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Escaped From the Language Lab

. 4 min read

While playing around with Google Translate I was reminded of this essay by Dutch writer Rudy Kousbroek. It was first published in Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad in the mid 1980s. It is a literal translation from Dutch to English of an adaptation of the famous Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. I retranslated it back to Dutch using Google translate and some sentences match remarkably well, which does not really speak in favour of Google translate. Obviously, the joke only works if you're Dutch. It would be fun to read some German, French and Spanish versions.

Escaped from the language lab

Through R. Cowsbrook

There was once a poor woodchopper. This woodchopping, he said one day to his woman, there sits no dry bread in it. I work myself an accident the whole day, but you and our twelve children have not to eat.

“I see the future dark in,” his woman agreed.

“We must try to fit a sleeve on it,” the woodchopper resumed; “I have a plan: tomorrow we shall go on step with the children, and then, in the middle of the wood, we’ll leave them to their fate over.”

His woman almost went off her little stick when she heard this. “What is there with you on the hand?” she cried, “aren’t you good sob?”

But the woodchopper wasn’t brought off his piece by her wailing, he gave no shrink. “It cannot differ to me what you think,” he said. “There sits nothing else on, tomorrow we leave them in the wood.”

Little Thumbkin, the youngest son, had listened off his parents’ conversation. The next morning before day and dew he went out and filled his pockets with pebbles. During the walk into the wood he knew unmarked-up to drop them one by one. Then the parents told the children to gather some wood, and shined the plate.

When the parents didn’t come for the day any more, the children understood that they had been left in the stitch. Soon the waterlanders appeared. But Thumbkin said: “Don’t sit down by your packages. I will sorrow for it that we all get home wholeskins.“ Thank be the pebbles, he was able to find his way back.

“By God,” the parents said as they came to foreshine, “how have you ragged him that?” “No art on,” said Thumbkin and explained what he had done. “If you want to be rid of us you will have to stand up a bit earlier.”

That is just what the parents did. This time there came no pebbles on to pass. All Thumbkin had was a piece of dry bread. He decided that his bread there then but must believe to it. He left a trail of breadcrumbs but he didn’t have it in the holes that they were being made soldier by the birds.

His parents departed with the Northern sun, as on the day before, but this time Thumbkin soon touched rid of the trail. What now? Good counsel was expensive. The sun was already under, it was raining pipestems and the crying stood Little Thumbkin nearer than the laughing. At last he saw a tiny light through the trees; it turned out to be a house.

The lady who stood them to word was a giantess. She gave them what to eat but Little Thumbkin received the feeling that something wasn’t fluff. He had understood that the giantess’ man, the giant, was a people-eater who would see no bone in devouring them. If we do not pass up, he thought, we shall be the cigar; as soon as they saw their chance clean they took the legs and smeared him.

When the giant came home, he sniffed the air and bellowed: “I smell people flesh! Woman, why have you let them go there from through? Bring me my seven-league boots, I go them behind after!”

He was about to haul the children in, but wonder above wonder, just then he decided to lie down in order to snap a little owl.

“Shoot up, help me!” Thumbkin said to his brothers as soon as the giant lay there pipping, we must see to make him his seven-league boots off-handy. They squeezed him like an old thief but they went ahead and knew him to draw his boots out. “Now we must make that we come away!” Little Thumbkin gasped. He put on the boots and quickly made himself out of the feet, carrying his brothers along. Also, he had seen chance to roll the giant’s pockets and pick in all his gold pieces.

“How have you boxed that before each other?” cried Thumbkin’s parents in amazement when he showed up.

“It was a pod-skin,” said Little Thumbkin modestly. “I may be small but I stand my little man. And look, I have also brought a lot of poon. We used not to be able to allow ourselves billy-goat’s leaps, but now we have our sheep on the dry. We will never come anything too short again! I shall be able to buy myself a nail-suit at last! And a woody-stringy!”

“And I a soup-dress,” cried his mother, “they are you of it these days.”

“Great,” his father exulted. “I shall buy us a motor-car.”

That afternoon he came riding to the fore in a sleigh of a wagon. “I seem to be having trouble riding straight out,” Thumbkin’s father complained.

“That you thank the cuckoo,” his woman said, “you have a piece in your collar. You have him round again. I shall stop you in bed.”

The next day all the children were stuck in the clothes as well. In her new soup-dress, mother looked a cleanliness. After that, they moved to The Hague, where they bought a chest of a house on the New Explanation, and they lived still long and lucky.

Rudy Kousbroek (1986). Escaped from the language lab. In: De Logologische Ruimte. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff.