January 07, 2007

The basil goes away

Craig Daniel wrote to me a few weeks ago to say:

A local grocery store sells small bags of herbs and spices labelled in English and Spanish. The Spanish labels, however, reveal one small surprise - what is called "basil" in English is, in Spanish, known as "la albahaca se va" - "the basil goes away".

After puzzling over this when I first saw it, I realized it was probably a poor attempt at translating "basil leaves" in which "leaves" was misinterpreted as the verb. I chalked it up to machine translation, probably Babelfish, and left it at that. But the other day a friend of mine discovered that Babelfish translates "basil leaves" as "hojas de albahaca", which is correct.

So I have no idea where the error that led to "basil" being labelled as "the basil goes away" came from.

And I have no idea either. Where did this grocery store get its embarrassingly silly translation from? An ordinary print dictionary?

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 7, 2007 01:49 AM