Around the web – January 2015

Here’s my round-up of articles about translation and language for the first month of the year.

  • One of the defining moments of the month was January 7th’s Charlie Hebdo shooting. In this article The Economist talks about the language of blasphemy and ‘dangerous’ words.
  • People in Africa die every day because of ‘silly’ mistakes due to misunderstanding. Translation can save lives there (as it can elsewhere).
Ebola is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ebola is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • A Shropshire court heard that an Italian man spent two nights in a cell for failing to give a breath test because there was no interpreter to explain what to do.
  • A former Welsh speaker writes about what it feels like to forget a language you were once fluent in.
 'The Welsh language has a unique character which reminds me of the country’s landscapes and history' - Elan valley, Powys in Wales. Photograph: Alamy

‘The Welsh language has a unique character which reminds me of the country’s landscapes and history’ – Elan valley, Powys in Wales. Photograph: Alamy

New York Times Crossword, May 29, 2014 Copyright ©2014 "The New York Times Company." Reprinted by Permission.

NY Times Crossword, May 29, 2014
Copyright ©2014 “The NY Times Company.” Reprinted by permission.


  • TedTalk volunteer translators shared some of their favorite idioms and how they would translate literally – the results are often very funny.
  • Here are 10 idioms only the French understand.
  • I spent a few days this month in Barcelona and was amused by the French translation of this sign at the entrance to our flat.
Barcelona Appt

Here the English (which is itself not very well translated from the Spanish) term ‘take care’ has been translated into French with the meaning of ‘be careful’ (méfiez-vous) instead of ‘take good care of’ …


Have I missed anything? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Related articles:

Most Popular Tweets of 2014

Here, in ascending order, are the 10 most popular* tweets about language and translation I shared during 2014 from my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

10. In May colleague Kevin Hendzel blogged about inspiring the next generation of translators.

9. In July I shared’s call for nominations for the 2014 Community Choice awards. The winners were announced here on September 30th, International Translation Day.

8. Articles about the differences between US and UK English are always popular. This post on Separated by A Common Language blog explored the difference between ‘hire’ and ‘rent’.

7. Following on the same theme, here are Five Tiny U.S. Phrases With Opposite Meanings In The U.K.

A first floor elevator. (PhotoAlto via AP Images)

6. Articles about French culture are another popular theme: Ten French customs that confuse Anglos.

5. Can you name 15 differences between a normal friend and a French friend? (et en français : 15 différences entrée un ami normal et un ami français)

4. How many of France’s favourite idioms do you know? Find out here.

3. Back to the US/UK theme: Can you tell if someone is British or American just from the description in their Twitter profile?

2. More seriously, can an algorithm (that of Google Translate) be racist?

1. And the winner is … A dozen must-have programs for translators: how to move them to a new computer. This blog post written by colleague Emma Goldsmith in late February was the year’s most clicked-on tweet!

P.S. In June this year I was delighted to come 4th in Blabla‘s Language Lovers Twitter competition. This was only the second year in which I’d been nominated, and I also came 5th overall.

Do you have a favourite article published in 2014 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.

By the way, here’s a cloud of my the words I use most in my Tweets, courtesy of TweetStats:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 09.54.45

According to the same source the top five hashtags I use are: #language, #translation, #translators, #translator, #traduction, and my top five words are: #language, #translation, thanks, new, words.

* ‘most popular’ = most clicked on, according to Hootsuite.

Related articles:

Around the web – December 2014

December 2014 is the month that saw me become an IQC-certified translator! IQC is certification based on essential requirements for the translation profession as well as ITT standard 11:2011 with reference to EN 15038. Anyway here’s my round-up of articles about translation and language for December.

( Illustration: Matt Blease for The Guardian)

( Illustration: Matt Blease for The Guardian)

from K. Hendzel's article on Why Translators are Promoting Premium Markets

from K. Hendzel’s article on Why Translators are Promoting Premium Markets


Related articles:

Around the web – November 2014

Most people know that November comes from the Latin word novem meaning nine, as it was the 9th month in the Roman calendar, but did you also know that the Anglo-Saxons called it the ‘wind monath‘, because it was the time when cold winds began to blow? They also called it ‘blot monath‘ because it was when cattle were slaughtered for winter food [*]. In my part of the world November is the start of summer … and cyclone season. Anyway here’s my monthly round-up of articles about language and translation:

Dublin: a scene of devastation during the 1916 Easter Rising

Dublin: a scene of devastation during the 1916 Easter Rising 


via Alessandra Vita

  • The translation industry’s major business news of the month was that Lionbridge is in the process of acquiring CLS Communication.
  • Here are 11 tips from colleague Nicole Adams for new freelance translators on the hunt for their first assignments.
  • This is what happens when no one proofreads an academic paper properly …
An overly honest citation slips into a peer-reviewed journal

An overly honest citation slips into a peer-reviewed journal

  • Can you tell if someone is British or North American just from the description in their Twitter profile? Apparently so, says Lynne Murphy.
  • Cultural differences: here are very different ways people give feedback and criticism in 12 different countries around the world.
Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.35.54

How do people criticise around the world?

  • This freelancer listed 10 things she doesn’t miss about being employed.
  • Finally, not news, but if you’d like to participate in an online survey about the sociological aspects of translation as part of a PhD thesis follow this link.

On a personal note, I was delighted that my travel blog reached 100 000 views!

Related articles:

7 language facts about colour

I recently finished reading a fascinating little book* about the  history and symbolism of colours, and I thought I’d share with you some of the interesting linguistic facts about colour that I learnt.

1. In Roman times blue was a difficult dye to make, and was considered to be the colour of all that was foreign and barbaric. One result of this is that the Romance languages words for ‘blue’ are of Germanic (‘blau‘) or Arabic origin (‘لازورد ‘lāzaward‘ for ‘azure’, deriving from lapis lazuli) as no Latin word existed.

2. Early medieval woad dyers became so wealthy that the regions of France where this blue plant dye was cultivated became known in French as the pays de cocagnecocagne being the ball of woad leaves used by the dyers. 80% of Amiens cathedral was paid for by woad merchants! English has kept the term ‘cockaigne‘ or ‘cockayne’, but we more commonly use the Biblical expression ‘land of milk and honey‘ to mean the same thing.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Land of Cockaigne", 1567.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s “The Land of Cockaigne”, 1567.

3. In Ancient times only three colours reigned supreme in the Western world: black, white and red. The supremacy of red can be seen, for example, in Spanish, where to say the ‘colour red’ is almost a pleonasm, as the word colorado means ‘red’ as well as ‘coloured’ or ‘dyed’, and in Russian красный means ‘red’ and (archaically) ‘beautiful': Moscow’s Red Square literally means ‘beautiful square’.

My better half and I in Moscow's Red Square after taking the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok.

My better half and I in Moscow’s Red Square after crossing Russia in the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok.

4. The word ‘candidate’ originates from the Latin candidare ‘to make white or bright’, as office-seekers in ancient Rome wore white togas.

5. English uses a word of Germanic origin (weiss) for ‘white’, but has indirectly kept the old French word blanc in its use of ‘blank’. The colour white is commonly associated with emptiness or nothingness, and this is especially obvious in many French expressions : voix blanche means a toneless voice, nuit blanche is a sleepless night and a chèque en blanc is a blank cheque, to name but a few.

6. ‘Brown’ comes from the Germanic braun, meaning a ‘dark animal’ (possibly a bear?) via the Old English brun which also meant ‘brightness, shining’, an etymology preserved today only in the word ‘burnish‘.

7. Many ancient languages only had one word for the colour of the sea, which combined green, blue and grey. This can still be perceived today in the Welsh, Irish and Breton word glas, which was also used to refer to grass and silver. (By the way did you know that Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to the distinction between blue and green in various languages?)

Finally a question, not a fact: in France green tends to be associated, amongst other things, with something that is free of charge (for example numéro vert, a toll-free number). Have any French colleagues purposely or inadvertently used green in their logos? Let me know in the comments below.

* “Le petit livre des couleurs” by Michel Pastoureau & Dominique Simonnet, Editions du Panama, 2005

Further reading

Around the web – October 2014

Did you know October is International Creole Month? October 28th in particular is celebrated as International Creole Day, also known as Bannzil Kreyol Day. (For more about Creole see these blog posts I’ve written, or read this Global Voices article to learn more about International Creole Month). On a more personal note on October 8th I reached the milestone of 3000 followers on Twitter! Creole and Twitter aside, here’s my monthly round-up of articles about translation and language:


Client circles (source: Nikki Graham)

Wishing 'Happy New Year' for the whole of January is one custom that can confuse non-French.

Wishing ‘Happy New Year’ for the whole of January is one custom that can confuse non-French.

  • Here‘s a list of 15 words that are more interesting than they seem.
  • This Welsh translation error brings a smile, but it’s yet another example of companies who should know better not using a professional translator.
Free erections anyone?

Free erections anyone?


  • Non-Brits can test their knowledge of British English here, and there’s also a US quiz for English speakers outside of North America.

In French:

Les interpretes Pascale Baldauf,  Ewa Pawlikowska & Michel Zlotowski  (© Radio France - 2014 / Julie Bonnemoy)

Les interprètes Pascale Baldauf,
Ewa Pawlikowska &
Michel Zlotowski
(© Radio France – 2014 / Julie Bonnemoy)

  • La retraite du traducteur – êtes-vous trop jeune pour y penser ? Collègue Gaelle Gagné nous livre son point de vue.

