Skip to main content

The strange case of the French bottom of erotic principle

Way back in the early 90s, I attended a lecture by the Austrian-born computing pioneer Hermann Hauser, one of the pair behind Acorn computers, the maker of the BBC micro. In his talk, Hauser was describing the difficulty of computers understanding a language like English, illustrating this with a pair of phrases:

    Time flies like an arrow
    Fruit flies like an apple

Hauser pointed our the difficulties of machine translation, as long as computers had no understanding of the underlying language and context. For a computer, it would be natural to interpret those phrases the same way. As it happens, machine translation has moved on by taking a totally different direction - it still doesn't understand language, but by using vast amounts of data, it has become quite strong on context.

A few years after this lecture, I received an email which brought Hauser's point back to me. At the time, machine translation was in its infancy. The email was distinctly interesting thanks to the strange case of the French bottom of erotic principle.

My oldest web address belongs to my creativity training company - it's At the time I got it, I was rather proud to have a 3 letter URL, which matches the initials of the company and thought no more about it. I was probably vaguely aware that 'cul' means bottom in French, as in 'cul-de-sac' but otherwise it was just a web address. Imagine my surprise, then, to receive this email:

Please allow the transfer, I use a mechanical software because I very English of cannot.

On the 14éme, in the porque one, I slap a search with the form returned Then to say to you, cul is a bad French word? It average rest-on the flesh of the rectum of anybody. Since this, cannot think you the need to want the nation French with the arrangement of creative. Thus I give to help in all fraternity, to think please for the change.

Familiar the most pleasant


Though a little suspicious that this was a wind up, I replied and got the equally entertaining response:

Brian Estimable

The considerable thanks of you answer. You software for the language is improved much that my kind of shareware - where is to be found.

It is now possible to include/understand the reason of the bad word.
Internet is problematic with much pornographique available if the button supported on danger pressed. I do not require to see the French bottom of erotic principle of Alta-Vista that accidental gives. Families with the small particular person in danger.

Since the text of slit into type is vanilla, umlauf nonvisible. Is very the easy error in time forwards with the European of the trade unions.
Better to speak  friends than the argument of the football which recent English have.



Delightful indeed. (The bit about the 'umlauf' is because I pointed out that the CUL logo, as illustrated, had an umlaut on the U.) Of course, Henri could be un artiste des pissoirs, but I like to think he was a genuine Frenchman with a concern for my moral welfare.

Familiar the most pleasant,


See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope