Beat the Machine: 4 Little Words, 1 Big Challenge

A vintage toy robot
Photo Credit: Unsplash

By Sam Mowry

How it can be March 2021 when it feels like it never stopped being March 2020, I’ll never know! But it’s a new month and a new chance to compare translations. If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise of the Beat the Machine mini translation slam in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process. After last month’s technical beast, we’re going in a very different direction this month with by far our shortest sentence ever:

Le réveil fut brutal.

Yes, it really is just four words long! This is an excerpt from the book L’Insomnie by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Rather than showing you what Google Translate would have given us (feel free to check, if you’re curious!), here is the context for this sentence, which ends a chapter:

Mes rêves étaient denses et riches. Je me voyais voguer sur les flots bleus de la Méditerranée, comme si j’étais sur des skis. J’allais très vite, des oiseaux de toutes les couleurs m’accompagnaient. Je chantais, je dansais, comme dans un film de Fred Astaire ! J’étais heureux et je crois même que je m’entichai d’une femme brune à la longue chevelure. Mais quelqu’un me disait à l’oreille : « Attention, c’est la mort ; il arrive parfois qu’elle se déguise pour faire diversion ! » C’est alors que je suis tombé dans la mer, je me noyais. Le réveil fut brutal.

Despite the rest of these words before it, I’m only asking for a translation of the very last sentence there. Four words, including a tense we don’t have in English and a noun that doesn’t have a direct equivalent. There are a million ways to go with this, so let’s see what you do!

Submit your translation here by March 31, 2021, and the blog post discussing it will go up in April!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. This month in particular; you are encouraged to submit as many times as you like!

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] to let us know!