Do you know how the month of May got its name? It may (pun intended) seem a simple word, but the origin is actually fairly complex and interesting. We could say the same about several articles listed here in the May 2020 round-up of this month’s most popular stories about language, translation and interpreting.
was Maia a Greek or Roman goddess?
Colleague Judy Jenner blogged about interpreting depositions via Zoom. Is it possible, and how does it work?
In times past, when frustrating circumstances demanded new ways of expressing what it means to be alive, it was often female writers who sculpted the fresh coinages that kept language rippling with poignancy and power.
Just like last month, I’ve divided this round-up of April’s stories about language and translation into two sections: links that are either related or unrelated to COVID. Take your pick, or read both parts!
During lockdown you may find yourself at a loose end (if you’re in the UK) or at loose ends (if you’re in the US). Lynne Murphy took a closer look. She also examined how the expression “on the up-and-up” means different things in the two countries.
Are you at a loose end or at loose ends?
The Literature Translation Institute of Korea is to start an education programme to teach professional translators how to translate Korean movies and webtoons into English, Spanish & Vietnamese.
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.
A recent request from a colleague on Facebook looking for interesting podcasts to listen to got me compiling the following list. I’ve listed podcasts that are about language, translation and/or interpreting, but none about language learning (there are plenty out there if that’s what you’re looking for). Depending on how much time you have available you might want to listen to all of a podcast’s episodes or just cherrypick here and there. The list is in alphabetical order and, with one exception, only includes podcasts in English.
I have a soft spot for The Allusionist – subjects are very varied and I like Helen Zaltzmans’ take on things
It is hard to tackle a problem you are afraid to name.
Urban Dictionary has long been looked down on by more traditional dictionaries, but now some linguists are using it for research. Certain U.S. states are referencing it to determine the acceptability of vanity plate names, and its definitions have also been brought up and debated in court cases.
There was a time when the figurative meaning of ‘fishing’ was only used in terms like ‘fishing for compliments’. Now we have ‘catfishing’, ‘blackfishing’, and ‘sadfishing’: do you know what they all mean?
We’re fast approaching the end of the year, and MacMillan Dictionaries have already compiled a “Trending Words of 2019” quiz. Test your knowledge here. (In mid-October The Guardian also published an article with the Top 10 words of 2019 and both Oxford Dictionaries and Collins Dictionaries have named their words of the year.
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.
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.
In a world of people striving for more public professional recognition, there’s a reason why interpreters and translators remain invisible. We allow the show to go on, carrying out projects that significantly affect people’s lives, while often remaining anonymous.
On a final note, October 16th was World Food Day and colleague Alina Cincan curated a post in which several foodie translators (yours truly included) shared some favourite dishes along with their etymology and a food-related idiom.
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