Prose Header

Gained in Translation

by Don Webb

Experienced translators know that language and culture are inseparable. Those who have only book learning may not realize that a principled defense of a cherished taboo might be misunderstood as “Let us consume intoxicants to excess, and molt.”

To: Bewildering Stories
From: Arcturan embassy
Subject: Submission


Pursuant to our newly-established diplomatic relations with Earth, we of Arcturus are all charged up about enhancing cultural exchanges with the dudes of your planet.

We wish to send images of Arcturans at labor and frolic. We cherish the hope that they might be displayed on your totally cool cultural information portal, Bewildering Stories. Thus might all humankind learn and get a kick out of it, too.

In return, the guys of Arcturus would get jollies from images of humaniform entities in similar surroundings.

Yours for galactic understanding,

Anod Namys
Arcturan Cultural Attaché

To: Anod Namys, Arcturan Cultural Attaché
From: Bewildering Stories
Subject: RE: Submission

Dear Anod Namys:

Thank you very much for your query. Bewildering Stories welcomes Bewildering pictures. Can you add explanations? We are Bewildering Stories, but "befuddling stories," not so much.

May I ask why you chose our webzine for this honor?

And you certainly deserve congratulations on your English. The choice of words is a little odd at times, but the grammar is perfect.

Don Webb
Managing Editor
Bewildering Stories

To: Anod Namys, Cultural Attaché
From: Don Webb
Subject: RE: Submission (follow-up)

Dear Anod Namys:

Our publisher, Jerry Wright, would also like explanatory texts. He says he can even make a new section for you in our Special Features.

Don W.

From: Anod N.
To: Don W.
Subject: Graphics and texts

Dear Don W.:

Thank you for your floored-out replies. Please take a gander at the attached graphics files and texts suitable for clueing in viewers.

In response to your previous questions:

The Arcturan embassy has chosen Bewildering Stories as a go-between because your information portal is so totally rad, nay, broad-minded. In particular, an archived invite caught several of our eyes. Rabelais sounds like a fun guy. Mayhap this personage is a deity or one of your sidekicks?

Our translating software has mastered your grammar, albeit the orthography is a pain in the butt. And your verbal locutions are squirrely; they have more modal auxiliaries than a dog has fleas.

The major head-scratcher is register. We have not yet glommed on to the nuances contingent upon social context, and it is exceedingly bollixing to program them to jibe with the jive, if you get my drift.


To: Anod Namys, Cultural Attaché
From: Don Webb
Subject: Graphics

Dear Anod,

I hate to tell you this, but we cannot post the pictures of Arcturans at labor and.. uh.. frolic.

Our editorial policy has strict guidelines against certain content. You wouldn't believe some of the stories we've gotten, and we don't want pictures to match. In a word, we don't want to turn Bewildering Stories into a porn or S&M site.

We would have nothing against pictures of animals, but we must draw the line at any pictures of sentient beings in the nude.



From: Anod
To: Don
Subject: Nudity


I am bummed by your unfortunate decision, and I am flummoxed at the concept of nude pictures. We Arcturans are not nude. However, we do molt at every approach of the planet Zorglox.

Further, we have gotten our tentacles on pictures of humans named Scott, Amundsen and Nanook. Do not their abundant artificial threads bespeak peekaboo taboos? They gotta be kidding that weather would be an object; the Antarctic landscapes ooze shiny rays by Arcturan standards.


To: Anod
From: Don
Subject: RE: Nudity


Sorry for the misunderstanding, especially about climate. Earthlings molt, too. Only, we do not wait for a passing planet. We molt our clothes in the morning, at night and, usually, when we take a shower. Also on occasions I will forbear... er, I won't mention.

Now, why do we wear clothes? Well, you'll get a lot of opinions about that. Some say it's due to original sin. Others say we evolved away most of our body hair and need clothes to keep warm. Still others just shrug and say we've always done it that way.

Bewildering Stories takes no position on original sin; our editorial policy allows for arguments with Prime Movers but not with Supreme Beings. Maybe nude people are warm enough without clothes; we don't know. That's why we've taken the third reason not to post nude graphics: it's just our policy.



