Will's Web Watch: 'Help me Babelfish - my wife's fallen in the apples'

"It's sausage to me!"

"It's sausage to me!"

Any holiday makers preparing for a trip overseas may well be brushing up on the 'lingo' - perhaps at the very least ensuring they've enough words to get them breakfast in the morning and a beer in the evening. If this includes you, then you may even have been tempted to turn to one of the online translation services to check a few basic words and phrases. But take note. Learning a foreign language - difficult at the best of times - is made no easier by technologies' binary outlook on life. The hard and fast right-wrong, stop-go nature of technology fails to allow for the idiosyncrasies of language. AltaVista, which runs the usually excellent Babelfish service (named after Douglas Adams' in-the-ear-wonder-translator in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) contacted silicon.com this week to come clean about some of the confusion it has been causing around the world for the past five years. (Happy birthday by the way to all at Babelfish.) For example, if you were approached for assistance in France after somebody had fainted you might find yourself wondering why you are being told that somebody has fallen in the apples. (Tomber dans les pommes means to faint, which isn't at all confusing.) Indeed Babelfish struggles to conjure up anything but literal translations where a number of other colourful phrases are used. A German may think he is expressing indifference but Babelfish will tell you that one common German phrase for I don't mind (Es ist mir Wurst) actually means the far more surreal It's sausage to me - which it does, only not in this context. Similarly a Russian idiom which means to pull somebody's leg actually translates, courtesy of Babelfish, as to hang noodles on a person's ears. On your first trip to Russia you could certainly do without that kind of confusion. Similarly a German saying, which means to go wrong ( In die hose gehen) translates as to go into the trousers. While it may be confusing, I don't think anybody would doubt that going into the trousers would indeed be 'wrong' in most social situations. A similar social faux pas (or should that be falsche schritte) in Germany would be rubbing honey into another man's beard. You may have been asked to butter somebody up but your misunderstanding could prove very problematic. It'll take ages to get all that honey out. And in case all this linguistic lunacy leaves you in need of a stiff drink you may be interested to know that the French phrase for I have a hangover translates as I have a throat of wood on Babelfish. But of course this isn't just 'Johnny Foreigner' giving us some cheap laughs with his funny ways and words. English phrases will throw up similar confusion. Imagine a French student visitor typing some of our more colourful colloquialisms and idioms into Babelfish upon a first trip to Britain. Upon securing accommodations, if somebody tells you It'll be a monkey for the deposit, then they want £500. The poor French visitor translating things literally on Babelfish in an internet café may ponder for a while why their new landlord wants un singe before setting about the procurement of said simian. So try to imagine computer software trying to get to grips with Cockney Rhyming slang. Surely it would be a right nightmare/ Lionel Blair/ Weston Super Mare/ Trevor Sinclair. You'd be better off turning to an online dictionary... as I just did at www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk. Until next time. Au revoir, auf wiedersehen, arrivederci.