Sometimes Google Translate is a Foolish Friendship

This morning I stumbled upon an article in a Norwegian online newspaper. A rather unlikely incident actually happened to a driver, as he avoided hitting an elk on the road, but then ran into a bear.

The original text in Norwegian is here:

As I wanted to see how that would be in English, I hit the Google Translate button:

In the headline the two animals are translated from “elg” to “elk” and from “bjørn” to “bear”. Very well.

But in the subtitle the two words are translated differently. Now “elg” is “moose” and “bjørn” is “disservice”.


Not sure why elk is substituted to moose. The two words are used synonymously. As I understand it, it must have been a moose, which is called an elk. Wkipedia has the details here.

But how did the bear become a disservice. Well, I guess it relates to an old fable called “The Bear and the Gardener” or the variant “The Hermit and the Bear”. Here a human becomes friend with a bear. While the man takes a nap, the bear helps driving off the flies, but eventually crushes the mans head in doing so. The moral is that you should not make foolish friendships.

In Danish/Norwegian such a well-meant but very bad attempt to help is a “bear’s service” (bjørnetjeneste) also known in German as a bärendienst. Just like Google Translate in this case became a disservice.

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One thought on “Sometimes Google Translate is a Foolish Friendship

  1. Crysta Anderson 16th August 2012 / 15:34

    Great post, Henrik. I love not-quite-right translations.

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