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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 www.cul.co.uk. 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 www.cul.co.uk. 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

Henri.

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 www.cul.co.uk 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.

pleasantries

Henri

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,

Brian

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