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


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 ( 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 ( 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.