Getting a gist means getting a rough idea about something. You may not be an expert in a certain field and by listening to somebody giving a lecture you are not becoming an expert but you get a “gist” of what that field is about.
Now “to gist” is starting to be used to mean “getting a feeling” of what a text, written in a language you don’t know, is about. And to get “the gist” more and more people are using Google Translator.
According to Technology Review, the use of Google Translator is growing significantly and it has been started to be used by the US Government to check the content of messages and web pages. It does not provide a good translation but it is sufficient to understand what that particular text is talking about and if something looks suspicious than a hum a translator steps in.
Today, Google Translator provide a “gist” in 60 languages. It is quite far from a human translator.
Look at this sentence in Italian (from one of our most famous books, I Promessi Sposi):
Quel ramo del lago di Como
che volge a mezzogiorno
tra due catene non interrotte di monti
tutto a seni e a golfi
Gets translated in this sentence:
That branch of Lake Como
that is coming at noon
between two unbroken chains of mountains
in all breasts and a round of golf
The first and third lines are pretty good but the second and fourth are completely off mark (they should be translated something like: “that is orientated to the South”, and “full of promontories and bays”).
Still, if you are completely at loss in a foreign language, as all of us are for the majority of them, using Google translator is a good step forward. You can read a web site in Arabic or Chinese, take a look at what Libyan newspaper are saying and so on. This is something that was impossible just few years ago and that is already changing our grasp of the world.
OK. let me stop here, now I need to gist some blogs in Chinese.