Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Site for Sore Eyes

The BBC has an interesting article dealing with the cost of language errors on websites, which, it is claimed, take a heavy toll in lost sales.

The Blether Region itself can testify to the effect of such worries, having bought cut-price software for educational use from the website

Not surprisingly, since the site's offers sound almost too good to be true, many potential customers think that it might be a scam, with one complaining that the website is "littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes".

In fact, it's not a scam, although you do have to become a parent to qualify — itself a weighty and irreversible financial decision.

And it's not only spelling mistakes that can affect one's opinion of websites. Some time ago the author of this blog decided to order a bespoke mug bearing a picture taken from an uploaded jpeg file. One of the websites surveyed had a very tempting offer, but unfortunately also sported the slogan "If it ain't from Yorkshire, it's shite". While the Blether Region is an avowed fan of the undoubted queen of English counties, even possessing a book entitled White Rose Garland — and, indeed, has been known to use the odd phrase of similar pithiness in conversation — the lack of seriousness that the slogan implied caused us to take our custom elsewhere.

An area of particular trickiness is, of course, translation. Perhaps the most famous example of its importance was in 1914, when German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, using the diplomatic lingua franca of the day, referred to the 1839 Treaty of London that guaranteed Belgian neutrality as a chiffon de papier, a phrase translated into English as 'scrap of paper'. The resulting fury led to a British declaration of war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young men. However, that particular translation couldn't have been all that bad, since Google Translate offers the same phrasing today, and some of the alternative meanings of chiffon are probably worse.

Never let anything get in the way of a nice story.

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