Around the web – July & August 2017

As I was away in Australia (attending the FIT congress) for part of July and August, I’m doing a combined round-up of interesting stories about language and translation that you may have missed over the past two months, especially if you’ve also been away travelling.

  • Talking of Australia, what is the real story behind some of those Australian slang terms like ‘grommies’ ‘tea bags’ and ‘esky-lidders’?

‘Budgie smugglers’ have become synonymous with speedo-style swimwear (Credit: Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)

You Say Melon, I Say Lemon: translator Deborah Smith as a brilliant sous chef who attempted to recreate the original chef’s recipe abroad with ingredients not found in her country.

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence (via Wikimedia Commons)

The plaque shows the lyrics of Galway Bay and three translations into Irish, Latin, and French

Photo of a page of « Jambonlaissé » (Davina Sammarcelli)


Further reading:


FIT Congress 2017 in Brisbane

I’m not quite a conference virgin – I attended IAPTI’s 2015 event in Bordeaux – but living where I do makes it difficult to attend international events, so FIT 2017 was only my second-ever translation conference, and with approximately 750 delegates from all over the world it was certainly of an impressive size. Held in Brisbane’s riverside Convention Centre, its antipodean location attracted a fair number of Australasian and Asian delegates, as well as some sign language professionals following the pre-congress ratification of a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI).

The theme for this triennial congress was Disruption and Diversification, and after the opening speeches and a traditional Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’ that had me tapping my feet, the first plenary was by four members of the Aboriginal Interpreters Service on ‘Building the confidence to be an Aboriginal interpreter’. These presentations turned out to be one of the highlights of the first day, and Director Colleen Rosas struck a chord with me when she mentioned that some language service providers still think there’s only one Aboriginal language – there’s actually about 150 of them (I face the same problem with many LSPs’ ignorance of the fact that more than one Creole language exists in the world), and English can be the seventh language for some speakers.

Lighting a fire, part of the Aboriginal welcome to country

This was followed by well-known scholar Prof. Anthony Pym‘s keynote address ‘Translators do more than translate’, in which he reminded us that translators sell more than words, we sell trust (for inward communication) and communicative effect (for outward communication). After lunch the difficult decisions started, with up to 10 parallel slots at a time to choose from. I attended a live but remote presentation, ‘Moulding Our Future’, by Jost Zetzsche who prompted us to be compelling when we communicate, and which he ended by encouraging us to tweet to GoogleDoodles requesting they join the UN in honouring International Translation Day on September 30th.

The day ended with FIT’s prize ceremony, and the evening was then spent networking at a showboat river cruise.

One of the showboats we cruised the river on

The second day was jam-packed with presentations, interspersed with a late-morning keynote by Prof. Jemina Napier – the first-ever to be given in sign language at a FIT congress. It was fascinating to learn that there are 138 different signed languages in the world, that British Sign Language and Auslan only have about 70% of signs in common, and worldwide it’s estimated there are 25-30,000 signed language interpreters. Paediatrician and researcher Dr Glenn Flores delivered an information-packed plenary address, reminding us that the use of professional healthcare interpreters leads to reduced costs and better use of resources. One of his significant findings is that it is the hours of training (ideally at least 100 hours) that reduce medical interpreters’ errors, and not their years of experience.

Some examples of faulty medical interpreting with clinical consequences

Amongst the day’s presentations was ‘Disruption and premium markets—The Wetware Strikes Back’ by the inspirational Chris Durban, about which I could almost write a separate blog post, but for the sake of brevity: time, wetware (the brain), and talent are all essential factors if the aim is high quality translation. She informed us of the ways forward, pleaded for more research on non-scalable skillsets, and on a final half-humorous note suggested we emulate world No. 1 tennis player Rafael Nadal by always practicing, being precise, knowing all of the terrain, and being fit for the job. Later on in the day Chris was also part of a panel on Business Intelligence, and she pointed out that most clients don’t have a problem with translators signing their work, it’s us translators that may have a problem! The day ended with a Gala dinner at a nearby hotel.

