Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Famed Delicatessens of al-Andalus

I saw these a few weeks ago in the supermarket and was desperately curious how such a malapropism was introduced into the label of this brand of molasses:

I assumed that it was some kind of mechanical translation issue and spent a few minutes trying to put various things back and forth between Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Arabic in Google Translate to see if I could reproduce the error; I came up with sort of a long shot but didn't think it was probably what had happened.

Then, when we were driving to Córdoba with the students, we passed a sweet shop just off the highway that was a shop that sold "delicación." It's a less-common word that's used to describe jiggly desserts, such as flan and jello-molds, and I could imagine the semantic range including molasses and molasses-based desserts.

Not only do the words sound similar, but if you type "delicación" into Yelp, it asks you if you meant to search for directions to a delicatessen, demonstrating that there are algorithms that seem to think, erroneously, that they are the same thing.


  1. So it's not just stores in SF that have problems with translation into Spanish :D