Around the Web – January 2021

Here are January’s most popular news stories and blog articles about language and translation.

(Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay)

  • Tim Gutteridge was interviewed by BookBlast® Diary about why he decided to get into literary translation, and the similarities and differences between literary and non-literary translation.
  • Lynne Murphy took a look at the different things that “fudge” and “leave” mean to speakers of US and UK English

Classic (British) fudge

Tom Roa has already translated “Alice in Wonderland” and hopes to finish “The Hobbit” in a year.

This cake is moist, not damp. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

The fabulous aliases of the woodlouse revealed


Elsewhere on the blog:

Around the Web – December 2020

Here are December‘s most popular news stories and blog articles about language and translation.

French actresses who collaborated on the book “Noire n’est pas mon metier” (Black is not my job) pose at the 71st Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

  • Which words did readers of Lynne Murphy’s Separated by a Common Language blog designate as the 2020 US-to-UK and UK-to-US words of the year?
  • The Nazis eliminated Jewish names from the German spelling alphabet. Now the names are to return, at least symbolically

Could you spell that please? The phonetic alphabet makes it easier

  • Is the expression ‘Just Deserts’ or ‘Just Desserts’? And what does it mean?

‘Just desserts’ is popular, but it’s not right

When was writing invented?

Elsewhere on the blog:

Most popular tweets of 2020

Here, in ascending order, are the ten most popular* tweets about language and translation that I shared during 2020 on my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

10. Beauty & Violence: Sophie Hughes on translating Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season

9.  Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have been published in Scots, translated by writers including Val McDermid

8.  The meaning of ‘Just Deserts/Just Desserts’

7.  Un lexique éclectique de Le Monde diplomatique qui collectionne des problèmes dont la solution n’est pas mentionnée dans les dictionnaires usuels

6.  What does ‘Zhuzh’ mean (and why is it so hard to spell)?

5. On pourrait croire qu’il est facile de traduire l’un des incipits les plus connus de la littérature française, « Aujourd’hui, maman est morte »

4. Cameroon’s language barriers: Linguistic divides underpin conflict and poor translation is now hampering the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

3. Eastern Parlance: delightful Asian words with no straightforward English equivalent

2. Les leçons linguistiques de la crise du coronavirus

  1. And the winning tweet: Cambridge Words Dictionary has announced its Word of the Year for 2020

Interestingly three of the tweets are in French (which is a higher proportion than the number of tweets I send in French), two of them being from Slate France. And of the seven others, two are from the Grammar Girl blog.

Do you have a favourite article published in 2020 that you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments below.

* ‘most popular’ = top tweets (most engagement & impressions) according to Twitter Analytics.


Around the web – November 2020

Here are November‘s most popular news stories and blog articles about language and translation.

There are parallels between the two processes—as Charles Darwin saw

American Presidents helped certain words join everyday vocabulary

Do you know your panification from your proofing?

The Afternoon Meal (La Merienda) by Luis Meléndez, c. 1772 (Metropolitan Museum Of Art, The Jack And Belle Linsky Collection, 1982 // Public Domain)

P.S. Do check out the 2020 Freelance translator survey that Inbox Translation has just published. It’s very detailed and packed with everything from rates and professional development to information about pets and dreams!

Elsewhere on the blog:

Around the web – October 2020

Here are October’s most popular news stories and blog articles about language and translation.

  • Ten strategies which can help you make your business more resilient and capable of coping with threats

Future-proof your business says Ewa Jasinska-Davidson

The battle against racist language is too important to trivialise

In defence of jargon

Paleontologists in a virtual conference found themselves at the mercy of an overzealous profanity filter.

See also:

Around the web – September 2020

Here are September’s most popular news stories and blog articles about translation, interpreting, and language.

  • Ahead of International Translation Day, Zingword took a look at all the ways translators and translator organisations raise translator visibility

2020 has seen a number of changes forced upon the language profession

  • Not only was September 30th International Translation Day, but the whole of September was World Kid Lit Month. In this article Publisher’s Weekly spoke with 10 acclaimed translators about the unique challenges and rewards of adapting international children’s books for English-speaking readers

World Kit Lit Month was established in 2016

Barbe à papa, chauve-souris & poule mouillée

From bathtub gin to the blind pig

  • This month’s incredible-but-true language story is a sign of the times 2020: a Spanish local politician hid behind his face mask to pretend he spoke perfect English


See also:

Translators, are you guilty of nerdview?