Chris Durban presenting The Wetware Strikes Back

The third and final day opened with a disruptive keynote address by writer and anthropologist Dr Sarah Kendzior, ‘Dissent and Dictatorship in the Digital Age,’ about language, politics, and digital media. She made many important points, including the fact that constraint of language is constraint of power (taking the example of Uzbekistan), social media alone cannot override linguistic hierarchy and the language barrier, digital translation is not neutral, and digital media is not a panacea of democracy: human mediation is vital.  Michael Cronin delivered the keynote ‘Why Translation Should Not Cost the Earth: Towards Geocentric Translation Studies’ and highlighted the fact that in a world of digital cosmopolitanism, translators are the supreme examples of cultural mediators; sustainable translation needs to avoid human resource extractivism, which is often hidden under a veneer of emancipation.

Digital cosmopolitanism – translators are the supreme example of cultural mediators

I enjoyed some of the day’s individual sessions too, including ‘Murakami Haruki as a Writer and Translator’, ‘The Signs Inform, the Readers React — A Study of Readers’ Reaction to the English Translations of the Commercial Signs in a Chinese Community in Australia’ and ‘Translation Quality and Cross‐Cultural Allowance in Translating into a Foreign Language’ which confirmed that translators translating into their non-native language(s) often lack self-awareness of the quality level of their translations. Lunch was followed by an interesting poster session – I was particularly struck by a poster illustrating what happened when an early 20th-century American missionary, Laura M. White, translated Little Lord Fauntleroy into Chinese.

What happens when an American missionary, Laura M. White, translated Little Lord Fauntleroy into Chinese

The Congress drew to a close, having run like clockwork thanks to all the hard work of the organising team, headed by Sam Berner. Proceedings concluded with outgoing President Henry Liu introducing the new FIT council members and his successor: Kevin Quirk, based in Norway. With apologies to the simultaneous interpreters, the latter (disruptively?) delivered part of his inaugural address in the form of a long rhyming poem. Will he compose another one for the next FIT Congress, to be held in Cuba in late 2020, I wonder?


Further reading:

Around the web – June 2017

June 9th saw the announcement of the results of’s 2017 Language Lovers competition, and I was delighted to come 2nd * in the Twitter category! (Full results here). What else has been happening in the world of language and translation during the month of June?

What country is this, and where does its name come from?

A cuckoo, from whence the etymology of cuckold

Bugles were originally made from the horns of oxen

Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes a new step in his campaign against foreign influences


On a final note you might like to check out my latest podcast for English language learners, which is on a rather unusual subject (there are video and audio versions).

* Another milestone this month was the fact my Facebook page reached 1000 followers!


Further reading:

Around the web – May 2017

The major translation-related news this month has of course been that during its 71st session on 24 May 2017 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 288 recognising “The role of professional translation in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development“. Without further ado, here’s your May round-up of popular articles about translation and language.

  • Is the translation sector “undergoing a wrenching change that will make life hard for the timid”? asks Lane Greene in The Economist article Why translators have the blues.
  • In the Financial Times, prizewinning translator Deborah Smith writes about the pleasures and pitfalls of literary translation.

A copy of La Tour’s ‘Saint Jerome Reading’ (c1636), depicting the priest known for translating the Bible into Latin. © Getty

“Gift” means “poison” in German. This may lead to confusion.

Noah Webster portrayed in an 1886 print
(via Wikimedia Commons)

On a final note, don’t forget to vote for your favourite language-related blogs, Facebook pages, Youtube channels and Twitter accounts in’s annual Top 100 Language Lovers competition. I’ve been nominated in the Twitter category for the 5th year running. You only have until June 6th to vote (which you can do by clicking the red logo at the top right of the page)!

The 3 Phases of the Top 100 Language Lovers 2017 Competition: Nominations, Voting, Results


You might also like:

Around the Web – April 2017

Easter fell during the month of April this year and I found out that the Hungarian word for the holiday is húsvét, which literally means ‘meat-taking’ (with reference to the end of Lent). Anyway here’s your April round-up of popular articles about language, interpreting, and translation.

Translation platforms cannot replace humans

Three little letters, 645 meanings.

The term double-headed has sometimes been part of the lexicon of duplicity, much like double-hearted.

  • There’s still a week before the second round of the French presidential election, which will be followed by the country’s legislative elections on June 11th and 18th. If you’re not fluent in French, here’s a handy guide to some terms used in the elections.

How do you say ‘fake news’ in French?


Further reading:

Around the web – March 2017

Did you know that the Finnish word for Marchmaaliskuu, is believed to come from the word maallinen in the sense of “earthly”, because snow begins to melt and first spots of bare earth can be seen? Anyway here’s your March round-up of popular articles about translation and language.

In 2006 Alitalia listed $39.00 for a business class fare from Toronto to Cyprus instead of the usual $3,900. Estimated cost to the carrier: $7.7m.

Now you can say ‘mansplaining’ in 35 languages

Does the available vocabulary for sex leave something to be desired?


Would you use these solicitors?

Humour en français :

  • Quand quelqu’un ne connaît pas un métier cela donne lieu à des demandes totalement insolites (ici des demandes faites à des agences web).

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:


Whether you live in Paris or are just passing through as a visitor I highly recommend a visit to Mundolingua, the Museum of Languages, in the city’s 6th arrondissement. It’s a treasure trove that invites you to discover the secrets of language and linguistics via objects, games, as well as documents and recordings on touchscreens.


Part of the playing with language continent (the scrabble board is actually a rug)

The museum covers 170m2 over two floors and is divided into five ‘continents’: on the ground floor are the Language (definitions, animals, sounds, meaning, words and grammar) and Learning continents. In the basement are the Languages (myths and origins, religion, etymology, ethnolinguistic, dead languages, dialects, alphabets, sociolinguistics, etc.), Playing with Language and New Technologies continents. Even the staircase is put to use, with depictions of Babel through the ages, and a micro cinema at halfway level.


One of the themed areas with a height-adjustable touch screen; note the Morse Code alphabet painted on the wall.

Almost all displays have information in the six official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), or at the very least in French and English.


Part of the New Technologies area; the museum also has an Enigma machine.


This area was all about linguistics


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been printed in 500 of the 501 languages into which it has been translated.


Language acquisition

Language Issues in the Brain

Language issues in the brain


A corner on taboo words.

I spent less than two hours there, mainly because we were on a flying visit to Paris and arrived after 5pm (the museum closes at 7pm), but I could have spent much, much longer. My husband (a non-linguist) also greatly enjoyed himself.


This Chinese typewriter, from about 1970, never caught on. Apparently a good typist averaged 20 characters per minute.

On the  third Thursday of every month at 7:30pm Mundolingua holds an evening event with special guests – past speakers include David Crystal. (The founder of the museum, Mark Oremland, describes it as a three-dimensional representation of the former’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language).


This hanging curtain shows examples of different alphabets from around the world (a small world map at the top of each slat shows where the alphabet is used).

For more details (price, opening hours, address, etc. visit the website: Mundolingua).

See also “My Adventures at the Mundolingua Language Museum” on Superlinguo.


Most popular tweets of 2016

Here, in ascending order, are the 10 most popular* tweets about translation and language that I shared during 2016 on my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

Example of an unpronounceable word; 'unpronounceable' is the opposite of its meaning

Example of an unpronounceable word; ‘unpronounceable’ is the opposite of its meaning

Is 'languid' a word that describes itself? [Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti]

Is ‘languid’ a word that describes itself? [Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti]


Some of the 250 translations into different language of "Le Petit Prince"

Some of the 250 translations into different language of “Le Petit Prince”

Do you have a favourite article published in 2016 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.

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

Related articles:

Around the web – November 2016

November 2nd-5th saw ATA‘s 57th Annual Conference held in San Francisco, and colleagues Paula Arturo and Claire Cox have both blogged about it. The list of future ATA conference sites and dates is here. Anyway here’s your November round-up of popular articles about language and translation.


Simon explains how to get clients to come to you


“It looks, especially if you speak British English, as if Clinton was making a claim about the sanity level of Jeremy Corbyn”

The Norwegian Mr Bump.

The Norwegian Mr Bump.

  • Finally a quiz: Do you know these 25 Scottish words and phrases?


Further reading: