An Essay for Mrs. Malaprop

“A malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance… The word “malapropism” (and its earlier variant “malaprop”) comes from a character named “Mrs. Malaprop” in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals.” (Wikipedia)

Some examples of malapropisms are:

  • “illiterate him quite from your memory” (instead of “obliterate”)
  • “she’s as headstrong as an allegory” (instead of alligator).

A friend of mine recently posted this gem on Facebook; I had seen it before, but yesterday it rang a bell and I thought I’d just get it out here with its corrected version for future reference.

TRIGGER WARNING: If bad English offends you, look away now!

16683908_1280992588632773_450508375705471017_n.jpg

Ow! Ow! Ow!

In text format, the monstrosity reads:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a diffident meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seeded desire to sound more educated, witch results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social morays is seen as almost sorted and might result in the offender becoming a piranha, in the Monday world, after all is set and done, such a miner era will often leave normal people unphased. This is just as well sense people of that elk are unlikely to tow the line irregardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their upmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-dramatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into whole-scale outrage as they go star-craving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the stings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete metal breakdown , leaving them curled up in a feeble position.

The only way to stop the pain is to read the paragraph in its proper form:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a different meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seated desire to sound more educated, which results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social mores is seen as almost sordid and might result in the offender becoming a pariah; in the mundane world, after all is said and done, such a minor error will often leave normal people unfazed. This is just as well since people of that ilk are unlikely to toe the line, regardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their utmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-traumatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into full-scale outrage as they go stark-raving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the slings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete mental breakdown , leaving them curled up in a fetal position.

I’ve written before about “Word Crimes” – one of Weird Al’s best efforts ever, and that’s saying something because just about everything he does is delightful.

The Wold Floof has Broken.

Make a Translator Mad in Four Words

From a recent Facebook post. Having worked as a freelance translator, these responses spoke to my soul. Yes, a few of them are more than four words, but they’re all good – and they’re all real. I have seen many of these myself.

For what it’s worth, I no longer do this sort of work. The reasons will become obvious. I’ve included a bit of commentary here and there.

Cheap bastards

Agencies make money by charging high rates to clients and paying low rates to translators, reviewers, and proofreaders. They’re always jockeying for a better deal. That’s the nature of business, but when you’re an independent contractor, and your standard rate (calculated to earn you a living) is always being undercut, it’s frightfully annoying. The global access of the Internet means that professional, trained, educated translators must now compete with millions of people in India, China, and elsewhere who “speak a little English” and who are willing to work for 1¢ per word or less.

  • Best lowest rate required.
  • What’s your best rate?
  • Make your best rate.
  • Make me (a) good price.
  • Send your best rate.
  • We pay in visibility. (Visibility and $7.95 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.)
  • Our budget is limited. (So I’m supposed to subsidize your profit, right?)
  • Special rates apply to this client. (He’s paying us less, so we’re going to pay you less.)
  • A discount for volume. (We’re paying less because there’s a lot of work).
  • It’s the market rate. (Take it or leave it.)
  • 5¢ is not bad. (5¢ per word is shit.)
  • The others charge less. (Good, feel free to use them.)
  • Someone charges way less.
  • Our budget is only …
  • National Agreement Rate Please.
  • Could you proofread instead? (Read: Your rate is too high).

Cheaper bastards

Machine translation used to be cumbersome, expensive, and not very effective. Now it’s quick, easy, free, and only a bit more effective. While statistical translation models have made some exciting progress, people who don’t understand the intricacies of language assume that online translation is both free and reliable. Similarly, your neighbor may speak a bit of German, but don’t expect your translation to do well in the commercial arena. In the translation world, you still get what you pay for, and if you go cheap, you’re likely to get crap.

  •  Google Translate is cheaper.
  • We will Google translate.
  • I’ll do it myself.
  • I can do it myself.
  • Neighbour can do it.
  • Will it cost anything?
  • Is it for free?
  • That much? No way!
  • The font was wrong. (Followed by “Will you accept 50%?”)
  • I could do it, but…
  • Could do it myself, but…
  • You’re overpaid.

Cheapest bastards

It’s not uncommon for an unethical agency to get a job, break it up into 20 segments, offer the job to 20 translators and have them each do part of the work as a “test,” then award the bid to nobody.

  • Please do this test.
  • Please complete test assignment.
  • We require (a) free test.
  • Test translation without charge.
  • Download the test translation.
  • It’s for a tender. (We need your free translation to make the bid.)

Scheduling headaches

Contractors spend a lot of time juggling their resources against customer needs. Agencies don’t care.

  • We’d like it for tomorrow.
  • Have you begun yet?
  • Great, don’t proceed yet.
  • Client brought deadlines forward.
  • The client sent changes.
  • The client made changes.
  • 6000 words for tomorrow.
  • 20,000 words of light postediting.
  • We need it yesterday.
  • Can you deliver early?
  • Sorry, client cancelled assignment.
  • End client just cancelled.
  • Please send your invoice (then we’re going to have minor changes).
  • File should arrive midnight. (Deadline in 8:00 AM, of course.)
  • We have a glossary (10 minutes before deadline).
  • That didn’t need translating… (After you’ve spent a day and a half on “that.”)
  • Please use US English. (Halfway through a huge project meant to be in UK English!).
  • Please deliver tomorrow morning.
  • Translate in real time! (What does this even mean?)
  • Client isn’t in a hurry (Followed, 2 months later, by “Client needs it ASAP”).
  • The project is cancelled (in the morning of due date!).

Your skills are worthless!

Anyone can translate. It’s just typing in another language.

  • (It doesn’t need to be translated,) just type this in Portuguese
  • Everyone can do it!
  • So you teach English?
  • You’re a translator? Then why don’t you give English courses?
  • What is your work?
  • Please do the shopping.
  • Go get the kids.
  • Don’t think, just translate!
  • What’s your real job?
  • Do you also teach?
  • You have done nothing.

Technical Headaches

“You need to use our tools, yours are garbage.”

  • Trados is a must.
  • TRANSIT is a must.
  • Across is a must.
  • [Insert CAT tool name of choice] is a must.
  • Use our online TM-tool.
  • We only use Excel. (Translating in Excel is a nightmare, if you were wondering.)
  • Please translate into Excel.
  • Your file doesn’t open.

Not only that, in the world of translation, these CAT (Computer-assisted translation tools) are de rigeur. They can be useful in speeding up translation and improving terminological consistency, but agencies routinely take advantage of this and pay less than the full rate for things that the software has translated for you. This ignores the fact that the translator is responsible for the coherence of the entire job and must read and evaluate every bit and piece of the work for accuracy. This alone is the major reason I stepped out of the freelance translation world. My rate per target word is X¢, period. Pay it or go somewhere else. Translators who survive in the industry pretty much have to suck it up, but I wasn’t willing.

  • We don’t pay repetitions.
  • Pro-rated for fuzzy match.
  • 100% matches for free.
  • Discount for fuzzies applied.
  • Fractional Payment for Repetitions.

Payment Headaches

In the US, standard terms are 30 days net. Around the world, it’s not uncommon for translation agencies to expect translators to wait 60, 90, or even up to 180 days for payment of invoices (they usually claim that they’re waiting for their clients to pay them.) This is unethical in the extreme, but not an uncommon strategy in the business world.

dt080613dt080614

There’s one more I can’t find, where the vendor says, “But if you pay us late we’ll go bankrupt, and then you won’t ever have to… pay… I’ve said too much, haven’t I?” The Pointy-Haired Boss just sits there with a sick grin on his face.

  • We forgot your payment.
  • Did you send your invoice? (Yes, I did, 60 days ago.)
  • Net forty-five days.
  • The payment will delay.
  • Thanks for your patience. (After payment was delayed for a month).
  • Check’s in the mail. (Yes, people still use this one.)
  • Our accountant on vacation.

We know better than you.

Never mind your skills, the next person is always smarter.

  • Reviewer says you failed.
  • Is “the” necessary here?
  • Let me correct that.
  • I speak two languages.
  • (S)he knows better.
  • (S)he is a [language] teacher.
  • Proofreader does not agree. (Proofreaders know bupkis about translation.)
  • Changes made by proofreader.
  • My secretary edited it.
  • This translation is bad.
  • But Google translate says…

Creepy Clients

There is always one.

  • What are you wearing?

