Saturday, March 29, 2014

Friday, not your average day

No day of the week, with the possible exception of Sunday, is as linguistically busy as the fifth day of Western calendar and sixth day of the Jewish holiday.  Reflecting the heritage of English, the name of day is derived from the Norse god Frigg, wife of Odin, with a similar status to Venus.  Due to its proximity to Saturday and Sunday, the traditional rest days in the West, many events and connotations have attached themselves to it.

First of all, according to the old poem, a child born on Friday is loving and giving, generally a good thing.  Parents should be grateful of that. Many people also say TGIF, i.e. thank God it’s Friday, happy with the knowledge that tomorrow they won’t have to go to work the next day.  For that matter, to help celebrate, many office workers are allowed to wear jeans on Friday, appropriately called Jeans Friday or casual Friday.  Catholics would agree with Good Friday, although many question why Jesus getting crucified can be good day.  I suppose it is a matter of faith.  On the flip side, black Friday was an awful day in 1929 when the stock markets collapsed.  Similarly, Friday the 13th is supposedly a day of disaster, as depicted in those famous/infamous Freddy Kreuger movies.

Interestingly, the French vendredi is also derived from a goddess queen, the actual Venus in this case. Maybe because the next day, samedi, was traditionally  a work day until a few generations ago and still is a partial school day, the French have less enthusiasm towards it.  It borders on blasé as the expression vendredi, c’est ravioli signifies that something is a fact.  No happy hour excitement there.

In Israeli,  יום שישי [yom shishi], meaning the sixth day, no goddesses here, is traditionally a busy day.  God had to finish the whole creation business so he could relax on the Sabbath.  Likewise, we Jewish mortals have to work hard to prepare forשבת  [shabbat], the only unnumbered day.  For this reason, the sixth day is known for סקס, pronounced sex, not for the procreation activity, but for סידורים, קניות ספונג'ה  [sidorim, kniot, and sponga], that is to say, errands, shopping and mopping the floor.  After a long day of that, not to mention cooking for that night and the next day, who has energy for real sex?

So, whether Friday is the gateway to heaven, the weekend, almost a regular day or the mad rush to prepare for the Sabbath, it is a day worthy of note.

P.S. This was written on a Friday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Synergy of Writing and Righting

Writing on a certain level is a lonely affair, with the writer bravely trying to fill the blank screen or paper with the intended idea in such a way as the reader will understand it.  In most cases, the author is in a bubble never receiving criticism (in the positive meaning of the word), with the only feedback being the internal drive to make the text better.  As s translator, I live that reality, almost never actually seeing how my best intentioned text arrives at the client’s desk and the latter’s reaction to it.  The major exceptions are texts that are published either as a book or on the Internet.

It should be noted that writing is a such a personal task to which criticism, no matter how well intended, is generally viewed as hostility as if it is the reader’s fault for not understanding what the writer meant or appreciating the author’s unique style.  As a demonstration, my father, who worked as a journalist for the AP for many years, used to edit all of my papers through high school.  Since they usually came back more red than black, I dreaded the experience each time. 

Later, when I wrote my thesis for the MBA, I was grateful for my father’s help as I was working full time and being a father to a small baby. Not having time to revise my raw first drafts, I would send them to him.  They, of course, came to me very bloody.  This time, however, I was grateful for the corrections and did not dread them.

Recently, I translated one of two documents of a large, complicated project involving a price quote from French to English. It turned out that the other document was basically identical.  So, two translators essentially produced two different versions of the same text. After the project was finished, I was asked by the translation company to “harmonize”, that is, create one version.  Overcoming my initial reluctance, I read through the two documents sentence by sentence, comparing the versions and either selecting the better of the two or combining elements of both.  It should be noted that both translations were generally quite good, even if with an occasional gaff.

While the process was time-consuming and tiring, it was extremely enlightening and encouraging. First, the final documents were at a clearly higher level than either of the originals.  Second, discovering the manner of improving the text provided a lesson in better writing I intend to apply to future translations. Last, the experience emphasized that making the search for the perfect text the focus instead of justifying the writer’s word choice is not only vital and possible, but makes self-criticism a positive experience.  To go beyond that quote “There is no good writing; there is only good re-writing,; translators and writers of all kinds can not only benefit from feedback, they can also learn to relish it to the benefit of their work.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getting a whiff

The sheer richness of vocabulary in English allows it to express a myriad of intonations (to the delight of writers and pain of learners).  For example, the olfactory information collected by our notice in have many words, each “painting’’ a different picture of the feedback.  In other words, a rose may be rose squared, but each smell is different.

The word smell is neutral, applying to pleasurable sensation of soup in the air upon return from school on an cold winter day as well as the reason we don’t want to cat to sit on us after it has been to the cat box.  A scent also lacks connotation, merely implying information, such as when a dog tracks the scent of another dog.

On the positive side, when it comes to food, an aroma is always good, whether caused by a fresh baked loaf of bread, a delicious plate of paella, or any other delicious dish.  A good bottle of wine or bunch of wild flowers has a wonderful bouquet.  Walking in to any department source, a source of my childhood horrors and many women’s pleasure was all the fragrances in the perfume section.  In fact, a rich smell can be called a perfume in English.

By contrast, there are times when having an insensitive nose is a blessing.  An odor is generally not good but tolerable, at least for a short time.  For example, if you detect the odor of gas in your kitchen, you should check the range immediately.  More seriously, if your partner says that your shoes stink, clean them or throw them out immediately.  It is that bad.  If you visit the house of a chain smoker, you can say that everything reeks of cigarettes, meaning that the smell is omnipresent.  Finally, the reason why plumbers get paid good money to fix sewage problems is that they have to deal with the stench of human feces, a truly foul smell.

So, when it comes to the impressions of the nose, the language is almost as the rich as the content.