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Smart Ass Translator

Compresses big words. Detects BS.
 
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I want google to make a Babelfish type web application that examines English words and phrases and checks for synonyms with less sylables. It would be quite picky about the process, only replacing those words that have a virtually identical sibling. So "gigantic" would become "huge" and "automobile" would become "car." Anything that could lead to a disaster would be left untouched. The translated document (with replaced words appearing in red) would be served up with a "BS" score at the top of the page. This score would be a ratio of "original # of sylables" by "post translation # of sylables"

Applications:

1) Things become easier to understand for laypeople. Think of the advantages for the layperson trying to read a medical text or legal agreement!

2) The "BS" score gives the user a rough idea (okay, just a ballpark idea) of the shiftyness of the author. Someone with a BS factor of 20... well, that's someone who 19/20 of the time is beating around the bush or trying to confuse you. Think about how fun it would be to run political speeches through such a translator!

*I actually did write google about this but - though they claim to return heaps of their email - they never got back to me. So that's an honorary fish from google, I suppose.

asciirock, Jan 19 2003

Plain English Campaign http://www.plaineng...co.uk/examples.html
Crimes against the language [friendlyfire, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

The Wankometer http://www.cynicalb...rds.com/wankometer/
This page has a wank factor of 0.26: Low. [my face your, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia http://www.mja.com....hustig/husbox1.html
For asciirock. [Monkfish, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Similar http://www.halfbake...om/idea/Dumb-Downer
see also some of the links in this idea, that lead to more, and more similar ideas [Zircon, Oct 04 2004]

Bearingpoint http://www.nytimes....hnology/14BULL.html
has done it. [asciirock, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

[link]






       E.g. "compresses" --> "shortens".
Ironically, "synonym" has no synonyms. Would the translator allow words like this to be replaced with a series of shorter, less complicated words such as (in this example) "words that mean the same"?
egbert, Jan 19 2003
  

       It'd be tricky to ensure no accuracy/nuance was lost. There could be nasty/expensive consequences if you translate medical/legal text.
my face your, Jan 19 2003
  

       Yes, medical and legal texts use specialized terms because they have very precise meanings. In many cases there's no single ordinary word that would substitute. Anyway, those aren't BS, those are jargon, which is a different animal.   

       The problem with true overinflated BS is that it's usually not just a matter of replacing short words with long synonyms, but of replacing direct phrasing with circumlocution and roundabout exposition.
egnor, Jan 19 2003
  

       Good point, egnor, but I think that grammar checker technology could be employed to do substitutions on some of those. I like this idea, I don't think its any harder to do than language-to-language translation, which computers are getting better at every day.
krelnik, Jan 19 2003
  

       >E.g. "compresses" --> "shortens".   

       Great example. I'd have been more concise using shortens. :-)   

       >Ironically, "synonym" has no synonyms. Would the translator allow words like this to be replaced with a series of shorter, less complicated words such as (in this example) "words that mean the same"?   

       Not in this case:   

       "words that mean the same" 5 syllables   

       "synonym" 3 styllables   

       >It'd be tricky to ensure no accuracy/nuance was lost. There could be nasty/expensive consequences if you translate medical/legal text.   

       You could count on the nuance vanishing so I wouldn't advise applying it to poetry!   

       I think accuracy would be less of a problem than it seems if your database of synonyms is chosen wisely.   

       As for medical texts. Yes, some harm could conceivably be done - but that would be miniscule compared to the number of people who die in a crisis while attempting to decypher a bunch of ancient greek.   

       I will grant you that you'd need a very good legal team to make the same argument in court when you get sued by the exception!   

       >Yes, medical and legal texts use specialized terms because they have very precise meanings. In many cases there's no single ordinary word that would substitute. Anyway, those aren't BS, those are jargon, which is a different animal.   

       A rose by any other name. If a word is professional jargon but has an everyday synonym then it is still very much BS.   

       If the word is unique than neither of us have a problem since there would be *no* time at which a word would be replaced that was not clearly identical.   

       I suppose there might be some confusion if you went and translated "incision" to "cut" but I'll be damned if I know why. Jargon, BS, call it what you will. As far as I'm concerned, you can "asphixiate" but I'd rather "choke". I may be "crazy" but you're "schizaphrenic" ad nauseum (shorter than etc).   

       >The problem with true overinflated BS is that it's usually not just a matter of replacing short words with long synonyms, but of replacing direct phrasing with circumlocution and roundabout exposition.   

       You are correct sir. The problem is that it's not *just* a matter of replacing short words with long synonyms however seeing as it *sometimes* is, I think you owe me a croissant.   

       :-)   

       After all, I didn't say it would solve all of mankind's problems. Just provide a bit of incentive for people to communicate eloquently.
asciirock, Jan 19 2003
  

       The propensity for individuals to be inebrieted on their own verbosity or to be attempting some subterfuge is not easily correlated to the syllabaic density of their speech, i.e. the strict numeric ratio of total syllables to total words. Other factors, such as word choice and sheer word volume, can contribute to the same effect. Most political speeches I've heard lately are written to the level of a dim eighth-grader, so I doubt your software would have much to work with here. Most legal documents are confusing to the layman because a) they must cover dozens of possible contingencies (i.e. the myriad ways the party of the second part might attempt to beat the party of the first part out of the consideration under advisement, having agreed to buy, bargain, sell, trade and/or convey the aforesaid), and b) there is no second part.
resurgere, Jan 19 2003
  

       >Most political speeches I've heard lately are written to the level of a dim eighth-grader, so I doubt your software would have much to work with here.   

       Come to think of it... No. You got me there. :-) Still, couldn't do much harm. I wonder if it would shorten "nook you ler" to "nu clear" hmmm ;-)   

       >Most legal documents are confusing to the layman because a) they must cover dozens of possible contingencies   

       Well, I don't agree with you here. IMO Legal documents are confusing partly as a war dance for the benefit of other lawyers, partly to prevent clients from bugging their lawyers with annoying suggestions and requests, and mostly to justify the existence of lawyers. To that end they can be complicated in myriad ways, one of which is by using big words.
asciirock, Jan 19 2003
  

       Plug in a Newspeak vocabulary, and this invention would make Winston Smith's job much easier. Double plus croissant.
krelnik, Jan 19 2003
  

       If you were to use it primarily as a tongue-in-cheek thing; just to get an idea of the 'unnecessary big word' factor, then I think it could be great fun.   

       As stated before, though, if you're using it to translate a brain surgeon's medical talk on the condition you happen to have, then you may want to just invest in a dictionary. ;)
pandora, Jan 19 2003
  

       I agree that current translators... need work. For example, Babel fish produced this:   

       [ picture of rabbit sleeping on rug, with the caption translated as: ] 'When it rages, you became tired. The pause of the larva of the ????? is done well.' Uh. I presume 'pause of the larva' is a horribly mangled translation of 'sleep of the baby' - I really really hope so, anyway.
Corona688, Jan 19 2003
  

       //I'll may be "crazy" but you're "schizaphrenic"//   

       Kinda shooting yourself in the foot with that one, asciirock. I suspect if, dog forbid, you ever underwent any kind of psychological problem you'd really rather prefer your head-doctor to diagnose you correctly and treat you with appropriate medicine. I can't imagine treating an acute schizophrenic in the middle of a full-blown psychotic episode with, say, prozac would be very effective. Personally, if I ever start hallucinating voices telling me that I'm the Messiah, the Antichrist or a killer robot from the planet X, I'd much rather have my doctor say "Aha, a classic case of schizophrenia" and give me some nice lithium to make me rational, rather than "Ah, well that there's a crazy guy. Give him some red pills."   

       That aside, with the exception of pseudo-scientific jargon used in certain schools of philosophy and literary criticism, I have no problem with 'big words'. In fact, I've often found that people who use words like 'erudite', 'articulate' or even 'intellectual' were, on the whole, quite genuine - honest, friendly and sociable, their vocabulary being, perhaps, indicative of a curiosity, an interest in ideas for their own sake and a willingness - even desire - to discuss those ideas. People I have known, on the other hand, who use words like 'brainy' have tended to be, well, somewhat the opposite. The folksy, cracker-barrel vocabulary of used car salesmen and imbecile presidents is all very well when you're trying to fleece the kind of pig ignorant overgrown jocks who don't trust 'that there *smartass* with his degree and his high-falutin words'. It's all a bit anti-intellectual for my liking, though.
Guy Fox, Jan 19 2003
  

       "Schizophrenia" is essentially doublespeak for "nutty." You can dress Barbie however you want but, but she's still the same doll.   

       >It's all a bit anti-intellectual for my liking, though   

       LOL!   

       I was going to quote Foucault on the issue of "schizaphrenia" since his writings on insanity are largely responsible for the debunking of the term.   

       Do I honestly come across as anti-intellectual? I only have problems with people who try to camoflauge their innadequacies with flowery prose. I have nothing but respect for anyone who has enough command of the english language and humility to make their point simply and modestly.
asciirock, Jan 19 2003
  

       >can't imagine treating an acute schizophrenic in the middle of a full-blown psychotic episode with, say, prozac would be very effective.   