Nerdview. What’s that then? A term first coined by Geoff Pullum of Language Log in 2008, it can be defined as taking the perspective of an insider when attempting to communicate with an end-user or client who couldn’t possibly have the same perspective. The insider may be a designer, engineer, sign maker, or simply someone forgetting that not everyone has the same knowledge they themselves have. And although you may never have heard of the term before, you will certainly have come across instances. Here are a few examples:

  • “For external use only – instead of “Do not eat or drink”
  • “Restroom closes 15 minutes before closing” – but the sign doesn’t say when closing time is
  • “Use all doors” (when boarding a train) or “Form two lanes” (on a motorway) – no one individual can obey this!
  • “Out of fan-fold tickets” (on an airport car-park ticket vending machine) – the motorist needs to know what to do about parking if he can’t get a ticket; only the technical operative needs to know to load fan-fold ticket stock
  • “This refuse has been checked for illegal presentation” – there’s a whole Language Log post on this one!

From the examples you can see lack of clarity seems to be a particular problem in the transport industry. And while it can be enough of an issue in a monolingual context, think of our work as translators. How many times have you translated nerdview in your source language into nerdview in your target language? Or translated a perfectly understandable source-language instruction into target-language nerdview because you’re sticking too closely to the source language? Depending on how much leeway you have with your work, you may be able to change your translation sufficiently for it not to be a problem, or you might need to translate it per se and flag the issue to the client, especially if nerdview is entrenched in the source text.

Although several of the examples above would seem to indicate it’s a particular problem in the transport industry, personally I’ve found subtle nerdview can sometimes be a problem in tourism texts too. I live and work in Reunion Island, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean. People who live in mainland France know of the tropical island, and they’re aware of its major attractions (e.g. the volcano), as well as the fact that its currency, health, legal, educational and telecommunications systems are identical or quasi-identical to that of mainland France. But if you’re working on a text that takes knowledge of these facts for granted you’re not doing your readership any favours by translating without putting yourself in the reader’s shoes. They will probably never have heard of the “famous this” or the “well-known that” so you have to take such factors into account if you’re to craft a reader-friendly text. There can also be a cultural element: with some languages there is more of a “comprehension burden” on readers to understand what the writer is saying.

Language log suggested the following normative principal:

When issuing a message for the guidance of the public, phrase it to make sense from their perspective, and avoid language that presumes an insider or system-design perspective that they cannot possibly have.

For translators, I would paraphrase this and say:

When translating, phrase your work to make sense from the reader’s perspective, and avoid translations that presume an inside-knowledge perspective that readers cannot possibly have.

I’m sure you have plenty of your own examples of nerdview – feel free to post them in the comments!

Further reading: 



Around the web – August 2020

The Scots-language version of Wikipedia hit the headlines this month when it was discovered that a US teenager was single-handedly responsible for “translating” (read “mangling”) thousands of pages. According to a quote in this article “the entries appeared to have been written out in English with individual words being looked up using online Scots translators. Words with no Scots replacements were then left in their English form”. Replacing one word by another is unfortunately all too often people’s view of what translation is. Thankfully, some of the other news stories and blog articles during August about translation and language shine a more positive light on our profession.

Right choice? The pros and cons of doing an MA in Translation Studies

  • To coincide with the publication of Elena Ferrante’s latest novel in English, the New York Times published an in-depth article about her translator, Ann Goldstein
  • “Women who write in Arabic face a double problem: They’re translated less often than men, and when they are, their books are often wrongly characterised”
  • Literary translator Charlie Coombe has set up a literary translation database covering publications, journals, review blogs, awards, contests, events, residencies, grants, funding, organisations and unions; see here for more details
  • Slate examined the complex politics behind bad translations on, the country’s flagship tourism website

The snafu surrounding Mexico’s tourism website shows how quickly a valuable digital asset can disintegrate in the wrong hands

  • Donald Trump’s linguistic quirks reveal the salesmanship-type language that has made his career, says The Economist

Donald Trump’s language offers insight into how he won the presidency

So, which Finnish words make the people of Finland (“the happiest people in the world”) happiest?

The last word: I was delighted to be featured translator this month on Maeva Cifuentes’ blog. You can read the article here.

Further reading:

Around the web – July 2020

Here’s your monthly round-up of articles and stories about language and translation for July 2020.

Sparkling and dazzling!

  • Offensive language: “If obscenities are used they should be spelled out in full,” says The Economist. On a more lighthearted note, the magazine also published a guide to the lingo of dating during a pandemic.
  • The racist origins of 7 common phrases. While they are rarely used in their original contexts today, knowing their racist origins casts expressions such as these in a different light.

Do you know the origins of “cakewalk”?

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

  • July 4 and July 14 are national holidays in the USA and France respectively, and both occasions would normally be celebrated with firework displays. What do you know about the language of pyrotechnics?
  • 7 wacky words that originated in the USA.
  • A new writing system, the Ńdébé Script has been created to address the tonal distinctions and peculiarities of Nigerian languages. You can find out more about it here. (Incidentally, about 70% of the world’s languages incorporate tonal distinctions).

Meet the Ńdébé Script

With or without sprinkles?

Further reading: