from beyond the Eastern border. This claim was reinforced by big amounts of translations which looked suspiciously like someone sat with an English-Polish dictionary, without working knowledge of either of the languages.
  • A number of words have travelled back and forth across the English Channel in this way. For example, "le boeuf" (French) became "beef" (English), after which "beefsteak" (English) became "le biftek" (French again).
    • Similarly, the English phrase "Country dance" became "contredanse" in French, which was then retranslated into English as "Contra dance", which unfortunately has nothing to do with a Konami product.
    • A really odd one: French cotte (a kind of medieval outer tunic)—>English coat, which became used in the phrase riding coat—>French redingote—>English "redingote'' (an 18th-19th century garment).
    • Norse skipa (to provide a ship) became equiper in Norman French, and later to equipin English. The French word was reverse loaned as ekipera in Swedish in the 18th century.
  • Machine translation usually does this for uncommon language pairs because it relies on large corpses of text for training and the corpus of say, Polish <-> Swahili translations isn't very big. It's much more likely to translate to English and then into the target language.