Lost in Translation – Muddling Messages



This week, I’m going to focus on translation. Certain rpgs, like Skeleton Crew (open playtesting starting soon!), require characters to translate a message from one language to another. If the researcher was perfect, you could just hand over the “translated” message in English exactly as you wrote it. However, perfection is boring, and PCs are seldom as skilled as they think they are.  So, what are some ways you can mangle the message, but still make it feel like a translation?research barron

Answer: Google Translate! Of course this requires an internet connection, and copy/paste is lot easier on a keyboard. However, with a little bit of goofing around, you can get great results.

The Message: As a test, I wanted something that had a few complex words; more important, if the words are put in the wrong order, it could mean the difference between life and death for a character. So, I borrowed a line from the classic movie, The Court Jester (which stars Danny Kaye, the mom from Mary Poppins, and a hot Angela Lansbury… yeah, you read that sentence right.) Here it is:

The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.


The first way to mangle the phrase is to post the phrase in English, translate it into another language, and then retranslate the translated phrase back into English. For example:

In Spanish, that translates as:

El pellet con el veneno está en la jarra con el dragón, pero la vasija con la mano del mortero tiene el brebaje que es cierto.

If you paste the Spanish into the first box and translate it back into English, you get:

The pellet with the poison is in the jar with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.

Now that you got the idea, I’ll just skip to the end result for different languages. I was really amazed how many translations came back perfectly (some even having the “Brew that is True” rhyme.) However, here are few more of the interesting results:

Urdu: Poison in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true with the tablet.

Catalan – The pellet with the poison is in the jar with the dragon, but go with the pestle has the brew that is true .. (Not that different, but I found the fact that it added advice interesting)

Georgian – Precipitation venom in a flagon dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew, that’s true .. (Interesting punctuation swap there).

Gujarati – Flagon with the dragon’s venom, but with the pestle has the brew that is true pellet with the ship .. (Where’d the ship come from?)

Haitian Creole – Lead is poisonous and in the flagon with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true ..

Hungarian – The poison pellets in the pitcher of the dragon, but the ship breaks the brew that is true .. (Fluid sounding, but not quite right)

Igbo – The pellet with the poison from the flagon dragon, and utensils and pestle to make a beer that is true .. (Utensils and beer?)

Irish – The brew is truly the pellet with the poison in the flagon with the dragon but the vessel with the pestle .. (Right words, wrong order!)

Persian – The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle is the missing dragon tail that is true .. (This is flipped too! Bwah ha ha!)

Japanese – Poison of dragons, pellets of container and flagon with a pestle is have the brewing is true .. (The rhythm is almost a haiku.)

Korean – The pellet with the dragon the neck of the bottle of poison in a narrow; the pestle has the brew that corresponds to the vessel. (To contrast with Japanese, this feels like it came from a text book.)

Latvian – TheGranulu with poison years in the bottle with the dragon; thekuģis with the pestle has the brew that is true .. (The second part’s perfect, but the first part leaves you unsure what IS poisoned.)

Maori – Knead with the poison in the bottle against the dragon; the vessel to crush the silica is a true ..

Marathi – Flagon with the dragon of the poison in the paper; The vessel has a beam that is true drink ..

Slovenian – ThePeleta sthe otrov u carafe with a dragon, or the cup with a pestle to cook the Truth ..

Finnish – ThePelletti kanssathe poison nthe bottle of wine kanssathe dragon, muttathe alusthe pestle onthe drink that is true ..

Mongolian -Poisonous dragon, but the pestle in a pot Flagon Rolling distillation is that true ..

Somali – Size is toxic in raisins demonic But container with tuntid brew has to be true .. (Almost Post-Modern sounding.)

Tamil – The pellet with the poison dragon, but the truth is that God’s brew flagon is shipping ..

Turkish – the dragon Amath Zehirth rammer ileth ship in unity ileth Vials The pellet doğrudurth to brew ..


Which to use? That depends on how mean you are and what you want to achieve:

German, French, Russian – I didn’t put these on the list above, because the result was near perfect. You might lose some of the poetry, but keeps all of the meaning. If you want to make it less fluid but equally clear, try Japanese or Korean.
(Above paragraph in Korean, retranslated): German, French, Russian – because the result was near perfect, I did not put the following in the list above. You lose some of the city, but you can keep all the implications. If you want to make less fluid, however, equally clear, consider Japanese or Korean.