To: Don
From: Anod N.
Subject: RE: RE: Nudity


At the risk of yammering I repeat that we do not consider ourselves "nude." Indeed, it is difficult to entwine a tentacle about that can of worms. Do you gents not shed "dandruff"? Is not "flaky" a common compliment?

If you need more hair, Arcturus will make you an offer you can't refuse at a rock-bottom price: genetic engineering that will zap you back to your pristine hirsute state. One of your scientific journals, Astounding, has already been there and done that in a scholarly article, "Hyperpilosity," by your eminent futurologist L.S.D. Camp.

Humans' aversion to epidermal display is, like, weirdsville, man. If such be the case, how are we space aliens gonna dig the "Free XXX Websites" that are currently gumming up galactic communications?

Our exopsychologists sense a snafu. Are humans up a tree when it comes to molting? How few duds are too few? What do humans consider copacetic? Can any two of them give high fives on what it is?

We also have eminent psychotechnicians who can shrink your heads. For a fee, of course.


To: Anod N.
From: Don W.
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Nudity

No, we do not know how much clothing is too little. Some say they're open to persuasion. I just say we know it when we see it.

As for the rest, well, excuuuse us! Not only do we suffer the torment of psoriasis, we're not hairy enough, and we're crazy, too.

Well, have it your own way, but our publisher says space aliens must at least wear a holster for their ray guns or they're nude, dammit, nude! No ray-gun holsters, no graphics. And if we're crazy, your mother wears army boots.

Don W.

From: Anod
To: Don
Subject: You are on

Dear Don,

My mother wears army boots? Which mother? We each have three. My gratitude for your kind suggestion of feetsy-wraps, but my mothers, although they are indeed captains in the Arcturan space navy, cannot easily adorn their tentacles with clodhoppers.

On another appendage, your reference to personal weaponry tickles my tendrils. I just love it when you talk in titillating terminology.

You see, on Arcturus, we do get off on shoot-outs in the privacy of our own nests. However, sporting holsters and ray guns is a no-no, although only in daylight. Indeed, it freaks one out to experience unbidden sleep-thoughts of hoofing around downtown while — pardon the expression — attired in such accoutrements. Fortunately, in those non-waking experiences, no one else seems to contribute a four-character syllable.

Although I had never had the foggiest that such intimacy might be achieved right off the bat, your proposal of a ray-gun duel is totally tubular, indeed, a cat's pyjama! I deem it imperative that we boogie on down to an appropriate locale. The proposed itinerary:

  1. I shall rendezvous with you, Sweetums, in a hired, chauffeured interplanetary vehicle.
  2. The time: approximately eight and one-half of your Earthly units after the subsolar point of your meridian.
  3. Promptness is requested, Sugar Lump.
  4. The object is to make the scene at the commencement of musical festivities.
  5. I shall bone up on all double-pedal gyrations.
  6. I anticipate exhausting the charges of both of my ray guns
    as we duel to the nostaligic melodies of Gelirol,
  7. one darkness cycle from now, at the Dim City Cotillion for Proud Marchers.

It is, as I believe you call it, a date.


To: Jerry W.
From : Don W.
Subject: Halp!
Attachment: Star date?

Hey, what on Earth — or Arcturus — is going on here? This Arcturan cultural attaché, Anod Namys, seems to have taken a shine to me. But what is this date she (he? it? they?) want(s)? The future of interstellar relations is at stake.


To: Don W.
From: Jerry W.
Subject: RE: Halp!

Near as I can make out, Anod seems to be saying s/he(it) or they will pick you up in a taxi, honey. Please be ready about half past eight. And, honey, don't be late; Anod wants to be there when the band starts playing. And she'll dance out all her shoes, when they play those Jellyroll blues tomorrow night at the Darktown Strutters Ball.

I think you can take it from there.

Have a ball with your new ray gun.


Copyright © 2003 by Don Webb

Home Page