Around the web – April 2018

Here is your April round-up of popular stories about language and translation.

to boldy go split infinitive economist

The Economist: boldly going where grammarians have feared to tread

A user’s guide to the new lexicon of the young from the FT.

Is this game board for ludo, chinese checkers, parcheesi, or sorry?

  • Another month, another AI interpreting/translating failure story: this time at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan. Find out more at Language Log.
  • This Fijian Tourist Board translation – or rather proofreading – failure (a word that means ‘holy place’ was said to mean ‘toilet’) is, for once, being blamed on a graphic design error, and not the translator!

The offending Fijian ad that confused worship and WC


Further reading:


Around the web – March 2018

Here is your March round-up of popular stories about translation and language.

  • In this (controversial?) article, Translate meanings not words, Tim Gutteridge led an ‘accident investigation report’ on a ‘translation train crash’ he spotted in The Guardian.
  • Also in The Guardian, Daniel Hahn explained why we need the Translators Association first translation prize, which is an award he set up using his winnings from the International Dublin literary award.

Svetlana Alexievich, whose book Second-Hand Time has won the TA first translation prize for translator Bela Shayevich and editor Jacques Testard. (Photograph: Gordon Welters for the Guardian)

In many #Metoo stories, crucial signals, verbal and non-verbal cues are sent but not received. Why is that?

Some of the women writers and translators from around the world who are pressing for progress through their activism and literature.

Papillon/Quincaillerie/Flâneur are three of the ‘best’ French words, according to learners


Further reading:

Around the web – February 2018

This month I had the pleasure – and honour – of spending a morning at the Careers Fair of a local high school talking to final year pupils about my profession. Whether or not you’re also a professional translator I hope you’ll find something of interest in February’s round-up of popular stories about language and translation.

  • With February commonly being associated with love, not surprisingly the most popular article I shared listed a dozen pet names in other languages that don’t work quite so well when translated into English.

Sparrows, elephants, microbes, and potatoes … some pet names don’t work quite so well in English

  • February 21st was International Mother Language Day, and UNESCO reiterated its commitment to linguistic diversity as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development.
  • This Economist article looked at the the painful origins of many creole languages, which have often – but not always – evolved from slavery.

“Those unfamiliar with creoles, thinking them mere patois, argot or vernacular, are missing a glorious display of the ingenuity of those speakers who turned old languages into something brilliantly new”

Elle France asked if “souping” was a new trend, but critics disagreed, and others queried the use of “ing” on French words

L’académicien Pierre Nora et la secrétaire perpétuelle de l’Académie française Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, en janvier 2016. © Jacques Demarthon / AFP


Further reading:

Around the web – January 2018

On a semi-professional note I appreciate being named last week as one of Reunion Island’s top digital influencers. Anyway here is your first round-up of the new year with January’s most popular news stories about language and translation.

Cigarette pie refers to the shape, but it doesn’t translate well.

The French are told not to say ‘smartphone’ in an ongoing battle against English

How words come to be used tells you a lot about different cultures

Pseudo-anglicisms are not your average English loanwords

A few announcements:

  • Participate in Nikki Graham‘s survey concerning blogs about translation & interpreting  
  • The Banff International Literary Translation Centre program offers working and professional literary translators a period of uninterrupted work on a current project. Apply by February 7 →
  • Ouverture des inscriptions et lancement du site dédié à la 12eme edition du SAM (Séminaire d’anglais médical)  
  • Call for application: Paul Celan fellowships for translators 2018/2019 (deadline: 18 March 2018)  

Further reading:

Most popular tweets of 2017

Here, in ascending order, are the ten most popular* tweets about translation and language that I shared during 2017 on my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

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

Do you have a favourite article published in 2017 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.

Related articles:

Around the web – December 2017

Every year end brings its attempts at summing up the past 12 months in a single word or two. In terms of frequency, a quick check of my Twitter account tells me – unsurprisingly – that language and translation were my most used words in 2017! Here is your round-up of popular news stories for December on those very subjects.

The Guadalajara International Book Fair. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

  • Staying with literary translation, here is an interview with Allison M. Charette, whose translation of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo became the first Malagasy novel to ever be published in English.
  • How is an Iraqi translation project helping to rebuild science in the Arab world?

Aristotle teaching astronomy. © Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul

  • Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of impoverished & destitute members of UK society. So how come ‘Dickensian‘ is a synonym for rosy-cheeked, full-stomached, fattened-goose, hearty merry “God bless us every one” Christmas?
  • Check out this holiday season list from Words Without Borders of some Reading in Translation.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Reading in Translation

What in the Word?! Mining the roots of ‘cobalt’

Happy New Year 2018!

Further reading:

Around the web – November 2017

Here is your round-up of popular news stories about language and translation for November.

Kazakh Facebook users have adopted the carrot example to express their views on the alphabet change


From The Red Lion to the Bucket of Blood, how did your local get its name?

Now that really takes the biscuit.

Why do the French exclaim “Oh la vache!”?

Further reading:

Around the web – October 2017

Here is your round-up of popular news stories about translation and language for the month of October.

Photo from the Facebook post that mistranslated ‘good morning’ to ‘hurt them’

  • Why is Argentinean Spanish seemingly so different to a lot of other dialects of Spanish? Find out here.

Buenos Aires market (Credit: Michael S. Lewis/Getty Images)

EU flags outside the European Commission building on October 24, 2014 (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

HSBC’s “Assume nothing” slogan was translated to “Do nothing” in several countries before a costly rebranding.

