Rolcats and recursive humor

A couple of days ago, I posted a link to Яolcats, a site that promises “English Translations of Eastern Bloc Lolcats”. One of my astute readers pointed out that, while the “translations” are hilarious, they bear no resemblance to the actual Russian text. For example:

actually translates as “If you’ve invited a girl to dance and she has agreed…don’t be too happy. You will still have to dance first.”

translates as “Age changes the style of a man; As the years go by, it gets harder to purr…and wrinkles – traces of the smiles of bye gone days – crease your face.”

I linked to the Яolcats site because I was fascinated that the Lolcats meme had crossed language barriers. About a year ago, I asked the Global Voices community whether Lolcats had hit their home communities and received a baffled shrug in response – funny pictures were being passed around, but no cute cat photos bearing funny captions. (A pair of GV’ers briefly ran LolQats, a site dedicated to images of people chewing Qat, enhanced with funny captions. These are the sort of jokes you make when Bahranis, Brazilians and Beninois end up sharing a house in Miami during new media conferences. Tragically, the image links on the site no longer seem to work. Here are some representative examples on another site, proving that all great ideas have multiple authors.)

So I was excited to see Russian speakers adding captions to cute photos of cats. I thought it was bizarre that Soviet-era kitsch should be the subject of the humor, but I didn’t bother to type captions into Google and get real translations… or read the comment threads, which include roughly a third of folks saying “That’s not a very good translation” and another third laughing at the folks who think the translations are real. So what’s wonderful is to discover both that a) Russian speakers are creating sweet, sappy, sentimental lolcats and truly snarky English speakers are creating meta-lolcats using said sappy lolcats and a heavy dose of cold-war nostalgia.

Ah, recursive humor. There’s a reason why my computer science professors wanted me to learn Lisp before setting me loose on teh Internetz.

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3 Responses to Rolcats and recursive humor

  1. bhroberts says:

    Ethan, just curious where you went to school that they made you learn Lisp. I too learned lisp in my intro CS class, but thought it was relatively rare.

  2. Ethan says:

    Williams College. Lisp wasn’t part of the CS core – which was largely about Pascal and Modula-2 when I was there, then C – but was strongly encouraged if you were going to do any AI programming. I learned Lisp one winter, and Scheme a semester later. It made my head hurt, and helped convince me to major in philosophy instead of computer science, but it was good stuff nevertheless.

  3. nat says:

    In Soviet Russia, lolcats disdain need of decadent Westerners to believe their kots only conceive of most simple thought in convoluted syntax and incorrect spelling(s).

    In Soviet Russia, kots exist to make the peoples think! Hard, until brow furrows, and ache of head arrives. After this labor, deserved laughter is emboldened, and thus, more enjoyed for the efforts brought forth, arrayed before purring rolkots.

    Da.

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