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How an 'out of office' e-mail became a road sign

A Welsh city official failed to notice that the translation of a "no entry for heavy goods vehicles" road sign was actually an "out of office" automated reply.

If you've never been to Wales, you should rectify this immediately.

The people have a talent for being more miserable than a lonely, one-legged sheep. The weather can be more spiteful than coach-class cabin crew.

Yet the nation often finds a way of creating beautiful absurdity beyond the imagination of any French film director.

The latest example, from Wales' second city, Swansea, is a singular delight.

Swansea is not a city that every swan would choose as its home. Its average monthly temperature never exceeds 19 degrees Centigrade--yes, 66 degrees Fahrenheit. But its city council tries to make it a livable place.

For example, the council is assiduous in ensuring that those who speak English and Welsh have equal rights when it comes to its road signs.

Every sign has to be bilingual, although that doesn't mean that every city employee is bilingual.

In the area of Morriston, a new sign was needed, one that told drivers of heavy goods vehicles that they were not welcome on a particular street.

The official responsible for the road sign immediately e-mailed its in-house translation service for an accurate Welsh rendition of "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only."

The translator wasn't around--perhaps, he or she was in the pub or, perhaps, practicing indoor bowling (Swansea hosts the world championships). So the official received an automated e-mail reply: "I am out of the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated."

Those who speak Welsh tend to be proud folk. They also tend to send e-mails in Welsh. However, the English-speaking official thought the automated e-mail was the actual translation. Well, it was two sentences and it seemed like the right length.

The Welsh here reads: "Please meet me in the office supplies room for a snog." CC Spixey

Please imagine the delight (for those with a sense of humor) and the angst (for most of the neighborhood) when the bilingual sign was put up, with the nontranslation printed verbatim.

It does make one wonder just how many council officials might have seen the sign before it was erected. It also makes one wonder whether at least one of them thought this was so funny that he would just let it happen to brighten his otherwise woeful day.

The strange thing is that this is not the first time Wales has been lost in mistranslation. Cyclists between the Welsh cities of Penarth and Cardiff in 2006 were somewhat surprised to see a bilingual road sign telling them they had problems with an "inflamed bladder".

I do have a suggestion for all Welsh councils, though, that might solve the problem. Write all of your e-mails and road signs in Wenglish.

Wenglish sounds like the perfect compromise. It is a dialect, rooted in both English and Welsh, that should surely become the official language of Wales.

The expert on the subject and author of the seminal Wenglish tome is a Welsh (and Urdu) speaker called Robert Lewis.

Lewis appears to be someone significant at VisitWales, a government organization that encourages Welsh tourism.

Perhaps they could put him in charge of road signs. And, um, e-mails.