  • What are the (inflated) origins of the word ‘blimp‘?

A blimp is a non-rigid airship that takes its distinctive shape from – and is, of course, held aloft by – the gas inside its envelope.


Further reading:

Around the web – September 2017

Despite International Translation Day being celebrated by the International Federation of Translators since 1953, this year marked a milestone as it is the first since the 71st United Nations General Assembly declared September 30th to be the official UN International Translation Day, celebrated across the entire UN network, and unanimously adopted a resolution recognising the role of professional translation in connecting nations, and fostering peace, understanding and development. Without further ado, here is your round-up of popular news stories about language and translation for the month of September.

  • The European Commission has published an updated English Style Guide for its authors and translators, which is available for download.
  • Do you talk about a ‘glossary’ when you actually mean a ‘list of terminology’? Find out here.
  • K International has updated their list of favourite books about translation – covering both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Often a bugbear for French to English translators, why do the French use the umbrella term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ so much?

Not just American or British, the Anglo-Saxon is a mirror to Frenchness: the country’s alter-ego and most feared enemy

  • Blog posts comparing US and UK English are always popular, and Lynne Murphy published two this month: one about ‘sorted‘, and another about sightedness (as in far-, short-, long-, and near-).
  • This podcast episode by looked at how accents evolved, and why American and British accents are so different.

Your accent tells others where you’re from, who you identify with, and maybe even where you’re going.

You dirty lobster!

  • Here’s a list of 19 literary translations from Arabic being published this autumn.
  • In the UK, the pro-Brexit newspaper The Sun decided to publish an editorial in German on its website, justifying its position. Problem – it seems to have used Bing Translate, with predictably disastrous results.
  • Did you know that the word ‘tall‘ originally has nothing to do with height?

Tall originally had nothing to do with lattes either


Further reading:

Study of tourism website translation in Reunion Island

The article Website Translation and Destination Image Marketing: A Case Study of Reunion Island was recently brought to my attention by a friend. This study, first published in December 2013 by Jean-Pierre Tang-Taye (IAE University of Reunion) and Craig Standing (Edith Cowan University), was also published in 2016 in the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research (vol. 40, 5: pp. 611-633).


It compares representations of Reunion Island’s image as a tourist destination on the internet using French and English versions of websites to investigate the issues surrounding language translation. Although many of Reunion’s tourists come from mainland France (≈75-80%), as well as French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland, the island has been attempting to diversify and enlarge its market share by targeting clients from other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. This means making information about the island available in languages other than French, with English being the main, but not only, linguistic vehicle.

The study’s main goal was to flag potential divergences between English and French versions that could lead, previsit, to an unintentional distortion of the destination image for foreign customers. The authors looked at websites developed by local tourism industry suppliers in French and subsequently translated into English.  The sample of 109 websites was selected through a search in March 2011 of website links using keywords associated with Reunion Island, tourism, and vacation and with Google as the search engine. Websites using an English version translated using Google Translate were excluded, as were those that were not exclusively tourism-related, nor showing Reunion Island as the main tourism destination, or for which the English version was not available, leaving a section of only 17 sites.


Bearing in mind that issues related to website quality impact negatively on consumers’ decision making, to my mind some of the most interesting points of this study are as follows:

  • A significant number of words were used literally in French and not translated at all (e.g. île, vacances).
  • Crucial tourism words for the volcanic, mountainous, and multicultural Reunion Island such as scenery, indigenous, beach, cuisine, gite, and lava appear in the French versions but do not appear at all in the English version, although it could be expected that these features would be highlighted on a tourism website.


  • site_1317_0007-360-360-20121212135244Reunion’s overall image may be seen as different depending on the language used, meaning the destination image for the island is marketed differently according to the language. (The study authors excluded the idea that these different images might be intentional marketing due to translation errors such as “Reunion” translated as “meeting” and “lentils” translated as “lenses”).
  • Of 17 websites analysed, only 2 of them gave a consistent image to site visitors, so the image of Reunion Island is very different between language versions.

  • Although the websites studied were retrieved from the top list of tourism websites providing information on Reunion as a destination, language translation was of very poor quality.


  • The study demonstrated a failure to implement effective and consistent destination marketing by tourism organisations, resulting in confusion for the consumer.
  • The importance and difficulty of translation were highlighted, and this showed that translation is not always a straightforward matter. The study put translation back in focus by considering it not only as a technical issue but also a marketing and strategic issue.
  • A translation, even if it is excellent, will not always guarantee a positive impact on marketing. An efficient multilingual website does not necessarily imply a successful website but it is a necessary condition for one.
  • In Reunion managers of tourism-related organisations do not seem to have been monitoring and evaluating their websites efficiently. The study authors propose to include translation as a component of tourism website quality evaluation.
  • Reunion Island tourism stakeholders failed to implement effective destination island marketing.
  • site_1317_0011-333-500-20121212135400Former colonies such as Reunion have trouble enlarging their cultural background and inherited language (French in this case) to a much bigger English-speaking market.

Admittedly the study did not differentiate between private and public actors, or take into account the size of the companies involved or the financial investment dedicated to their websites and translation. It was also based on sites in 2011 and it can be argued that the situation is better today. But from a purely anecdotal point of view a quick glance at my round-up of translation fails in Reunion Island, many of them from current tourism industry websites, begs to differ.

All in all, there is still a long way to go before an acceptable level of translation is achieved for Reunion Island tourism websites, and a similar image is provided irrespective of what language is used.


P.S. All photos are from the UNESCO World Heritage photo gallery of the Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island.


Further reading: