Saturday, November 18, 2017

Lost in transatlantic translation

You probably know that the idea that Mars was inhabited came from the observations of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiapparelli in 1877. who noted he could clearly see "canali" on the surface.
However, the Italian word was mistranslated into English as "canals" instead of "channels", leading to the assumption there was someone on Mars doing the digging.

Back in the 1970s, around this time of year, we were watching a Thanksgiving-themed movie at home in Massachusetts. The movie showed how the Pilgrims first made landfall at the tip of Cape Code - where Provincetown is today - but moved on because there wasn't a source of fresh water, and eventually landed in Plymouth.

My father, who was an Italian immigrant, opined he didn't know about the first landfall in Plymouth.
"I suppose they had to sail around and then come through the Cape Cod Canal."

I realized he made the Schiaparelli mistake backwards, and I explained to him that in English a canal is man-made. He'd lived in the U.S. for 20 years and always assumed that, from its name, the Cape Cod Canal was a natural waterway.

Just a recollection that crossed my mind with Thanksgiving coming in a week.

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