Around the web – October 2018

Last Sunday was International Day of Creole. How much do you know about Creole languages? In the meantime, here’s a look at the most popular stories about language and translation for October.

Hermes was billed as “the first online subtitling and translation test and indexing system by a major content creator”

Do you need to see the whole flower or examine the nitty-gritty detail? asks colleague Patricia Lane

  • Acclaimed translator Anthea Bell passed away on 18th October. Read her obituary, and an article about her work here.

Anthea Bell changed the name of Obelix’s small, evil-tempered dog from Idéfix to Dogmatix and named the local druid Getafix. (Photograph: Courtesy of Jewish Museum London)

Part of the reason is that the language in question is not really a single language at all

French protestors accuse President Emmanuel Macron of spreading fake news. (AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD)

  • In a depressingly regular slot, the language fail of the month goes to Coca Cola in New Zealand who attempted to combine Maori and English. They clearly didn’t check with a native speaker of Maori, so their advertisement “Kia Ora, Mate” translates to “Hello, death”.

Coca-Cola made an embarrassing Māori faux-pas

  • Language use: should you avoid employing the adverb ‘presently’? Stan Carey takes a look.
  • Why does the letter Q almost always need to be followed by the letter U? And what’s the origin of the F-word? Find out here and here.

Q is the second most rarely used letter in the alphabet


Further reading:


Around the web – February 2017

February 21st was International Mother Language Day, and this year’s theme was “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”. Without further ado here’s your February round-up of popular articles about language and translation.

The giant shoulders of English

“The giant shoulders of English”

This is the oldest fragment of Old Frisian, circa 1100-1125. It was sold by Sotheby’s in 2014 and bought by a private collector in Belgium. Credit: Courtesy of Han Nijdam

This is the oldest fragment of Old Frisian, circa 1100-1125. It was sold by Sotheby’s in 2014 and bought by a private collector in Belgium. Credit: Courtesy of Han Nijdam

  • These maps by Jakub Marian show the most common destination countries and percentage of emigrants from each European country.


A beginner’s guide to which words to watch out for where.

A beginner’s guide to which words to watch out for where

By the way, mid-February saw me back at a local junior high school’s Careers Fair for the fourth year running, talking about the professions of translation and interpreting to six different classes of 13 to 15 year olds. And on a more personal note an interview I recently did with was published online.

*available as a podcast

Further reading:

Around the web – May 2016

I had the pleasure this month of receiving a copy of a photography book that I’d translated – it’s always a pleasure to see one’s name in print, isn’t it? Anyway, here’s a round-up of the most popular articles about language and translation that appeared online in May.

  • Alina Cincan of Inbox Translation undertook a mammoth task this month when she compiled a blog post with the favourite tools of 72 professional translators, including yours truly. CAT tools were excluded, and everything listed is either free or very affordable.

I love this photo mosaic!

  • How do you deal with translating references to songs? Should they remain the same in your translation?
  • Could understanding other cultures’ concepts of joy and well-being help us reshape our own?
The Positive Lexicography Project aims to catalogue foreign terms for happiness that have no direct English translation. ILLUSTRATION BY JULIANNA BRION

The Positive Lexicography Project aims to catalogue foreign terms for happiness that have no direct English translation. (Illustration by Julianna Brion)


He, she, they: it’s as easy as one, two three (Credit: Alamy)

I’ll leave you with this quote that I came across recently.


Related articles:

Around the web – March 2016

Did you celebrate Easter? Jakub Marian created an interesting map of the word ‘Easter’ in various European languages. March also saw the first anniversary of the new version of my website. Anyway here’s a round-up of the most popular articles about language and translation that have appeared online this past month.

Does this give you allergies or hayfever?

Does this give you allergies or hayfever?

  • Staying in North America, the Quebec Association of Certified Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters is currently running a one-month advertising campaign aimed at the business community & general public (article in French).
One of OTTIAQ's advertising posters

One of OTTIAQ’s advertising posters

Why do we say "It’s brass monkeys outside"?

Why do we say “It’s brass monkeys outside”?

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

Why do we talk about ‘Dog days’?

At a recent visit to the local observatory I was interested to find out the origin of the French expression canicule, and consequently the English equivalent the ‘dog days of summer’.

In Greek and then Roman times Sirius, the dog star, was associated with the hottest days of summer, and also marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt. The name ‘Sirius’ is derived from the Ancient Greek Σείριος (Seirios) which means “glowing” or “scorcher”. Sirius is called the dog star because it is the brightest star in the Canis Major (‘Large Dog’) constellation; canicula means ‘small dog’ and is the diminutive of the Latin canis. Canicule corresponded to the period of the year when Sirius and the sun rose at the same time, which for the Romans was between 23rd/24th July and 23rd/24th August, hence the association between Sirius and hot weather. The Romans sacrificed a red dog in April to appease the star’s rage, believing Sirius was the cause of the heatwaves (ancient astronomers saw Sirius as red; it’s now commonly perceived as white).


Canis Major as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London in c.1825.

In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) wrote:

The Dog-star rises in the hottest time of the summer, when the sun is entering the first degree of Leo; this is fifteen days before the Calends of August. … The most powerful effects are felt on the earth from this star. When it rises, the seas are troubled, the wines in our cellars ferment, and stagnant waters are set in motion … There is no doubt that dogs, during the whole of this period, are peculiarly disposed to become rabid … Canine madness is fatal to man during the heat of Sirius, and, as we have already said, it proves so in consequence of those who are bitten having a deadly horror of water.

‘Dog’ is also referenced in the word for this sultry time of year in many other European languages (for example Hundstage in German, or Canícula in Spanish).

Just as the appearance of Sirius in the morning sky marked summer in the southern hemisphere, so it marked the chilly onset of winter here in the southern hemisphere. It was an important star for navigation around the Pacific Ocean, and the Maori called the star and the season Takurua.  Its culmination at the winter solstice was marked by celebration in Hawaii, where it was known as Ka’ulua, “Queen of Heaven”. Many other Polynesian names have been recorded, including Ta’urua-e-hiti-i-te-tara-te-feiai “Festivity who rises with prayers and religious ceremonies” in Tahiti.


Observatoire Astronomique des Makes, St Louis, Reunion Island

Further reading:

Around the web – April 2014

Here’s April’s round-up of interesting articles about language and translation that have been published on the web this past month and that you may have not have had time to see:


For those that don’t speak French: here ‘mug’ in the sense “A drinking cup” is translated into French as if it were the verbal sense “to rob with threat of violence” (and ‘auto’ in the sense of “automobile” is translated as if it were “automatic”)!

Donner de la confiture aux cochons" translates literally as "to give the jam to the pigs" i.e. casting pearls before swine (photo Shutterstock)

The French idiom “donner de la confiture aux cochons” translates literally as “to give the jam to pigs”  i.e. to cast pearls before swine (photo Shutterstock)

  • Spanish and Portuguese translator Jethro Soutar talked about the concept of co-translation at Words Without Borders, where there was also an interesting article about writing and translating in Korea today.
  • Catherine Christaki, of LinguaGreca fame, was invited onto Alessandra Vita’s virtual ‘red carpet’ for an interview.
  • April saw a general election in India, the world’s largest democracy. This article in The Guardian‘s Mind Your Language Blog looked at the difficulties candidates faced appealing to voters who speak 447 mother tongues.
A boy wearing a mask of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.

A boy wearing a mask of Indian Hindu nationalist election candidate Narendra Modi.


Related articles: