Fun with Google Translate

August 20, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Posted in spot removal | Leave a comment

I have been trying to translate some spot removal recipes from I secreti della signora Isabella Cortese or The Secrets of Lady Isabella Cortese. It was first printed in Venice in 1561. There are a number of what appear to be spot removal recipes in the book, but I am somewhat stymied by my complete lack of knowledge of the Italian language.

Google Translate is an amazing resource, and without it I cannot even have attempted to try to translate the bits that I wanted. But it’s also not a perfect resource. Since it’s not an actual living person, it doesn’t understand when a word is spelled strangely. The English example would be “a gode booke”. To a native speaker, that’s obviously going to be “good book”, but to a computer, it’s just gobbledygook.  This means that sometimes I have to be creative in trying to figure out what was actually being said.

Sometimes I can use context clues, other times I just remain baffled. Here is an example of the sort of thing that I have been doing:

The original text reads:

Levar ogni macchia d’olio , e di grasso in panno. Cap. 59.

piglia sapon bianco a tua discretione, quale tritarai sottilmente, e lo metterai in una caraffa mezza piena di lessiva . E metti in detta lessiva sale armoniaco, due rossi d’ova fresche, sugo de cavoli , e sele di bue, a tua discretione.<symbol>.i.di tartaro pesto, sottilmente e setacciato ogni cosa posta nella sopradetta caraffa, tenedola squassata ogni cosa nella caraffa molto bene al Sole caldo, f quattro giorni, laqual acqua farà bonissima bagnando co detta il luoco della macchia di dentro, e di fuori molto bene, e lassala seccare poi lava molto bene, con acqua chiara, con l’infrascritto sapone, se’l ti piace, e lassa sciugare, e restera netto.

Which Google Translate renders as:

Levar each wildfire, and in cloth fat

Catches sapon white your discretione, which tritarai thinly, and put it in a half-full jug of lessiva. And put in that lessiva  armoniaco rooms, two red of fresh eggs, juice of cabbage, and fele Ox, in your discretione. <symbol>. I.di tartar pesto, thinly and sieved everything placed in the aforesaid decanter, tenedola buffeted everything in carafe very well to hot sun, f four days, laqual water will very good wetting co dictates luoco stain the inside and outside very well, then wash and dry Lassala very well with clear water with the infrascritto soap, se’l you like, be dried and loose, and will remain shareholders

Which….basically doesn’t make much sense. Having looked at a lot of these recipes, “piglia” translates much more smoothly as “take”. Sapon is very much like the word sapone which means soap, and would make sense in this context. Add an e to levar and you get  “to remove”.

Similarly, the Italian word for lye is “liscivia”. While I have no idea how Italian pronunciation works, I can see how that may well be what is meant by “lessiva”, and if I translate it as lye, it makes sense not just in this context, but in the context of the other recipes where the word is used. “Fele” doesn’t translate, but a lot of spot removal recipes call for the gall of an ox, so I looked up how to say “gall” and “bile” in Italian, and the answer is “fiele.” That’s a close enough match in meaning and spelling that I can reasonably assume that this is what is meant.

“Tritirai” does not translate, but in context it appears to be asking you to cut it up, so I looked up different ways to say cut/mince/shred/chop in Italian, and came up with “tritare” which means “to chop”.

I have no idea why “macchia” means stain and “d’olio” means oil, but “macchia d’olio” consistently translates, even in isolation, as “wildfire.” I guess it’s a quirk of the Italian language, but for our purposes “oil stain” makes a whole lot more sense.

Translating the “sal” in “sal armoniaco” as “rooms” doesn’t make sense, but “salt” could easily be what is meant, making me think that the recipe actually calls for salt ammoniac. I will need to do more research to see if that makes logical sense in the context of the recipe, but at least it’s a place to start.

“Lassa” originally translated as “loose”, but that didn’t seem right, so I looked up other translations, one of which was “allow”, which made more sense. It was also similar to the untranslated “lassala”, which conceivably could be a smoothed together version of “lassa la” (allow it). Lassala comes up frequently in these recipes, and each time interpreting it as “allow it” makes sense, so that lends credence to this translation.

“Luoco” doesn’t translate, but some sleuthing reveals that luogo means “the place”, which, again, makes sense here. Despite the fact that looking at two editions of the manuscript shows clearly that it’s a c and not a g, that could easily be a spelling variation, or a quirk of the Venitian dialect.

Shareholders is obviously not what the original writer meant by “netto”. But when I look up netto separately, it translates as many other things as well, including “clean”, which fits in perfectly.

I’m not sure what laqual means, but it seems like it’s instructing you to wash the cloth with the water you’ve just made, the lye/egg/cabbage/tartar mess.

Which brings us to my translation:

To remove each oil stain and fat in cloth

Take white soap at your discretion, cut thinly, and put it in a half-full jug of lye. And put in that lye salt ammoniac, two fresh red eggs, cabbage juice, and the gall of an ox. Add <symbol – an amount?, like lb is a symbol?> of tartar to make a thin paste. Sieve everything in the aforementioned jug, shake very well and put in the hot sun for four day, wetting the stained place both inside and out very well with this water, then wash, with clear water, with infrascritto soap and allow to dry very well and it will remain clean.

It’s still not completely coherent, and I’m still at a loss for what the weird symbols mean (are they amounts?) or what infrascritto means, but I’m much closer to something that actually makes sense. Lye, ox gall, and eggs are common stain removal ingredients, as is the direction to lay the cloth in the sun. While I haven’t seen salt ammoniac or cabbage juice in a stain remover so far, I’ve mostly only examined German recipes in English translation, which is a very small subset, and these could be regional variations. So the basic recipe, and the general instructions, both seem plausible.

Anyone reading this speak Italian and want to correct ridiculous gaffes? I’d love to be corrected.

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