Related articles:

Around the web – September 2014

September is of course the month of International Translation Day. Did you do anything special to celebrate, or (like me) were you too busy working? On another note did you know that in September 1752 the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar so that year September 2 was immediately followed by September 14?! Anyway here’s your September round-up of interesting articles about language and translation.

  • Conference interpreter and translation agency manager Sébastien Devogele had a rant about rates.
  • Another thorny issue: if you’re perusing this article then you’re a reader of blogs; you may even write your own. But what exactly are the dangers of blogging, asks colleague Emma Goldsmith?
  • Hindi is not one of the United Nation’s official languages. This didn’t stop Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi from making his recent UN speech in the world’s 4th most prevalent language – why?

Narenda Modi, India’s PM

  • What does a literary translator’s CV look like? Find out here.
  • BJ Epstein blogged about the useful 88-page book Translation in Practice which can be downloaded in PDF form here.
  • The EU’s Terminology Coordination unit has added 103 interpreter glossaries, compiled and shared by Róbert Gulyás, to its Glossary Links search tool.


  • After a coma, an Aussie recently woke up speaking fluent Mandarin – a language which he’d studied in high school but never mastered. Apparently he now hosts a Chinese game show in Shanghai.

Photo ©Benjamin McMahon/Facebook

  • Here are 14 of the funniest, most ridiculous English synonyms.
  • Did you know 19th September is International Talk Like A Pirate day?


In French:

  • Voici, sur le site de l’Écran Traduit, un glossaire de la traduction audiovisuelle.


Related articles:

Is our job killing us?

Are we ‘active couch potatoes’? Is it only me, or has there recently been much talk of the negative impact of too much sitting? Take a look at just a few of these recent articles:

Inactivity ‘killing as many as smoking’ - BBC News, 18th July 2012

Sitting is the New Smoking – Even for Runners – Runners World, July 20th 2013

‘Get Up!’ or lose hours of your life every day, scientist says – LA Times, 31st July 2014

I don’t automatically believe or react to every health scare I hear about, and I’m sure if we look hard enough there’s plenty of articles that will tell us sitting is fine. Also, initially I didn’t feel concerned by these headlines as I do an hour of sport every day, and a few years ago when I had a salaried, sedentary office job was the period of my life when I was the leanest and fittest. But as an employee I was actually regularly getting up from my desk to see colleagues or management, to deal with clients, or to go to see the factory production line. Even the toilet was several minutes walk away! Now I no longer interact with flesh-and-blood colleagues, I have no boss apart from myself, and I barely see one physical client a day. I regularly go to the gym at midday, which gives me a physical break halfway through the working day, but even then I can still find myself sitting at my desk from 2 to 7pm, and five or more hours of sedentary sitting, according to Dr. David Agus, a professor of medicine, is the health equivalent of smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes.* And a study of marathoners found that participants trained an average of 40 miles per week, but also sat idle for nearly 12 hours per day.*


So what can we do about it? Back in 2008 fellow translator Corinne McKay was already blogging about treadmill desks; I also have a friend who posts his Jawbone Up results on Twitter daily (Jawbone Up is an activity tracker that provides feedback on your sleep, exercise and steps). But treadmill desks need quite a lot space, and while apps like Jawbone can give you feedback and remind you to move, as far as I know they don’t provoke activity. Some people rave about stand-up desks, and while apparently they create more space to hang photos of good-looking members of the opposite sex, other desk workers remain to be convinced, saying standing is not necessarily better than sitting if you do it for a prolonged period of time. There are intermediate solutions, like the Kangaroo Pro or Varidesk adjustable standing desks, but in the end it all boils down to getting more activity and this doesn’t necessarily have to be intense, high-level activity either – some of the longest-living people on earth owe their longevity to having to walk up and down flights of stairs or getting up from a sitting position on the floor**. The debate rages as to how often we need to move, but for example this study suggests that interrupting sitting time with short bouts of walking every twenty minutes may be an important strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk.


So on my computer I recently dusted off my Time Out app, which I’ve set to grey out my screen every 20 minutes in order to remind me to get out of my seat and walk about unless I hit the ‘skip break’ or ‘postpone’ buttons. Time Out is a free app for Mac; solutions for PC-users apparently include Work Pace or BreakPal. What about you? Please let me know what solutions you’ve adopted (if any) in the comments below.

P.S. While we’re on the subject, I’ve also unchecked the “automatically adjust brightness” option of my monitor which I realised was making my eyes hurt, and I use a computer app called f.lux which makes the colour of my computer display automatically adapt to the time of day (‘warm’ at night and like sunlight during the day). You might also like to take a look at these computer monitor test pages that allow you to test and adjust your monitor settings to get the best possible picture quality and thus avoid eye strain.