       But you *would* treat a crazy person with Prozac? I don't get it. Who has told you the depressed people are crazy? They're not... unless they're so far gone that they are also desplaying symptoms of mild schizophrenia.   

       >"Aha, a classic case of schizophrenia"   

       There is no classic case of schizophrenia precisely because it is a blanket term that doctors apply to anyone who behaves in a manner that society considers illogical. But "crazy" doesn't sound very professional.
asciirock, Jan 19 2003
  

       >As to your second from last sentence, yes. You also need to learn to spell.   

       Point taken.   

       >The English language >etc etc<   

       You have a very rigid view of linguistics. The English language is still evolving and changing. The French are about the only people who view their own language as prudishly and egotistically as you seem to view English. Words aren't always invented to communicate ideas effectively. In fact, as in Orwell's 1984, sometimes they are created to confuse.   

       >There's a lot of difference to be had by removing those words from the language that the less educated find difficult to use or spell.   

       Great. The spelling thing again.   

       Why don't you sell this view to people less fortunate than us. Go to your nearest homeless shelter and find an old geezer (American usage) with a crappy eductation. Why deprive an old man of a tool that could make a lease agreement easier to understand for him?   

       >If you don't like the language you've got then you can always try using a different one.   

       C'è una buon'idea ma non è facile. Infatti, studio un po d'italiano!
asciirock, Jan 20 2003
  

       // There is no classic case of schizophrenia precisely because it is a blanket term that doctors apply to anyone who behaves in a manner that society considers illogical. But "crazy" doesn't sound very professional. //   

       No, you just don't know what it means. Schizophrenia is a specific, clear, and necessary, if broad, psychiatric diagnosis. As with most medical and legal terms, though, it's tempting, if you don't trouble to look into it, to assume that it's just a fancy word bandied about to impress the simple. That, as has already been pointed out, is why this idea may be misconceived.   

       (As an aside, your faith in Foucault in this area is badly misplaced. "Schizophrenia" -- here (in "the West") and now -- is not a box for free-thinkers; that's an ignorant lit-crit/radicalist fantasy.)
Monkfish, Jan 20 2003
  

       (reading title wrong)...oh, I though this was going to tell me what my educated donkey was saying...
Cedar Park, Jan 20 2003
  

       It doesn't help the momentum of my arguments for this software, but I have to back down on this point:   

       >As with most medical and legal terms, though, it's tempting, if you don't trouble to look into it, to assume that it's just a fancy word bandied about to impress the simple.   

       I don't agree but I'll concede that "Schizophrenic" ought not to be substituted with "crazy" as that would just be too contraversial. I can't think of a counter-example off-hand where a substitution would lead to a critical change in meaning - but it could happen.   

       >(As an aside, your faith in Foucault in this area is badly misplaced. "Schizophrenia" -- here (in "the West") and now -- is not a box for free-thinkers; that's an ignorant lit-crit/radicalist fantasy.)   

       Ach! Out of the libertarian frying pan and into the liberal fire. I'm either anti-intellectual or I'm a post-modern sheep.   

       I'm not actually all that keen on Foucault. I'm not such a hippy that I see schizophrenia as being just another harmless way of viewing the world. But I do think that pinning down exactly what it is that makes a person schizophrenic is hard to do. Is it failure to think logically? If it is than we should start medicating priests since they believe in miracles and children since they believe in ghosts.   

       But if we're going to veer that OT after I've conceded this point then we should discuss this particular thread via email.
asciirock, Jan 20 2003
  

       I can't help but think that if you had chosen managementspeak (a truly horrendous form of English)instead of legal/medicalspeak as your example target, you'd've fared rather better.   

       Incidentally, see link.
my face your, Jan 20 2003
  

       Absolutely. Management speak is largely contrived in order to impress and can usually be readily substituted with plain English. Legal and Medical terms usually have precise meanings. That's not to say that such texts are not open to BS content, but a differentiation needs to be made between text which is overtly contrived and that which is difficult to understand because of it's content or the complexity of the subject.   

       I'm all for plain English, but as [resurgere] points out, it's all too easy to go too far and end up addressing the lowest common denominator (no insult intended to eighth-graders)
egbert, Jan 20 2003
  

       >That said, the reason there are so many words, 500,000+ and counting, is that the addition of new words allows it to be used, increasingly, to describe exactly what the user wishes.   

