Monday, November 21, 2016

Notty Tendencies

Language and culture influence each other strongly. For example, formal English society tends to be rather formal and evasive. Thus, there is a rather common tendency to understate matters when speaking.  Some of the common techniques involve not, un, in, double negatives, a bit and its modern cousin, challenged.

Being direct  would create an uncomfortable amount of tension.  So, one solution is using the opposite word preceded by the word not. It is clear that the phase it is not a good time means you should get out of here. Likewise, if something is not a good idea, it is rather stupid in fact.  For that matter, if someone not looking her/her best looks awful really.  You are simply not allowed, that is to say forbidden, to say exactly what you want.

We cannot forget that confusing preposition in when it means not and not in. (Now that is an unclear sentence.) An inconsiderate remarking is rude while an inopportune time stinks. For that matter, inappropriate behavior means that you are acting like an ass while if someone says you are just impossible, it does not mean that you cannot exist but instead he doesn't know what to do with you.

Un can be just as indirect. An action that is unthinkable, truly horrid, is quite feasible in thought but completely unsocial and unacceptable, i.e., rude. For that matter, crude unsavory thoughts about an attractive female in the office would be, alas, unbecoming, actually quite wrong, meaning you can get fired for sexual harassment, to say the least, if she is unwilling, or if that refuses, to cooperate. In this matter, unassuming has nothing to do with your assessment of the situation and all to do with your uniqueness, meaning completely ordinary.

Of course, a person can double down the negative, creating complete downsizing.  If the gift is not inexpensive, it cost a pretty penny. People are quite aware of a problem that is not unknown.  A woman who is not bad looking is pretty.

For understatement, sometimes a bit means a lot, so to speak. If the weather is a bit chilly, most adults are wearing a warm sweater. If the date is a bit overweight, she's better have a good personality. If you receive a text message from a friend saying that s/he will be a bit late, you have plenty of time to check Face book. People with limited budgets should stay away from restaurants that are a bit expensive.

Finally, in our increasingly politically correct words, people don't have problems. They are challenged. Dumb people are intellectually challenged while short people are vertically challenged. A klutz is physically-challenged. I myself am highly follicly challenged, almost bald you might say.

If all this sounds a bit Orwellian, from 1984, I would agree. We all need to be more aware of our language and say what we mean more often. In other words, be naughty, not notty!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Everything you ever wanted to know about translation but were afraid to ask.

When I tell people that I am a translator, I sometimes get a quizzical look, followed by questions that indicate just how "hidden" the profession is despite its omnipresent impact on the Internet and media, among other.  So, as a public service so to say, I will answer a few common questions that people think about and even sometimes ask me.

"You mean like translating books and literature?"
There are some translators that do translate literature. I admire them very much but it takes a lot of time and skill, generally for not too much money.  I translate contracts, business articles, official documents and wills, to name a few.  My wife translates medical material. Most translators have a technical specialty. That is where the demand and money is.

"You can make a living off that?"
Yes, you can make a nice living off that or it is an ideal second income, whatever is more practical.  In fact, many of us have the actual problem of finding time to enjoy other things as it tends to be a bit of a time-consuming job. As the world becomes smaller, demand will continue to grow.

"But isn't it boring?"
Not at all.  Every document has a story. The details of a will or divorce agreement raise my curiosity to know the reason for their existence.  Even simple certificates have strange coincidences, such a person being born and dying on the same day of the year or their last name. Given a choice, translators veer towards material they find interesting and away from that they find boring. The Hebrew expression says "you can't argue about taste and smell." Add interest to that list. Besides,

"Why don't people just use Google Translate?"
In some languages, machine translation is quite effective for getting the gist of an email or Internet article.  I occasionally work with an Austrian project manager who, for some reason, doesn't write in English.  I run her emails through Google Translate and get what I need.  However, try that with technical material or the more exotic languages.  The results range from non-sensical to comic. An example is "viande de terre" for ground beef (from a real Canadian site).  In any case, for a marketing, legal, scientific or medical document to name just a few, Google translate is unacceptable.

"I studied Spanish in high school and college. Could I do translate?"
It is possible. Clearly, a translator has to be familiar with the source language.  However, that is just one element.  Other requirements include mastery of the written aspect of the native language, thorough knowledge of a field, such as engineering or business, and the love of a beautiful sentence.  Words have to be important in their own right. So, as many translators discovered, they never had any idea how much they enjoyed and were good at the profession.

To paraphrase my favorite magazine, Le Canard EnchainĂ©, this has been a fictional but probable interview of a translator. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Animal verbs

Animals are basic part of human existence and vocabulary.  Even in our modern era, small children immediately learn words to distinguish animals from people.  So, it is no wonder that many animals have lent their name to a behavior, albeit without their permission.

The farmyard is the dream place for behaviorists.  They can see horses horse around, running and mock fighting as well as pigs pig out, eating all they can. If those horses get lazy, dogs will dog them while hounds will hound them to get them moving again. Not all is fun and games. The goat goats you while the ram rams you for no reason at all, not to mention the goose goosing you, which can give you quite a jump. It is not all that wonderful for the animals, to tell the truth.  The cows feel cowed by just about everything despite their large size while chickens chicken out from any confrontation from a non-fowl, maybe for a good reason. All this action is at the doorstep of farmer.

Not that is much quieter in the wild. The weasel try to weasel his way into anywhere there is food, using his intelligence. The hawk hawks all the best food for himself, often being the apex bird of prey. The wolf wolves down its food since it has to share it with its group. A buffalo can buffalo its way into any field. By contrast, a fox has to outfox its prey or dies. A duck ducks when it hears a rifle shot, as it should. On a more relaxed level, monkeys monkey around when they are not looking for food, as when an ape apes a behavior, imitating it. Those deer are just as active. Bucks buck the system and try to steal away the does while fawns fawn to those same does to ensure that they receive milk and protection. Parrots parrot the behavior of other animals to gain an advantage.  We won't even talk about what the bears bear.

Don't underestimate the insect kingdom.  As anybody who has ever tried to take a nap during the day, flies fly, making it sometimes hard to kill them. Worms can generally worm themselves into anywhere, including our skin. Leaches, both the insect and people versions, leech our energy and health. These critters are not friendly.

So, the next time you are slothful, are tired of the bull or even in a foul or catty mood, look outside in the yard or at a nature documentary.  You will realize that, as they say in that awful British commercial for a credit company, you are not alone.