Finnish, Slovenian & Turkish- These one resulted in a few properly translated words and a lot of nonsense ones. This gives the translator a lot of doubt, but they know where the doubt lies. It feels like you were given half of the puzzle. Finnish seems to go extremely wonky when you have a lot of “the”s in the sentence.
(Above paragraph in Finnish, retranslated): Finnish, Slovenian and Turkish, which together resulted in very few translated words share a lot of nonsense about them. This antaathe the translator a lot of doubts, but they know missäthe doubt lies. It seems as if you had puoletthe puzzle.

Marathi, Mongolian & Maori – These resulted in real words, but a nonsense sentence. The narrator is unsure about what to trust, and what to dismiss. It hints at a story, but the true meaning eludes you.
(Above paragraph in Marathi, retranslated): Marathi, Mongolian and Maori – the real untranslated results, but only a foolish statement. Feature dismiss faith CEO, Chief Executive Officer and is unsure about. It hints at a story, but only one true meaning eludes.

Irish & Persian – These are deceptive, in that they sound like they are fully formed (and poetically beautiful), but the information might come out skewed. This feels like the perfect result to give a researcher who is overconfident- it sounds right, until they make their fatal error.
(Above paragraph in Persian, retranslated): Irish and Persian – this is deceptive, in that they sound like they are fully formed (and beautiful poetic), but may come out skewed data. It feels so good to be a researcher’s right, it sounds overconfident-, either to his fatal error.


So, what can we do to mix it up even more? What if we went through a few other languages before we return back to English?

SO, Let’s try English – > Chinese, Chinese – > Russian, Russian -> English

End result: Poison in a bottle with a dragon, but with pestle container particles with BREW’s true.

Good, let’s add in Norwegian & Arabic too into the chain:

Poison in a bottle with a dragon, but the container stump particles with the right mixture.


Now, what happens if you mess with the translation itself? For example, what if you add a random letter to every forth word in the translation?

Norwegian translation (normal) Pelleten med giften sin i flagon med dragen, men fartøyet med stampe har brygg som er sant.

Norwegian (with added letters in bold): Pelleten med giftren sin i flargon med dragen, mein fartøyet med stamper har brygg sqom er sant.

Result: The pellet with giftren her in flargon with the dragon, mein vessel with tubs have brew sqom is true.

You end up with a most of it being genuine, some of it sounding like it could mean something (“mein vessel,”) and some that is clearly messed up (mmm… sqom.)

Adding random letters helps with language that use the same alphabet, but you can also use mess with languages with different alphabets.  For example, in the following Russian, I copy/pasted the “д” symbol in every few words.

Russian (with added д s): Осаддок сthe ядом-х в бутылди с драконом, но содсуд с пестиком имеет варевдо, что истинно.

You get: Osaddok sthe poison’s in butyldi with the dragon, but sodsud pestle has varevdo that is true.

Or, instead of messing with letters, why not mess with the spacing? In Traditional Chinese, hit the Enter button after every character, putting each character on its own line.

So: 与毒在


This turns a clear translation into:

Chinese Traditional (with spaces): Versus Poison In Versus Dragon Of Liqueur Pot, But Versus Pestle Allow Device In Of Stars Grain Tool There is BREW This Are Really A.

To me, this sounds like a great way of faking hieroglyphs or translations other pictographic languages; each word has its own strong, individual meaning, but fails to connect to the others in a coherent sentence.


  1. Translate from English into One language. Copy it.
  2. Next, Paste it into the first box. Instead of using Detect Language but tell it that it’s a language SIMILAR to real one, and translate it to English.

screen capture

Chinese text translated as if it were Japanese gives you: Azukadoku Jae given 龙的 Sake壶, however Azukakine container medium basis granulocytes androgynous BREW 这是 true basis.

Japanese translated as Chinese: There ド poison fu ra ra Oligo Oligo nn nn To で na ku pestle で container To Paint Ritz ッ Suites ga really で thou ru Niang who made wo ~ te I ma si.

Spanish translated as Italian: El pellet está en el veneno the jarra with el dragón, but the vasija with the hand holding the mortero brebaje el que es cierto.

Latin as Italian – Cum lagena in blood cell veneni cum dracone, Has Ceruisam stack vas verum.

Norweigan as Danish- The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon; fartøyet with tamping has brygg which is interesting.

Croatian as Slovenian – ThePeleta sthe otrov u carafe with a dragon, or the cup with a pestle to cook the Truth ..

Marathi as Hindi – Cya in to Batli poison dragon co Daruchi official documents; The drink contains Musla Naukela This is true ..

Nepali as Hindi – The vessel with the pestle with Dskko Ajidagar saturate with poison pill Sacho flagon that the solution g ma ..

Have some methods of your own? Share them below!

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