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15 January 2013
KATHMANDU, Nepal -- The word 'shirkers', used in a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron to refer to people who refuse to look for work, was rendered as 'Sherpas' after Google Translate was utilised to send a message to Nepal, causing considerable consternation in Kathmandu.
In a tradition that goes back to the British Empire, all copies of speeches made by a serving Prime Minister are sent to former colonies, protectorates and client states. Normally this passes without a problem but in a speech in the House of Commons, Cameron taunted the opposition Labour Party (UK), asking if they were "on the side of the workers or shirkers". A transcript was sent by email to Nepal, but only after Google's translation application changed 'Shirkers' to 'Sherpas'.
In Nepal, this mangled message was received with huge anger. A radio station which broadcasts to the Sherpa people said this was an example of British imperialism. A source told us, "For many years the Sherpa people were treated no better than two legged mules by gentlemen mountain climbers and this memory has stuck. So when they heard Cameron had apparently disparaged the Sherpa work ethic, there was a lot of angry demonstrations."
When the news got back to the British government, a quick check of David Cameron's office located the unfortunate intern who had sent out the erroneous message. Cameron has since issued an apology and swears he will be sticking to Bing in future. Cameron said:
"I am sorry my office blundered. We have dealt with this matter with great thoroughness. I called Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to apologise. I have offered to give some more work to the Gurkhas by way of compensation. Er, that is if they want work, I am not saying that they were having trouble showing some initiative."
Later, another government official said (off the record) that there were other mistranslated versions of the message including Gurkhas or Lurkers, Strivers or Divers and Smirkers or Smokers.