Lost in Translation

Misadventures in English abroad

Dodgy English from around the world

Lost in Translation

Misadventures in English abroad

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Several years ago somebody told me about a notice seen in a Tokyo hire car: ‘When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.' Shortly afterwards I found myself on a ferry from Tenerife to the island of La Gomera, reading the instruction: ‘Keep this ticket up the end of your trip.' And I found myself thinking, ‘There might be a book in this ...' There was. As it was very different from my other books, my agent suggested using a pseudonym. Charlie Croker has gone on to have a life all of his own. (Why the name? It's Michael Caine's character in The Italian Job.)


‘Too funny for public transport.’ Sunday Times
 
‘Very funny and beautifully illustrated’ The Spectator

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Utterly Lost in Translation

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Content

Rubik's Cube

A Rubik’s cube has more combinations than light travels inches in a century. This is my favourite illustration of how a very small number of factors can produce an absurdly complicated situation. A silly little toy, with only three squares in each of its three dimensions. How can that get complicated? Well, as anyone who's ever tried to solve one just by guessing will tell you, it gets very complicated. The number of possible combinations is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. Forget billions - that's 43 quintillion and change. (In fact the cube's manufacturers just said ‘billions' in their advertising, figuring that no one would know what a quintillion was. It's a billion billion.) The number of inches light travels in a century, meanwhile, is a mere 37,165,049,856,000,000,000. Or thereabouts.