       I think it's terrific that everyone has such amazingly diverse points of view. Having said that, if English had 10,000,000 words it would cease to be spoken because nobody could remember enough of it to have words in common.   

       >It is the sheer diversity and adaptability of English that makes it so useful.   

       This is really quite silly. English is a horrible unstandardized mixture that hasn't matured enough to even achieve a half-decent level of regularized spelling. There is only one reason why people speak English around the world and that's because two English speaking countries have dominated the free world for 200 years. And that was on account not of the language they were speaking but because of the first one's navy and the second one's distance from Germany.   

       >Removing that diversity is,   

       I am not suggesting that we shoot people for beating around the bush. I love long words if they are chosen properly. A needlessly long word often kicks ass in poetry, literature, music, entertainment...   

       but if one is about start up a new chainsaw or a furnace, I think most would prefer to be told how in the shortest way possible.   

       >In fact, Japanese was simplified in the years immediately following WWII, much to the detriment of that language, in its written form.   

       ...because of a translating app?   

       >I picked on spelling, because you seem to have a problem with taking the time to get even that right.   

       I don't believe in spell-checkers, look what they've done to Japan. :-)   

       >assist with comprehension and teaching.   

       Well, most style guides (for essayists at any rate) will come down on my side re: little words, I'm afraid.   

       >In closing; Fishbone.   

       Respectfully accepted. It's been fun.
asciirock, Jan 20 2003
  

       asciirock, perhaps you could endeavour to be slightly less offensive on the topic of mental health issues.
waugsqueke, Jan 20 2003
  

       I'm really sorry, I had no idea...   

       :-(
asciirock, Jan 20 2003
  

       Microsoft's much-loved Word 2000 almost does this with its grammar checker. It detects some features of wordy, pompous, overblown or difficult language. Quoting from the help file, it marks as an error:   

       // Wordiness: Wordy relative clauses or vague modifiers (such as "fairly" or "pretty"), redundant adverbs, too many negatives, the unnecessary use of "or not" in the phrase "whether or not," or the use of "possible … may" in place of "possible … will." //   

       It also flags the use of jargon, the passive voice, too-long sentences, and in some cases it suggests replacements.   

       You could certainly score a document by counting the length of green squiggly lines in a document, even if the tool isn't perfect.
kropotkin, Jan 20 2003
  

       //Do I honestly come across as anti-intellectual?//   

       Not at all. It was not meant, in any way, as a personal slight. You seem to be quite open to discussion, gracious even when trying to hold a point against mounting dissent, and, all in all, a fairly genial chap. I certainly don't think you intend this idea as an anti-intellectual rant. (Otherwise I would have boned it quicker than you can say a very short word indeed) I was just commenting on the terrible perils of the all-too-easy labels of *smartass* and *BS* being applied to those who use big words where little'uns would suffice. All too often that *can* be a smokescreen for blithering idiots who don't understand why anyone would want to, like, read a book fer fun when they could watch TV... and don't trust what they don't understand. As if it's not their responsibility to put a little effort into learning the lingo; it's those damn intellectuals being elitist and secretive and, hey, just what is that they're up to in those cafes with their damned beatnik long hair and their book-learnin' and, goddammit, they're jus' plain shifty. That way lies a world of Honest Dubya's Used Car Emporium, I say. Beware! Beware!   

       But that may be just my paranoia showing through. Quick, give me some of those red pills.
Guy Fox, Jan 20 2003
  

       Thanks, Guy!   

       Btw:   

       >they're up to in those cafes   

       ;-)   

       I always prefered the term 'coffee houses.' It it twice as long, but it has a nuance which appeals to me.
asciirock, Jan 21 2003
  

       [asciirock] //If a word is professional jargon but has an everyday synonym then it is still very much BS// A lot of medical terms have 'everyday' synonyms but the precision of meaning is lost. Duodenum, colon, mesentery, peritoneum and illium would all translate as gut or stomach, thus losing the vital nuances. Would be like going to the doctor and him telling you there is something wrong with your insides, rather than you having colitis, a level of precision I'd appreciate.
oneoffdave, Jun 16 2003
  

       [asciirock] About your link: it was Deloitte Consulting, not Bearing Point, that made that tool. For those interested who don't want to register at NYTimes.com to read that article, follow Steve DeGroof's link above it and there is a link on that idea directly to the "Bullfighter" software that is discussed in that article.
krelnik, Jun 16 2003
  

       At heart, this tool just swaps latinate English words for germanic ones, undoing hundreds of years of Norman, um, prestige. Copulate affirmative! (Fuck yeah!)
n-pearson, Jun 16 2003
  
      
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