General Lies

“I have read and agree to the terms of service”

  • It’s a straightforward text.
  • It’s a piece of cake.
  • It’s short and easy.
  • It is not technical.
  • It’s not very technical.
  • Help me, it’s quick.
  • It only needs editing.
  • Just a quick question.

Translation Requirements, and Stupid Questions

Things that don’t fall into easily-defined categories.

  • Do you translate books?
  • Is Brexit affecting business?
  • Source text is JPG. (This means you can’t use your CAT tools for the job.)
  • It’s a PDF – handwritten.
  • Translate in sticky notes.
  • It’s mainly doctors’ handwriting.
  • Please check additional references.
  • (We know you’re busy but) we’re really shorthanded.
  • Here’s an XBench report.
  • It was machine translated.
  • Added to our database. (Don’t call us, we’ll call you.)
  • Read 50 pages of instructions (for a 100-word job)
  • Keep the original format.
  • You have to cook.
  • It’s a doctor’s prescription.
  • Don’t go into details.
  • Thanks for sharing.
  • Are you still translating?
  • Complete our six forms.
  • There’s no source text. (When proofreading a translation, you need to see the original text. If it’s not there, you’re just basically making wild guesses in the dark.)

About 30 years ago, an ad appeared on the bulletin board of the translation software company I was working at. It probably came from one of the trade publications, and showed a boss ripping an employee a new one. The text read, “Because you had your brother-in-law do the translation, our  ad says that our new camera exposes itself automatically!”

I’ve dealt with the risks of translation on the cheap before, and in this one thing has not changed: If you want good translations for your business, use a professional and pay them well – otherwise your product may just bite the wax tadpole.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Fun with Linguistic Symposia

Academic symposia are great fun if you don’t have a reputation to defend. Listening to a presentation can be informative, but the true entertainment value arises when you watch numerous ivory-tower types begin to shred one another’s theories.

This bit of doggerel has been floating around in my humor files since the 70s (first pulled off a chain printer), and deserves to be appreciated by a new generation of linguists.

With no further ado, I present to you a collection of (allegedly) real interactions documented at early gatherings of linguists. First up:

A Taxonomy of Argument Schemata in Metatheoretic Discussions of Syntax
or
Name That Tune

I. Logical Argumentation

  1. If A = ¬A, then my position is true.
    Therefore, since A = ¬A, …
  2. A: ¬p.
    B: Since you agree that p, …
  3. P is absurd, therefore q.

II. Now you see it, now...

  1. Your argument supports my position.
  2. I’m aware of these putative counter-arguments, but…
  3. Let me rephrase that so that it agrees with my position…
  4. I think that is true, but I’m not sure it means anything.

III. The Reasoned Response

  1. I don’t see the argument.
  2. I don’t like your example.
  3. That’s not a problem in my theory.
  4. It’s my opinion, and it’s very true.
  5. I still say that…

IV. Papa Knows Best

  1. You say that, but you don’t believe it.
  2. You believe this, but you won’t say it.
  3. What you really believe is ____, and I agree with you.
  4. Our disagreement is merely semantic.
  5. Don’t be misled by the similarity between A and A. It’s merely a superficial identity.

V. Audience Participation: Let’s take a vote!

VI. The Pre-emption

  1. You’re right, but I said it first!
  2. What you say is wrong, and I said it first!

VII. The Putdown

  1. You can’t do it either
  2. That’s true, but uninteresting in the ____ sense!

VIII. Advancing to the rear

  1. I knew that analysis was wrong before I proposed it.
  2. Of course my analysis is wrong in detail – *all* analyses are wrong in detail.

IX. The Principled Argument

A: Shut up!
B: No, *you* shut up!
A: No, *YOU* shut up!


 

But wait, there’s more!

An Ancillary Guide To Understanding a Syntax Conference

 What the Speaker Says  What the Speaker Means
These examples are from Dyirbal, a widely discussed language, so I will assume familiarity. I don’t know the language well enough to answer questions, so don’t ask any.
When you stop to think about what you said, it doesn’t say anything.  I don’t understand it.
Some examples are vague; the others are simply wrong. I can’t quite put an argument together, but I still want to attack yours.
No one has ever studied “X”. I haven’t studied it, and neither have my friends.
I may have to retreat (there is a possibility), which is a wise thing to do when you are wrong. I assure you that you are a good guy if you say that you are wrong.
Nobody is going to be converted to another side at this conference. This is not a tournament in which someone will win the main prize. This is my excuse for not accepting anyone else’s argument, regardless of how valid it may be.
It is significant in an “interesting” way. I could possible squeeze an article or two out of it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve attended one of these conclaves, but I have no doubt that such things are still heard if you listen closely.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“Indian Counting” – Een, teen, tether, fether, fip!

OK, caveat here: it’s may not be Native American counting, but that’s how it was presented to me by my math teacher (Mr. Sommerville, go ndéanai Dia trócaire air) in high school, around 1967. On the other hand, maybe it is.

The entire schema as he presented it was:

Een, teen, tether, fether, fip,
Satra, latra, co, tethery, dick,
Eendick, teendick, tetherdick, fetherdick, bump,
Eenbump, teenbump, tetherbump, fetherbump, didick!

Being testosterone-soaked boys, everyone laughed at hearing the word “dick” used as a number, and then life went on. I had heard it once, and remembered fragments of it forever.

Then came the Internet, where almost everything arcane has a tendency to show up if you wait long enough. I would search occasionally, and over time, bits and pieces appeared; now there is a full-blown Wikipedia article entitled “Yan tan tethera,” and the real story becomes quite complicated.

Over at Wovember Words, the matter is treated thusly (the whole page is worth a read):

The only reference we could find anywhere confirming connections between the counting words of Native Americans with those used in the North of England is in a musical written in 1957, called The Music Man. There is a scene in this play where the wife of the Mayor exclaims “I will now count to twenty in the Indian tongue! Een teen tuther featherfip!” Is this line in the play responsible for the idea that Native American peoples were using these old counting words with their Gaelic origins, or does it reflect that through the dark mechanisms of Imperialism the counting words were imposed onto Native American culture by the time the play was written?

Lincolnshire Shepherds counted:
Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pinp,
Sethera, lethera, hovera, covera, di,
Yen-a-dik, tan-a-dick, tethera-dik, pethera-dik, bumfit,
Yan-a-bumfit, tan-a-bumfit, tuthera-bumfit, pethera-bumfit, figgit.

At the same time, around 1890, Native Americans were also using:
Een, teen, thuther, futher, fipps,
Suther, luther, uther, duther, dix,
Een-dix, teen-dix, tuther-dix, futher-dix, bumpit,
Anny-bumpit, tanny-bumpit, tuther-bumpit, futher-bumpit, giggit, Anny-gigit.

If you listen to the soundtrack of the movie version of “The Music Man” carefully, there’s a bit more:

Eulalie begins: Een teen tuther feather fip!
The chorus chants: Sakey, Lakey, Corey Ippy Gip (This may not be 100% accurate as these words do not appear in the screenplay)
Eulalie continues: Eendik Teendik Tetherdik Fethertik … (she is interrupted by a firecracker)

So we can see that it’s entirely possible that these counters, very similar to the Brythonic counting systems – too close to be coincidental – may have been transmitted very early by some oral channel to Native Americans, and that by folklore tradition a knowledge of these counters worked their way down cultural pathways to be included in the play and movie.

Language and its history are curious things, with enough puzzles and questions for lifetimes of study – even the whimsical bits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

When I purchased the relatively recent remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it included a nice remastered copy of the 1950 original so my money wasn’t a total waste.

dayearthstoodstill1

If you’ve never seen it (Ai! What rock have you been living under?) it is based on the timeless story by Harry Bates, “Farewell to the Master,” which is worth a read all by itself.

Long seared having been seared into my mind since the first time I saw it as a child, I’m gratified that this film ranks 7th on Arthur C. Clarke’s top-10 science fiction film list, because even 65 years later – coincidentally my age – it’s just as relevant now as it was then. It’s a tight film, without a second wasted, and made with the intention that it would:

a) be as realistic as the technology allowed, and
b) transmit the message that mankind needs to get rid of its violent nature if it cares to survive.

Having spent a career as a linguist, I some time ago watched the film again with the intent of listening to Klaatu’s language, and transcribing what he said as accurately as possible. There is so little dialog that it can’t really be considered a conlang, but it was interesting to me nonetheless.

Klaatu barada nikto!” is one of the most famous lines ever uttered in a science-fiction film, but was not the only thing that Klaatu said. The remainder of the dialog is:

Gort! Deglet ovrosco! (Said after Klaatu is shot the first time)

Imray Klaatu naruwak.
Makro [pluvau|pluval], baratu lokdeniso impeklis.
Yavo tari [axo|axel] bugletio barengi degas.
(Klaatu’s instructions – ostensibly to his Federation – for his “demonstration of power”; this linguist’s best transcription. Two words are nearly impossible to pinpoint without a script or screenplay. You can listen to the dialog here.)

Klaatu barada nikto! (Probably something like “Klaatu needs help!”)

Gort, berengo. Probably much like “Mirab, his sails unfurled,” i.e. Gort, let’s blow this bait shack.

I never tire of watching this film – its value to the human condition, and as an early example of outstanding science fiction cinematography, will never diminish.

Here is the text of Klaatu’s speech, for your consideration:

“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more… profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

What the hqiz is a skeuomorph?

Is it this?

xenomorph

Nah, that’s the xenomorph from the almost-forgotten TV drama, “Something is Out There.” For what it’s worth, it was quite terrifying at times, but noteworthy as it used this term long before the “Alien” franchise was born.

This is a skeuomorph:

save-icon-614x460

It will be easily recognized as the universal “save” icon in many computer programs. But floppy disks are no longer used for saving things (for the most part,) and many young people have probably never even seen or held one.

Wikipedia defines a skeuomorph thusly:

[It] is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original. Examples include pottery embellished with imitation rivets reminiscent of similar pots made of metal and a software calendar that imitates the appearance of binding on a paper desk calendar. The term ‘skeuomorph’ is compounded from the Greek: skéuos, σκεῦος (container or tool), and morphḗ, μορφή (shape). It has been applied to material objects since 1890 and is now also used to describe computer and mobile interfaces.

Webster’s 3rd International Dictionary contains 472,000 words, of which I know but a fraction. Despite the fact that my education has not been wanting and it takes a concerted effort to get me scurrying to the dictionary, this was a new one on me and I learned it over at reddit. It’s kind of like octothorpe, the ten-dollar word for the hash mark, number sign, or pound sign (#) now so commonly used at Twitter and elsewhere. #insanity

Some other examples of skeuomorphs:

800px-Aeg_peter-behrens03

An electric kettle in the form of a stove-top kettle.

Chrysler_Town_&_Country_Convertible_(Centropolis_Laval_'10)

This woody-style car, where the false wood grain is not part of the vehicle’s structure.

Redstair_GEARcompressor

Sofware interface for an audio program, designed to look like a physical device.

What got me thinking about this is a picture of some really old candy-heart type floppy disks that must have been manufactured in the 80s or thereabouts:

candy disks

Back then, these would have been much more recognizable than they are today.

So remember that the next time you click on the little disk icon to save your document, you’re using a skeuomorph.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

18th Century Language Map of Asia

1741 Language Map

(Full-size image available here.)

This intriguing linguistic map of Asia by Gottfried Hensel (Asia Poly-Glotta Linguarum Genealogiam, 1741) was found at Maps on the Web.

“The map presents the Lords Prayer in Asian languages and attempts to trace each back to Hebrew as was common at the time. Some interesting items are the scripts of Japan, Siberia, Mesopotamia, and eastern Anatolia. Also Southeast Asia using the Arabic script and Uzbeks using Chinese logographs is a unique sight.”

Now, I’m no linguist, but… oh, wait, I *am* a linguist… that “Japanese” script looks like sheer garbage. The only clue is the Latin inscription below it, which reads “these are written using the Brachmann method.” I have found no modern references to this. It could be some sort of phonetic transcription, which is odd given that various Chinese scripts are represented and the author of the map is no stranger to ideographic writing.

Recognizable are old variants of Hindi (again, a “Brachmann” version), Dravidian script (called “Malabar” here), Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaic, Chinese, Georgian, Syriac, Farsi, and Armenian.

Fascinating in any case.

The Old Wolf has spoken.