Further reading:

* see A user’s guide to standing while you work

** see Why I Killed My Standing Desk, and What I Do Instead – Lifehacker

Why I’m a Convert to Standing at Work

Stand up at office to lose weight, says exercise scientistA sitting person’s guide to standing up and Treadmill desks: How practical are they? – BBC News

The Stand Up Desk – Lifehacker

I Tried Out A Standing Desk For All Of The Benefits — Here’s Why I Quit – Business Insider

Standing up at your desk may energize you, but it also may be tough on your legs – Washington Post

A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17 – The Atlantic

3 Minute Mini Walk (video)


Acknowledgements to friend and freelance home-working editor Karen White of White Ink Limited for the cartoon above, and whose recent Facebook post inspired me to finally get round to writing this blog post that I’d been mulling over for a while.

Lost in paradise

[Warning: this is a rant] As a tropical island dweller, a major grumble of mine* is the propensity to slap the label of ‘paradise’ onto such islands. Yes tropical islands often have beaches (but so do other parts of the world!) and pleasant warm climates, but they also have tropical diseases, tropical storms and tropical (read ‘big’) insects. They can be more or less remote, difficult and/or expensive to get from and to, and this can be reflected in consumer prices, as well as indirectly in the level of (un)employment. The creation of a ‘tropical paradise’ for tourists (palm trees, hotels, electricity and running water, etc.) often comes at a high environmental price.

I was therefore interested to come across a recent BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘The Trouble with Paradise‘ in which historian and journalist Carrie Gibson argues that the west needs to re-think what it means by ‘paradise’. Taking the Caribbean as an example she explores its complicated history, and argues that we may need to re-evaluate our understanding of the meaning of paradise. She explores the biblical origins of the concept, and its gradual transformation into the modern-day idea. The belief that tropical islands are paradise is recent – for centuries they were a source of illness, death and fear for Europeans and the slaves who worked there until they dropped.

Hieronymus Bosch painting (source)

Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights by  Hieronymus Bosch (source)

While we’re on the subject, etymologically the word ‘paradise’ entered English from the French paradis, inherited from the Latin paradisus, from Greek parádeisos (παράδεισος), and ultimately from an Old Iranian root, pairidaeza whose literal meaning is ‘walled enclosure or park’. In the 3rd–1st centuries BCE the Greek word parádeisos was used to translate both Hebrew pardes and gan, ‘garden’, hence the use of ‘paradise’ to refer to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s original home. As well as the spiritual definition the OED also defines paradise as: “An ideal or idyllic place or state”, and the modern opinion is often that it can be purchased as a commodity via a travel brochure. But do you really need to travel to a tropical island to relax, switch off your smartphone and spend more time with your loved ones?

Google N-gram of 'paradise' 1800-2000

Google N-gram of ‘paradise’, 1800-2000 (note the dip in use during the period corresponding to WWI).

I’ll end with the article’s closing lines:

The idea that we can buy our way into a modern Eden prevents us from looking for a different kind of paradise in our own back gardens, rather than projecting it on to islands half a world away.

[Rant over].

* coming second only to the (over)use of the expression “Lost in Translation” ;-)

To find out more:

Around the web – August 2014

Did you know that until 8 BCE the old name for the month of August was Sextilus, Latin for “sixth month”? And that when we describe something as ‘august‘, we are saying it is majestic and inspires reverence or admiration? An auguste is also a type of clown with a white muzzle and eyes and a red nose. Anyway here’s your ‘August’ round-up of interesting articles about translation and language.


Typical aspects of an Auguste clown: red nose, white muzzle and eyes

  • Here’s a list of international linguistics-related conferences taking place between now and the end of the year.
  • With translators and interpreters in mind, at the beginning of the month Inbox Translate launched a resource of 3000+ glossaries.
  • How are the terms off-piste, off the beaten track/path, off base used differently in the USA and UK?
  • In the UK there are still hundreds of court cases requiring an interpreter that were disrupted in the first quarter as Capita continued to fall short of its required performance target. Read more.


  • How do you fare on this fiendishly difficult vocabulary quiz from The Guardian?
  • Are you a vocabulary expert? How many English words do you actually know? Test yourself.
  • Joke: what happens when a translator and Google translate walk into a bar? Find out.


Casse-pieds (pain in the butt): Your neighbour is getting on your nerves. What a “feet-breaker”.

Literal translations: if someone is getting on your nerves they’re a “feet-breaker” (casse-pieds) in French.

  • Le directeur d’un hôtel en Bretagne a appelé un directeur de hypermarché hispanophone pour servir d’interprète au coach argentin de l’OM durant une conférence de presse. Incroyable !
  • France Inter a diffusé une émission intitulé A la recherche des langues en danger. Vous avez jusqu’au 2 mai 2017 pour l’écouter …

Related articles: