Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Deceiving appearances

English is a mélange of roots and forms from various languages.  This creates a rich language but unfortunately quite a lot of confusion. It can make guessing the meaning of word a bit of a crap shoot.
Here are some examples in the form of a short quiz.
1   “Appositive” is
a.      A type of blood
b.      Another name for something
c.       Negative
2 “Tortuous” is
a.      Curvy
b.      Painful
c.       Tasty like a cake
3  An infamous person is 
a.      Unknown
b.      Well known in limited circles
c.       Known for doing awful things
     An “inflammable” substance is
a.      Gasoline
b.      Water
c.       A gasoline can
To “ululate” is
a.      To constantly be tardy
b.      To sing Swiss mountain songs
c.       To imitate the calls of wolves
     A bimonthly magazine appears
a.      Twice a month
b.      Every two months
c.       Both a and b
A positive charge in electronics has
a.      Lost electrons
b.      Gained electronics
c.       Sometimes a and sometime b
A parkway is a place
a.      To park
b.      To drive
c.       To play football


In all honesty, if you didn’t know any of the answers, you probably still can express yourself perfectly well.  Still, English scholars, i.e., those who enjoy using the language to its best, actually enjoy the peculiarity of the language. As for the answers, to be really nasty, I won’t give the answers.  That way, you will remember what the word means! However, if you are unsure about any, write me.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Legal De-Scribing

Simple and complicated are a matter of perspective. What is child’s play for one person is a challenge for another. Likewise, a straightforward sentence in one language can be tricky for a translator in another language.

Take for example this short legal clause in Hebrew:
המסמך מחייב אישור מהמנהל.                        
Word for word, it says:

(   a)  The document requires approval from the manager.

That doesn’t work in English because documents are rather self-sufficient creatures and in themselves don’t require anything. So, let’s play with the grammar:

(   b)  The document must be approved by the manager.
(   c)   The manager must approve the document.

Sentence (c) is the active version of (b), generally a preferable form.  However, both sentences suffer from the same ambiguity. They could be interpreted to mean that the manager has no choice but to approve it, which is not true. The next example suffers from the same potential problem:

(   d)  Approval of the document by the manager is required.

The option that I chose in order to be perfectly clear is as follows:

(   e)  The document is subject to approval by the manager.


It may be that even better options exist. If so, I would like to hear. The search for perfection is the passion behind good translation. Like all so ambitions, it is very from simple.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Clothed masculinity

I am a product of a 1970’s Los Angeles. It was neither the most radical nor conservative of places but just slightly left of main stream American culture. When I observe males in their 20’s in Israel today, again not the most avant-garde of groups in the world, I am amazed at the change in male culture in almost two generations.

It has become acceptable for straight males to enhance their appearance using techniques limited to women (and gays) when I was growing up. For example, elite combat soldiers now often have one or multiple earrings. I see male students wearing short socks that don’t extend pass the shoe, once only used by women. I notice young males dyeing their hair and not because it has turned grey. Based on television and products available in the department store, some straight men apply makeup before dates. Their wardrobe may include pink and violet shirts, colors that American straight men would avoid when I was growing up.  
Coming from the extreme culture of the military and criminal world, tattoos have now become commonplace, with the only issues being how big, how many and where.  All in all, the culture of masculinity has significantly, as least as far as externals are concerned.


Of course, culture is subjective, i.e., conditioned by its time and society. As Mel Brooks so humorously reminded us, men once wore tights. Some would claim that society has advanced while other would argue that society has regressed. I merely say it this has become different in a certain sense. In my opinion, the reality, natural or imposed, fortunate or unfortunate, is the masculine culture is truly defined by its inherent belief that males control the destiny of themselves and consequently society, regardless of any external trappings.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mislabeling?

The purpose of a label is to provide essential information at a glance. Proper labeling is not only required by law but is also an essential marketing strategy. Yet, a walk through the supermarket shows that some companies somehow fail in this task.

In some cases, the grammar confuses the matter. For example, in the United States, you can buy “free range chicken broth.” Somehow, Garry Larson’s cartoon showing a boneless chicken ranch (https://www.reddit.com/r/TheFarSideGallery/comments/48yk32/boneless_chicken_ranch/) comes into mind. Can you imagine gathering a flock of chicken broth from the courtyard?  What tool should you use? Likewise, in Hebrew, one of Israel’s national department stores has a tag that literally says “clothes for men on sale.” The question of why these men are less desirable naturally pops into mind. Spelling also counts.  I wonder who the intended customers of “black painty liners” are.

Other labels are correct but somehow illogical. For instance, in Israel, you can buy kosher air freshener. Now, koshrut laws deal with foods and are quite a complicated business, both in terms of rules and the body issuing the seal. The latter ranges from the official government supervision to numerous private and more demanding bodies. I can see how paper towels might make contact with food, making it important for observant Jews to check the kosher label. However, as far as I know, air freshener is generally in the bathroom, at the other end of the story, so to speak. I guess that you can never be too careful. For that matter, why would anybody advertise not to mention buy “no fat, no sugar yoghurt?” I suppose it is making virtue out of necessity, i.e., this yoghurt may have no taste but it is not unhealthy. Similarly, I was caught by some Girl Scouts (who can resist?) and bought some thin mints, chocolate and mint being one of my favorite combination only outranked by chocolate and orange. I thus managed to ignore the fact that the label read “vegan cookies.”

The most annoying phenomenon is legally correct labeling hiding unpleasant truths. Cars “made in America” must have “all or virtually all” of their parts produced in the USA. I would like to know what this virtual reality is. The term “100% juice” on a label does not preclude other ingredients (https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.30) I am not sure ignorance is bliss in this case.


So, a rose is a rose is a rose but will only sell if properly labeled. Enjoy your next shopping trip.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Authoritative Comments

The 2017 Israeli Translators Association Conference has come and gone. It has left me a strong feeling of camaraderie, especially with my fellow legal translators.  There was a strange sense of a bar in the sense of a group of law people, not the watering spot. The lectures regarding legal translations, those of Emanuel Weisgras and Sue Leschen, became free, fascinating discussions of various issues that left, as they say in Hebrew, of a taste of "ode", the regret that there wasn't more time. Contrary to the old adage about lawyers according to which you can only have one lawyer change a light bulb because no room is big enough for the egos of two lawyers, legal translators disagree but are not 110% certain of their opinion.  All in all, they were productive and entertaining sessions.

Still, my highlights were the two plenary lectures by the invited writers, Yannets Levi and Amos. The first is the author of the Dod Arie (Uncle Leo in English) children stories. He spoke about the birth of his successful series of books. Like J.K. Rowling, he originally made up the tales as stories for his nieces and nephews. They were so successful that he wrote them down. He then discussed the various directions the translation took.  In particular, he mentioned that in Korea, the book was taken various seriously as a tool for installing Israeli creativity in Korean children. On a similar vein, Japanese children apparently require more visual images to follow the stories, possibly because of the complexity of and time required to learn Japanese. By the way, I also began as a translator, albeit unknowing, by translating impromptu the four first Harry Potter books into Hebrew to my young daughter.

The lecture by Amos Oz was also of note. He discussed his creative process, elaborating on his early morning walks and café observing as he tried to imagine the thoughts and history of all those around him, a bit like Sherlock Holmes. He then discussed several terms that he and his English translator struggled with. It emphasized that creativity is no less than important than language knowledge in translation.


In summary, the program was rich and satisfying. I return to work tired but filled with esteem for translators and writers alike. As Walter Konkrite used to say, "and that is way it is."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Singing nostalgic

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to a concert of French chansons in Karmiel arranged by the local French society. The singer, Brigitte Haviv, accompanied skillfully by an accordion, guitar and bass, sang songs from the Golden era of French songs, including golden oldies (as they say) by Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Charles Asnavour and Yves Montand. The small auditorium was packed. My wife and I, in our fifties, lowered the average age of the audience. However, what was lacking in youth was more than made up for in enthusiasm. People even dressed up elegantly, a rare sight in this part of the woods. The concert, more than an hour and a half, was a great success both for the singer and the audience. A good time was had by all.


That said, I had a very sad thought. If a non-French outside of France were asked to name a current French singer, band, or even song, I strongly doubt that even the most cosmopolitan would succeed. I am not saying that current French music is poor. Since it is not exported, it simply doesn't exist outside France. It may be due to the policy of foreign radio stations to play music in English and local languages but no more. It may be because that the French music has lost its identity. It even may be a result of the poor quality of music in France today.  I cannot say. What I do fear is that in some 40 years nobody is going to gather in an auditorium in a provincial town far way and listen nostalgically to the great French  songs of the early 21st century. As a proud half-Frenchman, that makes me sad. I suppose the best thing I could do is to listen to some more Brel or Piaf. It would make me feel better but not change the reality. Isn't that the definition of nostalgia?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bare necessities - uncovering the meaning

A baby is born naked, that is say without clothes or saying it chooses to be that way, but merely a statement of fact. By contrast, if someone is nude, there is underlying purpose, whether sexual or artistic, to this state of affairs. Going one step farther, exposing yourself in public in most parts of the world can lead to an interview with a police officer, at minimum. The term unclad emphasizes the lack of clothing, not the result.

How a person reaches this state is also a matter of vocabulary. Being stripped is generally by another person, often by force. By contrast, many people sleep undressed, especially in the summer, removing their own garments.

Euphemisms have various nuances. Going au naturel sounds adventurous, as in going to a nude beach, while being in your birthday suit is quite innocent, without any intention before or afterwards. If you are walking around in the house in the buff, you have no neighbors or don't care what they see. By contrast, being caught without a stitch can occur while you are changing clothes and the doorbell rings, i.e., without any intention at all.

I hope this helps you uncover the implications of these threadbare terms