Although we were all aware of COVID-19 when I posted my last round-up on 29th February, I think few of us could have imagined the situation we’re living through right now. Today, instead of listing articles by order of popularity as I normally do, and in case you’re fed up of hearing about the coronavirus, I’ve divided this blog post into two sections: links that are either related or unrelated to COVID. It’s interesting to note in this (longer-than-normal) post that the majority of March’s most popular articles were actually the latter.
Links unrelated to COVID-19:
A message to our sponsors
A senses of vastness
Many see “social distancing” to be the greatest pandemic-era addition the vernacular yet.
When language goes viral
What’s the difference between “quarantine” and “isolation”?
Although February is a short month even in a leap year, there were plenty of language-related news stories and articles. Here’s your round-up of the most popular:
Interpreters work in a booth in Singapore.
How do you say “quidditch” in Yiddish?
Boiled eggs, British (left) and US style
Hare’s breath or hair’s breadth?
Here’s a round-up of popular articles about language and translation you may have missed over the past two months:
Triumph and ovation are two other words from Ancient Rome
How young queer people are identifying their sexual and romantic orientations is expanding—as is the language they use to do it
The political struggle over impeachment involves both emotive vocabulary and the legalistic kind
Un point médian, un seul, et c’est toute la phrase qui se casse la figure.
Here’s your round-up of the penultimate month of the year’s most popular stories about language, translation and interpreting.
It is hard to tackle a problem you are afraid to name.
In 2019, dozens of emojis showed up in legal cases.
Icelander Kristjan Asgeirsson lost $68,000 in an online scam. The people of Iceland are no longer protected from online fraud because of their linguistic isolation.
What does “milkshaking” refer to?
Research for a recent plant-related project led me down some rabbit holes of word etymology, and I thought I’d share with you here a few of the most intriguing facts I learnt:
- The name basil comes from the Greek word basilikon phuton meaning ‘royal/kingly plant’ probably because it was believed to have been used in making royal perfumes.
- Bergamot is named after the hilltop Italian city of Bergamo in Lombardy where this species of orange tree was originally cultivated. The city was called Bergamum in Roman times after the German word ‘berg’.
- Called kamai melon (‘ground/earth apple’) by the ancient Greeks, the botanical name of chamomile, matricaria, refers to its role as a herb used to treat gynaecological symptoms like menstrual cramps and PMS.
- The botanical name of geranium, pelargonium, derives from the Greek pelargos, meaning ‘stork’, either in reference to the herb’s long, bill-like seeds or because the seed head looks like a stork’s beak.
A species of geranium growing in Reunion Island
- The name grapefruit comes from the grapelike cluster in which the fruits grow, although some say it’s so called for its taste.
- Jasmine is derived from the Persian yasameen, which means ‘fragrant flower’ or ‘gift from God’ (depending on sources).
- Lavender supposedly takes its name from the Latin lavare, meaning ‘to wash’, as it was said to have been used to scent baths, cosmetic waters, and natural deodorants in Roman times. However this could be apocryphal and the name may come from Latin livere meaning ‘blueish’.
Lavender growing near Traverse City, Michigan, USA
- Belonging to the same family as tarragon (see below), mugwort is derived from the Old English mucg wyrt, meaning ‘marsh plant’ or ‘midge plant’ depending on sources. (Wort is an old English word for ‘root’). When I lived in South Korea, Korean mugwort was commonly used as a culinary herb.
Ssuktteok (Korean mugwort rice cakes)
- The word myrrh entered the English language from the Bible, and the name of this natural resin native to the Horn of Africa comes from Semitic sources (e.g. the Arabic word murr) meaning ‘[was] bitter’.
- Narcissus possibly derives from the Greek narkao – to be numb – due to the plant’s sedative, narcotic properties.
- Neroli – an expensive essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree and reportedly one of the ingredients in Coca-Cola – takes it name from the influential 17th-century Princess of Nerola who reportedly used it as her trademark fragrance to perfume her gloves and bath.
- The name oregano derives from the Greek words gános and óros meaning ‘joy/brightness/ornament of the mountain’
- The botanical name of the herb sage is salvia officinalis (salvia means ‘healthy’ in Latin); the older common name originates from the Latin salvare which means ‘heal’.
- St John’s Wort is so named because the species blossoms near the summer solstice and the feast day of St John the Baptist on 24 June.
St John’s Wort flowers
- The name mandarin comes from the fruit which was a traditional gift to Chinese mandarins (imperial bureaucrat-scholars)
- Tangerine was first used to describe mandarin fruit shipped from Morocco’s third-largest city, Tangier.
- Tarragon‘s name is related to that of dragons, either as a description of the way the root seems to coil up like a dragon, or from an ancient use as antidote to the bites of venomous creatures. Its botanical name is Artemisia dracunculus.
- Although we mainly know thyme as a culinary herb, the word actually derives from the ancient Greek thymos meaning ‘to smoke/perfume/burn’ as they used it to fumigate against infectious illnesses.
- Although commonly – but poetically – mistranslated as ‘flower of flowers’, Ylang-ylang actually means “wilderness” in Tagalog, alluding to the tree’s natural habitat.
Ylang-ylang in my garden
With a few exceptions, these plants have existed since long before humans first started using, and then talking about them, and in some cases we may never know the true origin of some names, lost in the mists of time.
October 10th marked a minor milestone for me, as I celebrated the 10th birthday of my Twitter account. Partly based on results from my Twitter feed, here’s your monthly round-up of October’s most popular stories about language, translation and interpreting.
A collection of Native American utensils and weapons. (source: Getty)
The polarisation of politics has led to a new lexicon of insults
Going greener in your office
Could Brexit translate into a comeback for the French language?
Here’s your monthly round-up of September’s most popular stories about language and translation.
- In The Guardian: The role of dictionaries is to reflect language use, not to shape it. Yet many people see dictionaries as language prescribers not describers.
- Also in The Guardian: imagine you’re a young journalist and helpfully “fix” US spellings for UK ones, thereby indirectly causing an international incident (and 15 years later your mistake makes it to the big screen). Just like for translators, context is everything!
- Wars of words: “Places that accept foreign words with a live-and-let-live attitude are the exceptions”.
Languages are a battleground for nationalists
Sometimes they even invent them
Two of the Mayan Girls gather around a laptop and phone to record a Facebook Live video about measles with a Guatemalan-Maya Center outreach staffer (Credit: Madeline Fox/WLRN)
The Life Changing Linguistics of Nigerian Scam Emails
The reason why Americans refer to autumn as fall
(Alex Ugalek/iStock via Getty Images)
In the poster for this year’s ITD (created by Graphic Designer Claudia Wolf) the “colourful branches represent the many indigenous languages, metaphorically growing on the big language tree”.
If you need to catch up with news about translation, interpreting, and language because you’ve been away over the holiday period, here’s a round-up of the most popular stories that you might have missed during July and August.
Parenting experiences of translators
Netlfix headquarters building in Silicon Valley
Try adding ‘only’ to various places in the line: “I found the eggs in the first shed”.
It’s a linguistic battlefield out there
On a sad note, in mid-August well-respected colleague Valerij Tomarenko died while hill-walking on the Scottish island of Arran. Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.
I was delighted this month to finally be able to start working with a sit-stand desk. Do you have one? So here, sent while I’m standing at my desk, is your June round-up of the month’s most popular stories about translation, interpreting, and language.
- In this video-gone-viral made for Wired, Professor Barry Olsen explains what it’s really like to be a professional interpreter. At the time of writing it’s had 1.8 million views!
screenshot from the video ‘Interpreter Breaks Down How Real-Time Translation Works’
Orwell and the English Language
Alan Wendt poses after a post-cabinet press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photograph: Hagen Hopkins)
Members of the Academie Francaise gather at the library before an induction ceremony at the Academie Francaise in Paris on December 15, 2016. (Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP)
On a personal note, as well as translating I also do some travel writing, and this month saw the publication of the new “Insight Guide to Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles“. This is the 3rd edition, and the 2nd edition on which I’ve worked writing and updating the “Reunion” part.
This month I attended the ITI 2019 conference in Sheffield. Although not a member of the UK Institute of Translation and Interpreting, I was able to attend due to my membership of France’s sister organisation, SFT. It was great to listen to some excellent, though-provoking presentations and meet colleagues old and new. I still kept abreast of social media while away from Reunion, so here is your monthly round-up of the most popular stories about translation and language for May 2019.
In Cutlers’ Hall, Day 2 of the ITI conference
Inside the library (photo courtesy Edmund de Waal)
Liam Cunningham, far right, who plays Davos Seaworth, in a scene from Game of Thrones.
- 8th May marked 74 years since the end of World War II. How much do you know about the Navajo Code Talkers who helped bring the Allied forces to victory?
Memorial to Navajo code talkers in Phoenix, Arizona (TED EYTAN, FLICKR // CC BY-SA 2.0)
On a final note I was very happy to participate in outreach this week, for the second year running, at the “Responsible Women” Forum held at a local secondary school to talk to 13-year old girls about careers, ambitions, and the responsibilities that go with them.