Don’t blame Google for poking your eye


YES, the new catchphrase in town these days is ‘poke-eye’ English. And, of course we have the Ministry of Defence to thank for this catchphrase, which simply means atrocious English.

Because it allowed its website to be posted online without prior editing, the ministry found itself the butt of jokes among Netizens.

Under a section called ‘Ethical Clothing’, the ministry attempted to translate its original explanation in Malay into English.

It was a disastrous attempt, or as this generation of Netizens would say, “Epic fail!”

Hence, the website ended up publishing descriptions that read “clothes that poke the eye”, “collared shirts and tight Malay civet”, and “long-sleeve batik shirt with collar / mongoose fight made in Malaysia”.

And in case you still do not quite get it, ‘poke eye’ was the literal translation for ‘menjolok mata’.

How can one not be ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing) after reading such ridiculous descriptions?

Netizens then decided that it was hilarious (and embarrassing) enough to go viral. They took the ministry to task and posted the website’s links on Twitter and Facebook.

The rest of us in Malaysia came to know of the poke-eye saga when a national daily picked up the posting that went viral on the Internet and highlighted it, along with screen-shots from the ministry’s website.

Oh, and by the way, the news of Mindef’s poke-eye English was not just limited to the media in Malaysia and Singapore – the website also got the attention of the Wall Street Journal (Southeast Asia) Online, which gave an interesting commentary, amusingly titled ‘Malaysia’s Military Loses Battle Against Bad English’.

The same national daily that exposed Mindef’s poke-eye English then took the initiative to scan through the websites of the Prime Minister’s Office and 22 other ministries for poke-eye language.

They found eight websites with English translations that fell below the acceptable standard of the language.

Would it surprise you to learn that one of the eight websites belonged to the Ministry of Education? Brings to mind the issue of the ministry’s flip-flopping policies on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in the English language doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to Mindef poking eyes. Several days after the embarrassing expose, the Minister of Defence himself told the media that the translations came about because they used the online translating application Google Translate.

In other words, the ministry blamed Google Translate. This statement, to say the least, was totally unacceptable and again raised an uproar among Netizens.

Tweets and Facebook updates were rampant about how the ministry did not seem to want to take responsibility for the gaffe, so they blamed technology.

How could they not have proofread the translations first! Translation software is known to generate word for word translations, not check and edit grammar or the accuracy of words used. There still has to be someone responsible for this.

Or do the people who were responsible for vetting and approving the publication of the website online have equally poke-eye English?

A friend of The Eye is steadfast in her belief that the problem of the poor command of English is not just constrained to officers and junior staff in the civil service. She insists that the problem is rampant even among senior management and super-scale officers.

The scary thing about this whole incident is, if the ministry can overlook this simple but glaringly obvious and embarrassing matter of translation, what other issues has it overlooked with regards to the security of our country?

Oops! Right! The Auditor General’s report did mention
that the ministry bought exorbitantly expensive night vision goggles. Is the ministry going to blame Google for their goggles too?

Despite the unbelievably embarrassing use of poke-eye English, The Eye must say, thank you for the catchphrase.

Now, instead of referring to mangled Malaysian English as Manglish, we can actually apply poke-eye to describe the atrocious use of the language because, hey, it does poke the eye. There’s pain in seeing such language abuse!