Why is most copywriting in Israel so dismal?

I don't know. That's the long and the short of it. Before I post my rapturous report on British copywriting, I'll treat you to a few examples of dismal local stuff:

1. Executive Suites?
On the site of Rishon LeZion's old central bus station, a few towers are being erected. Presumably, the ground floor is earmarked for business, while the remaining floors are residential. The building company, Tzarfati-Central , has been advertising in the local papers (Gal Gefen etc) for weeks.
Since I'm a compulsive reader of ads and marketing blurb, I read the ad attentively, though I'm really not looking for a flat.
The title, above the graphic representation of the future residential tower, says:

דירות מנהלים יוקרתיות
בנות 2.5 חדרים
במרכז ראשון לציון

[Literally: Prestigious Executive Apartments
of 2.5 rooms
in the center of Rishon LeZion]

The text at the bottom goes on to describe the perfect, prestigious 2.5 room "dirat menahalim".
I couldn't help but wonder: Who is this ad aiming at? Who's the target audience? What on earth kind of menahalim would want or need a two-and-a-half room flat in the old center of Rishon?
What is a "dirat menahalim", anyway? An executive apartment? I walk past the building site several times a week. The tower is currently 15 storeys high and counting, with four apartments per floor. Does Rishon really have dozens of "executives", or managers, who don't have where to stay the night, who can't travel back to their homes in far-away West Rishon, or Rehovot, or maybe even as far north as Tel Aviv, and need a special flat?... Or is dirat menahalim a euphemism for an apartment for one's mistress?... Or a place to hold meetings? I was totally mystified.

Well, I guess Tzarfati-Central aren't as dumb as I thought. They realized something was wrong with their ad. Maybe no executive picked up the phone…
Within a short time, the heading of the ad was changed, to read:

2.5 במרכז העיר. מושלם לכולם.
[I.e.: 2.5 in the center of town. Perfect for everyone.]
And underneath:
מתחם המגורים צרפתי סנטרל מציג בפניכם את הדירה המושלמת: דירת 2.5 חדרים שתתאים לכל שלב בחיים.
[Literally: the Tzarfati Central residential complex is introducing the perfect apartment: a 2.5 room apt that's suitable for every stage of your life.]

Guys, Tzarfati-Central, did you think this out carefully? Who buys brand-new 2.5 room flats these days, except pensioners going into a seniors' residence?.. Suitable for every stage in life? That's spreading it a bit thick…
Oh well. Why do I bother.

Dismal copywriting, Part II

Banks and insurance companies have plenty of resources. Big advertising budgets. They spend a fortune on ads. They nonetheless often come up with the most lackluster copy. But what happens when they want the ad to run also in the English language press?...

Years ago, when I worked for Bank HaPoalim's International PR department, my boss and I took copywriting very seriously. The department employed English-language copywriters and marketing writers. Or if the advertising agency provided an English version of an ad, my boss Sharon Gefen and I pored over it, agonized over the wording, and produced reasonably good stuff.

I don't know what Bank HaPoalim's practices are these days. But I saw the English version of their most recent ad before I saw the Hebrew. Once again, I flinched.
The huge ad, which appears in the Jerusalem Post and god knows where else, must have cost a fortune. (I don’t suppose the J. Post advertising department would tell me, if I called to ask how much.) The copy reads: Your money works for sure.


I can't blame the English translator. Unfortunately, I recently happened to find out how the J. Post translates at least some of the ads it carries: it gets the Hebrew version from the client, and pays some poor sod who does not insist on decent wages to translate the ad. The poor translator (who will remain poor if he/she continues to work for such abysmal rates) is given about 10 minutes in which to translate and send the stuff back to the draconian person in charge, who is likely to complain "what took you so long???"

As I studied those five words, "your money works for sure", I tried to do a back-translation and guess what the Hebrew was. Turns out is was just as lame as I thought:
הכסף שלך עובד בטוח

The ad was created by Gitam BBDO. I am sure their services don't come cheap. I know Israel has smart and creative copywriters, both in Hebrew and in English. So how come the agency can't come up with brilliant copy?...

Enough kvetching for one day. Next: Examples of British copywriting.

Nikolai V. Gogol Revisited

Warning: Spoiler below

The jury (of one) is in: Nikolai Gogol does not constitute escapist reading.

Yes, it is masterfully written; yes, it is scathing social satire and it can make you laugh. But as far as I (the jury) am concerned, none of this compensates for the basic cruelty underlying the story.

I simply couldn't bear to continue reading it.

After everything Arkady Arkakievich went through to acquire this precious warm coat, he is assaulted, his coat is stolen, he's bullied and humiliated by the authorities, and then he catches pneumonia and dies! My heart simply aches for him. I refuse to continue reading. I am told that his ghost continues to haunt other characters in the story. Serves them right. But a ghost's revenge is not good enough for me.

Maybe some day I'll feel strong enough to read the entire story and enjoy it for its pure literary merits plus social/philosophical commentary or what-have-you. But for now, Gogol is being banished to a shelf with Chekhov. He, too, breaks my heart with his stories, and I refuse to read any more of them until further notice.

Not-so-escapist reading, Take 2

And this time, I ran into trouble with an English translation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I bought the book The Woman Destroyed(1), which is a collection of three long short stories: The Age of Discretion, The Monologue, and The Woman Destroyed. So far, I've only read the first.

It's a good story, no doubt about that. But I had difficulty reading it because the translation was bumpy. I could feel the French trying to break through the contrived-sounding English. There is something to be said for a translation sounding a bit "quaint"; it adds to the foreign flavor. Obviously, I don't want to read a work of fiction by an eminent French writer, featuring distinctively French protagonists and a plot that takes place in Paris and environs, but sounding like something from the pen of Fay Weldon or Eudora Welty

Some people claim they can identify a film as being French even without hearing the dialogue, because of its special air; I often feel the same about French fiction – vive la difference.
So, it's okay for a translated story or novel to feel French… it's not okay for it to be bumpy or unclear.

The first bump was already in the title. Since I haven't yet read the third story, I don't know how "destroyed" the woman is. But my eldest, who recommended the book to me, said the Hebrew translation is called Isha Shvura(2), literally "a broken woman", while the original French is La Femme Rompue. I don't remember encountering the verb rompre in my 5 years of French way back in high school & university, and the dictionary definitions in French and in English weren't much help:

1° cesser d'entretenir des relations amicales avec quelqu'un.
2° briser, enfoncer par une forte poussée.
3° se séparer, se briser.
4° séparer, briser.

Broken, snapped, tired out, overwhelmed, etc.

According to the explanation of my colleague A.R., in this context "shvura" was probably closer to the writer's meaning than "destroyed". I don't know. But this mere not-knowing bothers me and gets in the way of my enjoyment of the text.

Further bumps quickly ensued. I just couldn't help feeling that the translation was lacking; not smooth; occasionally even jarring. There were quite a few unnecessary its littering the text, that seemed to stem from the French use of y. One of those things an editor should have ironed out.

An example that had me baffled is the following:
The unnamed protagonist, a woman who has just turned sixty or is in her early sixties, is talking about her mother-in-law, whom her husband just phoned: "She is sound in wind and limb and she is still a furious militant in the ranks of the Communist Party;"
I stopped dead in my tracks. Sound in wind and limb? Perhaps the translator meant spirit? Or mind? As in "sound in body and mind"? How on earth could he use "wind" instead of mind or spirit? What does the French source say?

Since I couldn't find the answer online, I wondered what the prolific Hebrew translator, Miriam Tivon, made of it.
Surprise, surprise. The Hebrew makes no mention either of wind or of mind or spirit:

"היא עומדת איתן על רגליה וראייתה תקינה; היא פעילה נמרצת בשורות המפלגה הקומוניסטית
[Transcription: Hee omedet eytan al ragleiha u-re'iyata tekina.]
What does good eyesight have to do with wind?... Can the French be so ambiguous, that one translator saw fit to translate it as eyesight and another thought that "wind" fits the bill?...

If any of you can solve this mystery for me, I'd be grateful.
Meanwhile, I will eventually read the other two stories in this volume, when I need a break from my usual escapist reading… After all, I recently got back from London, where I picked up two Darwins and a Ward/Brownlee that are waiting for me…


(1) Translated by Patrick O'Brian, Flamingo Publishers, 1984
(2) מצרפתית מרים טבעון, זמורה, ביתן - מוציאים לאור, 1984

Not-so-escapist reading

"… Or else I'll just switch to Nikolai Gogol ; I've always wanted to read The Overcoat."

Thus I innocently ended my last post, which was – I'm sorry to say – a longish time ago. And true to my word, I picked up Gogol's Peterbrugskie Rasskazy – Petersburg Tales – in its Hebrew version, Sipurim Peterburgyim – translated by Nili Mirsky(1) the cover showing a surreal pair of feet/boots, courtesy of Rene Magritte. My eldest is tremendously fond of Gogol, and confers this book as a gift on people she loves, hoping they'll appreciate it as much as she does.

I reached page 12, which is in fact but the 6th page since the story only begins on page 7… And I got stuck. Not because it was tremendously detailed, meandering, and slow, god forbid… but because I had some questions and wanted to discuss the story with my mom. She said "with pleasure, I've always wanted to read The Overcoat!" and so I Googled and found a few versions in English. And that's where my troubles began.

"כל הרשויות והשירותים למיניהם – אין רגזנים מהם בעולם"
"There is nothing more irritable than departments…", says Translation A. Oh yeah? "There is nothing more irritable than all kinds of departments," says Translation B; while translation C goes further and says "There is nothing in the world more readily moved to wrath than a department,…" and translation D says "For all these departments… all estates of government service – are the most bad-tempered lot."

And I can't help but wonder: What does it say in Russian? Which of these is closest to the original? Which version should I continue reading?... Whom shall I consult? I do have several Russian-speaking friends. Would they have a copy of the book handy? Shall I trouble them to look it up? And if they do, will they be able to explain to me the nuances of the original Russian?

If I were a university student, writing a paper on literature or translation, I'd happily read the entire versions A, B, C and D. But I'm a Working Person, or at least I'm trying to be one, things are rather slow at the moment; I don't do lengthy research just for the fun of it.

I did compare one more paragraph, the one describing the clerk, the owner of the overcoat:

קטן קומה, מחוטט במקצת, אדמוני במקצת, ולמראית עין אף סומא במקצת, קרחת לא גדולה על מצחו, קמטים משני צידי לחייו, וגון פניו מה שקרוי מוכה-טחורים... מה לעשות! אשם בזה אקלימה של פטרבורג.

Translation A:
See http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/g/gogol/nikolai/g61cl/index.html
"...short of stature, somewhat pock-marked, red-haired, and short-sighted, with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks, and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine. The St. Petersburg climate was responsible for this."

Translation B:
See http://www.geocities.com/short_stories_page/gogolovercoat.html
"...short of stature, somewhat pockmarked, rather red-haired, rather blind, judging from appearances, with a small bald spot on his forehead, with wrinkles on his cheeks, with a complexion of the sort called sanguine. How could he help it? The Petersburg climate was responsible for that."

Translation C:
See http://www.horrormasters.com/Text/a0857.pdf
"...he was short, somewhat pockmarked, with rather reddish hair and rather dim, bleary eyes, with a small bald patch on the top of his head, with wrinkles on both sides of his cheeks and the sort of complexion which is usually associated with hoemorrhoids… no help for that, it is the Petersburg climate."

Translation D:
From Nikolai Gogol, Plays and Petersburg Tales, Translated by Christopher English
Published by Oxford University Press, 1998, All rights reserved.
"He was shortish, somewhat pockmarked, with somewhat reddish hair, apparently with somewhat less than perfect eyesight, with a somewhat baldish pate, wrinkles on both sides of his cheeks and endowed with what might be called a haemorrhoidal complexion… Well, it can't be helped! St. Petersburg's climate is to blame."

The only reason I did not give the names of the translators of versions A, B and C is that none were in sight. Which I find very unfair.

I suppose in the final analysis it doesn't much matter which version I read. I could choose whichever flowed more naturally and be done with it. Then I could finally discuss it with my mom. All she was willing to say at this point was, that she enjoyed the first half, but lost patience with the story when it turned into a ghost story. The only ghost stories she has patience for are those along the lines of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost .

One of these days I will finish reading this slim volume. I know I will. And then I hope to come back to you with a report.

(1) ניקולאי ו. גוגול, סיפרוים פטרבורגיים, מרוסית: נילי מירסקי. הספריה החדשה, הוצאת הקיבוץ המאוחד / ספרי סימן קריאה, 1992

Escapist Reading

How would you define escapist literature? I suppose it means different things to different people. It could be anything from thrillers to romance novels, humor, fantasy, science fiction, cookbooks, or – one of my personal favorites – the Ikea catalogue.

I used to read a lot of thrillers. Our bookshelves still carry rows of Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton. For years I refused to read any Dick Francis thrillers on the grounds that I know nothing about horse racing and don't particularly care for horses, which are forever associated in my mind with Peter Shaffer's play Equus. But once I started, I got hooked and read them all (or very nearly all). I even went as far as asking to be taken to the races on a visit to England, to see with my own eyes what the fuss was all about.
However, in recent years I found that I've been taking these thrillers much too much to heart. I really worry about those fictional heroes. I can't bear to read about the beatings they take. I have nightmares about chases in dark alleyways. Let's face it – no matter where the action takes place, whether on Earth or in a "galaxy far far away", and no matter if the protagonists are flesh-and-blood, metal-and-silicone, or aether and thought-waves, the themes are always the same: war and strife, ambition and jealousy, love and hate. I have enough of all that here on Planet Earth, all around me. So I'm giving this genre a rest.

I also used to seek out novels and short stories that made me laugh and chuckle out loud – P.G. Wodehouse, Gerald Durrell, Robert Benchley, Ephraim Kishon, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, to name a few. Unfortunately, there seems to be a finite quantity of Really Funny literature out there. Writing humor – truly witty and funny, and that, in addition, says something meaningful about human nature, the human condition, the world we live in – is very difficult and requires rare talent.

So you see, there was a void in my life. A vacuum. And as you know, nature abhors a vacuum.

Said vacuum has for now been satisfactorily filled: I have stepped up my consumption of popular science. I find solace and peace of mind reading about how the universe came to be, black holes, the curvature of spacetime, teensy-weensy particles with weird names like the Higgs boson and the charm quark; the intricacies of supersymmetry, string theory, eleven dimensions and Calabi Yau shapes. Head-spinning stuff. (Pun intended for those in the know about spin, zero spin, half spin.)

Though it's called popular science, I don't really know how popular it is. For people like me, who studied in the Humanities track in high school and later concentrated on literature, linguistics and writing, all that physics is pretty mysterious stuff and makes for somewhat difficult reading. Especially at bedtime. As you probably know, Stephen Hawking' A Brief History of Time was a best-seller. But how many people have actually read it cover-to-cover? Or can tell you what it's about, beyond stammering "Well, yes, it's about… uh… the universe, and, uh… time…" And how many can point out that on page such-and-such (sorry, I should have marked it in pencil) he actually cracks a joke?... I wonder.

But, whatever I'm reading, an editor remains an editor. I read, pencil in hand, circling difficult words and unfamiliar concepts to be looked up later (or rather, the following day); I add "ha!" in the margins when the writer manages to amuse me (some writers try too hard); I underline Important Passages, hoping that they'll stick in my mind; and I put an exclamation mark in the margin when I find a mistake. Obviously, in any fat book you're bound to find small errors that eluded the editor and the proofreader. But some mistakes are worth mentioning – at least to fellow language pros.

The Life & Death of Planet Earth (Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee) is a fascinating, thought provoking book, though not recommended for born-worriers who are not consoled by the fact that the calamities described are millions of years in the future. It also contains typos, missed words, and a few strange grammatical constructions. On the subject of Earthlings "colonizing" Mars, it says on page 201: "The problem is not technology per say, it is the cost." Well. I can't argue with the writers about when the next Ice Age may be, but "per say"???

My current head-spinner is Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics. I won't give away any of the juicy details, in case you want to read it some day. But I assure you Smolin goes to great lengths (as great as you can without involving actual calculations and formulas) to explain why physics has not advanced as much as it should have in the past decades. Compared to previous books I read, this one is somewhat less escapist, because it covers a lot of conflict and competitiveness within professional circles. I'll try to skip those passages. Or else I'll just switch to Nikolai Gogol; I've always wanted to read The Overcoat.


Reading List (partial)
Carl Sagan: Billions and Billions
Brian Greene: The Fabric of the Cosmos; The Elegant Universe
Paul Davies: About Time; The Origin of Life
Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee: The Life and Death of Planet Earth
Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
Terry Pratchett, with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen: The Science of Discworld I, The Science of Discworld II, The Science of Discworld III

Some respect for the dead – part two

By total coincidence, without any connection to my previous post mentioning my late father and my late sister, this post too concerns the dead. But this time I'm referring to Israel's dead, and more specifically, the fallen in Israel's wars.

After much begging and pleading on the part of a certain client who shall remain nameless but for whom I try to avoid working since they pay peanuts, I agreed, as a personal favor, to translate a brochure about the rights of families of fallen soldiers. Obviously, the subject is not new – the country has been dealing with it for over 60 years. Yes, the laws and rules change. But it is an ongoing thing, it's not a new project. Why on earth should this brochure suddenly be super urgent and ready for print within a few days is beyond me. I feel like storming into the government office in charge and bellowing at the officials: Excuse me, who's in charge here? Why hasn't this brochure been drafted ages ago? Do you have an earlier version, perhaps, which only needs some updating or tweaking? Why are you pressuring me to translate it within two days? Who on earth wrote this ghastly, inarticulate, substandard Hebrew text in the first place? Why didn't you have the Hebrew text edited by a professional before dumping this garbage in my lap?

I'll spare you examples – it would bore you to tears. But I will share with you a few small things that bothered me.

משפחת חלל הבוחרת לקבור את יקירהּ בבית עלמין אזרחי ומעדיפה מצבה אזרחית , זכאית להשתתפות במימון הקמת המצבה לאחר הגשת חשבונית מס/קבלה.

This concept of "hishtatfut" recurs throughout the document: the branch or department in question apparently share the cost of various expenses, or give partial reimbursement for various expenses. Thing is, it's impossible to tell from the sloppy Hebrew when the department/branch picks up the entire tab and when it only defrays part of the expense. Perhaps the vagueness is intentional; after all, this brochure apparently comes merely to give widows and orphans an inkling of what they're entitled to, and to urge them to contact the very willing, able, and "service-oriented" staff of the department in order to לממש את ההטבות. "Lemamesh et hahatavot", in case your browser doesn't handle Hebrew fonts:
עובדי היחידה להנצחת החייל עוסקים בכל הקשור לקבורה ולהנצחת הנופלים ומימוש הטבות הנוגעות לכך.

Doesn't this strike you as a weird choice of words? A person who has lost his/her spouse in the line of duty is entitled to certain benefits. But to actually get those benefits, you of course have to follow the Red Tape Road. The meaning is clear, yet the Hebrew words grate and cause me to wince. Perhaps I've been exposed to too much advertising blurb; the last time I saw this expression – mimush hatavot -- it was à propos a voucher for a discount at a fashion outlet.

I go to the website of the Ministry of Defense and notice that there is some mention of this agency loosely translated as Family and Commemoration Branch and its activities. Great, I think to myself. I'll just go to the English section of the website and I'll find out what's what. A few mouse-clicks later I discover that the Spokesperson Announcement page was last updated on July 24, 2007. Well over a year ago. I bet rivers of Spokesperson Announcements have since flowed in Redtapeland. The pages to do with commemoration have not been translated into English at all. But wait, there's a separate commemorative website, as I recall! www.izkor.gov.il. No, sorry, no help there, either. The only page in English is the "Notes to Site Visitors".
So, I and my colleague S.G. struggled with the Hebrew to the best of our abilities. I apologize to any English speaker who eventually reads those hastily-prepared brochures and who finds them, um, lacking.

Some respect for the dead

Today, Sept. 21, is my father's 8th yahrzeit. I'm collecting a few pictures of him which I will take with me when going to visit my mother in hospital. We'll sit and reminisce about him. Nachum (Normi) Rimon was a very nice guy, a good father, had a wonderful sense of humor, and is partly responsible for my mixed-up American-Canadian-nondescript accent. My mother says "envelope", pronouncing the en as in "entertain"; my father used to say "onvelope", pronouncing the en like in French, as in "en route". When asked a question calling for his opinion, my father often began with the preamble "Well, I'll tell ya…, " Only on my recent visits to Canada, upon hearing my dad's sister use the same expression, did it occur to me that it's a Canadian thing. (What say you guys – is it?)

At bedtime, my mother used to sit beside me and read to me from A.A. Milne, Anna Sewell, Mother Goose, Golden Books, and many more. My mother, a stage and film actress, has excellent diction and delivery that made the stories all the more compelling. My father used to sit beside me at bedtime and answer my questions about Life, the Universe and Everything. He didn't have all the answers, of course; but he always encouraged me to ask, to question, to apply critical thinking. Some would say, to criticize :-)

Ever since my only sister, Evelyn Lucy Rimon, died in a car accident (February 1984), I've been a compulsive reader of car accident reports. Perhaps to remind myself that what happened to my sister, to my family, is not at all unusual and in fact happens every day to someone, somewhere. My sister died in Van Nuys, CA -- where she was living at the time -- on her way back from the graveyard shift at Something Reservations where she worked as shift supervisor. Some stupid moron (pardon the language, I'm still mad at him) in a truck either fell asleep at the wheel or was drunk, swerved out of his lane and crashed into her car head on. As my dad used to say by way of slight comfort, the poor kid probably never knew what hit her.
I don't have the obituary handy, but I do recall the Jerusalem Post managed to make a mistake in it. And I was reminded of this over my breakfast coffee, as I scanned the News in Brief section on page 3, as is my wont, and saw the following, under "Two dead in road accidents":
"In the early morning, one of two young men seriously injured in a three-car traffic accident on the Ayalon highway, near the JNF interchange, died from his injuries."
Excuse me. Ayalon does not have a JNF interchange. It has a Keren Kayemet interchange. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_20_(Israel). Yes, I know KKL translates as JNF. Still, this is not what the interchange is called or known as.
This might seem trivial to most readers. But not to me. Not as a translator, not as an editor, and certainly not as someone who has lost her sister in a car crash. I want the facts to be recorded accurately. Go do me something.

Sorry I missed the ITA AGM & Lecture

I really meant to go. I signed up (at least I think I did!) and was looking forward to it. But by late afternoon, after hours at Ichilov, I couldn't face it.
No sooner did we get used to the routine in Rehab, when an infection required that Mom undergo surgery -- a procedure called debridement ("hatraya" in Hebrew), explained to us by an adorable nurse named Monica, in fluent English, no less!) and we're back to Square One (well, nearly) in the Russian-dominated Orthopedics Department.
I kissed my mom and her sweet Filipina care-giver, and once again negotiated the endless corridors, stairwells and escalators in order to find my car and drive off into the congested Ayalon traffic.
But guess what? after a whole month of walking and inspecting those corridors, I finally found something!!! On floor -2, across the hall from the operating theaters, there's a place for families to "hang out", or hang out to dry. The sign says:

Waiting Room

I assume they mean "a waiting room for adults", though I'm sure I didn't see a separate waiting room for kids… Nor do I think they meant that the waiting room itself is "adult", as opposed to what, a juvenile waiting room?... Or perhaps it's the waiting room for relatives of adults undergoing surgery, while children's surgery and waiting rooms are elsewhere.
Still, if this is the worst I could find, linguistically speaking, someone at Ichilov deserves a medal!

Stranger in My Own Land

Say you're in a foreign country. Business or pleasure, no matter. You go to a hairdresser, or worse – a dentist or a doctor, because you have no choice, it's something that won't wait until you get back home. The person taking care of you knows some English – enough for you to explain what's the matter, what you need. He or she nods and sets to work. Then he and his colleagues start babbling in their own language and don't stop until the moment has come for you to get up, pay, and continue on your way. You have no idea what they're on about. They talk animatedly, totally engrossed in their chat. Their hands do what they're supposed to, be it clipping your hair or filling the cavity in your tooth; but the rest of them just isn't there. You don't know if they're discussing last night's date, a TV show, the political situation, the style of your clothes or the color of your skin.

Sounds familiar?

This happens to me very often, in my own country, Israel. And the language spoken all around me is – you guessed it – Russian.

I can't blame the Russian speakers. People automatically revert to their mother tongue whenever possible. Why on earth should the dentist and his assistant break their heads trying to speak Hebrew for my sake, when they can pass the time and prattle comfortably in their native tongue?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been spending much time in the freezing cold corridors and rooms of Ichilov hospital. Actually, my mother has been transferred to the Rehab wing of the hospital, in case you're interested. That's the good news. The bad news, linguistically speaking, is that the situation here isn't any better. The nurses and "koach ezer" (auxiliary staff?) at the nurses' station, in the dining room, in the corridors and bedrooms, for the most part speak Russian. Yes, occasionally – when they absolutely must – they address my mother or me in Hebrew. A few of them make an effort and say a few sentences in English. But most of the time, we are completely left out. We're the foreigners. We don't understand the local idiom.
When this happens at the hairdresser's or at the supermarket, it may be unpleasant, but it's not that bad. However, when you're hospitalized and feeling vulnerable, dependent, anxious – it's far worse.

I can bring you a note from my mother

My colleague P., who had not written in his blog for about 2 months, picked up the thread with an apology and an explanation for his long absence: he was busy with his exams. For P's sake, I hope that he has ardent followers who really missed his blog, accepted his apology and explanation, and were delighted to read him again.

As for me, I have two excuses, or explanations, for my longish silence:
1. I had nothing interesting to write about
2. I've been dealing with a family crisis – Mom (90+) is in hospital with a broken hip. I can provide you with a note from her, or from one of her friendly orthopedic surgeons; I like Dr. Shapira best, he has incredibly good bedside manners! I suspect he studied abroad; perhaps on the set of E.R. or some such place, where doctors are so sympathetic, understanding, caring, and always have time to actually talk to the patients and their families.

Of the two explanations above, #1 is actually the more inexplicable and disturbing. Weeks go by, and I have nothing to complain about? How is that possible?! Has everyone started writing perfect Hebrew/English, or have I stopped reading, lost my critical skills, or what? I've been roaming the corridors of Ichilov hospital, a.k.a. Sourasky Medical Center, for over two weeks now, and haven't yet seen anything worth reporting to you folks. Not one misspelled sign or awkwardly phrased notice. Weird.

The good ol' J. Post and the local weeklies, of course, continued to supply me with "material", but it's all such petty stuff. For instance:

1. In honor of the new school year, the Gal-Gefen weekly carried a full page color ad for what the advertiser calls Israel's largest tiks portal… I kid you not: www.tiks.co.il .

2. Danone wants to convince you all to eat more of its health-promoting yogurt. So first they place a plain text ad that looks purely informative. In this ad they manage to spell their product both "yogurt" and "yoghurt" within the same line; they claim that their product contains – get this – bio-bacteria (er, as opposed to what other kind of bacteria?...) and invent a fancy, scientifically-sounding name for it. Then they follow up with a huge color ad, with English text that is painfully translated from the Hebrew: "I have a terrible 'balagan' in my stomach, I feel so bloated…", complains Girl in White; "I felt the same until I tried Activia…" chirps Girl in Blue.
I agree that an Israeli English speaker may indeed say something like that. And since the target audience is us English-speaking Israelis, maybe this Heblish is fine. Maybe.
Forgetting about the Heblish, I always get upset by the way the gullible public drinks in the dairies' pretentious claims about their "special" products with their "special" bacteria.

3. And last for today, before I rush off to visit Mom in Ichilov: The J. Post, in its Classifieds section, carried the most amusingly written ad today, and I quote, verbatim:

We are looking for job seekers that
will server as our representatives
and receive money from our clients
abroad which will be earning 10%
Of the amount received every week.
(Average Income Every
Week $1,200)
If you are Interested, Get back to me
with the below information's (Full Name
+ address, Tel. number, Sex, E-mail,
Occupation) and respond to this email address

My interrupted copywriting career

The most appealing copy I've seen in a long time is very short and simple. It says: Buy less.

Obviously, that's not all it says. It goes on to elaborate and in fact encourages you to buy. It wants you to buy 2 expensive outfits designed and sold by Some Like it Cool rather than 4 cheapies by Some Like it Hot.

Whatever the customer and the clever copywriter intended, the effect on me was quite the reverse. I absorbed and retained only the first two words, which were music to my ears and soothed my soul: Buy less.

(Actually, a more accurate translation of the Hebrew would be "buy sparingly". But in my mind it came to mean "buy less.")

My house is full of stuff, my wardrobe full of clothes I don't wear. I don't want to want more. I don't want to buy more. I want to want less. I would like to make do. But it's so difficult, with temptations all around. Mind you, it's easier not to buy when you live on a quiet, residential side street with no shops than when you live right smack in the center of expensive Tel Aviv, as I did in my late twenties to late thirties.

In my late twenties I fell in love with copywriting. Inventing witty slogans seemed to me a great way to make a living in a "fun" way. One of the very few places offering a course in advertising and PR at the time was ORT Adult Education. I signed up and took a two-semester course consisting of evening classes once a week. I was good at it and enjoyed it. Upon completing the course, I somehow made contact with three advertising agencies and one PR company and was given the odd copywriting assignment.

I honestly don't remember what I wrote. The only "copy" that sticks in my mind to this very day is a radio jingle, exhorting people to take their dirty coats and carpets to the dry cleaning chain Somewhere Over the Rainbow, because they have a special offer! Quick, go there today, while the offer lasts!

Being introduced as "The Copywriter" and sitting in the recording studio while the actor/singer belted out "my jingle" with the immortal words "Rush to the Rainbow", was heady stuff…

Disillusionment sank in pretty fast… I do not intend – I said haughtily to myself and to anyone who would listen – to spend my time and my talent persuading people to use Toothpaste Bright rather than Toothpaste White! And so I ditched copywriting for a couple of decades, feeling rather virtuous.

These thoughts came to me the other day, as I was breaking my head trying to find an intriguing sentence for the Subject line of a marketing email; one which would make the company's CEO actually read the email rather than press Delete.

The marketing letter is intended for a U.K. audience, and in my attempt to get into a British frame of mind, I pulled out half a dozen Monty Python Flying Circus videos; several P.G. Wodehouse novels which by now also bring to mind Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves; and for a dash of racing terminology I threw my mind back to several enjoyable Dick Francis thrillers. All that was missing was a good source for cricket and golf related idioms.

Several hours later, I still had no brainwave for the promotional letter; but I sure had a jolly good time with those videos!

Translators: It's not you, it's the author!

Yesterday I had a pleasant surprise: the book I translated (English>Hebrew) last summer, called The Last Summer, has been published, and I got two free copies in the mail! Since most of my work is not in the field of fiction, and I am not used to seeing my name on the title page, it was really neat. I was tickled pink.

Leafing through the book, I was reminded of the tricky bits. The unclear sentences, the glaring grammatical errors. The things that annoyed me as I was working and made me wonder whether the novel had been edited at all, and if so, why had the editor done such a shoddy job.

A few small examples:
1. "She looked over his shoulder, straight past his head, but still he caught the dot in her eye." – Excuse me? What dot?

2. " Riley had her sock feet on the kitchen table…" – Yes, we do understand that she was wearing socks (as opposed to being barefoot or having shoes on) – but that doesn't make it good English.

3. "When she felt joy, Alice stayed small and to the edges."
- I know there's such a thing as poetic license, but... This simply does not strike me as good writing.

4. "I'm having lots of dreams." [Says Riley, who is running a temperature.] "Nice ones?" "Some. All kinds. I don't think I could divide out nice." – Don't tell me this is good English.

3. "She gave him/her a look." – Perfectly legitimate expression. Except when it's overused, and appears without enough context, so there's no way of telling what kind of look it was!

And these examples are mild ones, compared to the more baffling expressions my colleagues have been coping with!

More recently, I was helping out Daughter #1 who was translating a novel, English > Hebrew. That novel, which the publisher obviously expected to be a best-seller, suffers mainly from atrociously written dialogue. The writer seems to have made every conceivable mistake that creative-writing workshops try to warn against and nip in the bud. So much worse for this novel, because content-wise it is quite interesting, and the epilogue even made it rather touching. I suspect that the publisher, in the interest of making money fast, figured he could get away with little or no editing, counting on the exotic aspects of the book (the Far East, sex, blondes, men, booze, drugs) to sell the book, regardless of really crappy dialogue and other major stylistic faults. I found it insulting that the publisher assumed that the readers would either not notice or not care about the poor writing and editing, so long as the subject matter was titillating enough.

As we all know from experience, translating poorly written texts, whether in fiction, expository prose, user manuals or whatever, is the bane of our existence; what we call in Hebrew "maka she'lo ktuva ba'tora". But I find it most annoying when it occurs in fiction. When a novel is written by an acclaimed author of whom you've grown to expect good writing, you take the obscure phrase or sentence quite seriously. You question yourself before you question the writer. You give the author credit and try to figure out what the phrase means and why he/she chose to make the meaning ambiguous or obscure. Then you proceed to find the best equivalent. Sometimes it's possible to consult the author, and I am told that in such cases the author is very happy to explain.

But what about Grade B or C novels? Pulp fiction? Sloppily written books, novels by dilettantes, amateurs, untalented wannabe-writers who somehow nonetheless get their stuff published? What are we to do when we come across meaningless babble? As professionals, we of course must do our best. For years I've been telling my colleagues (in my Editor's Letters, in lectures, presentations, and any other opportunity I get) that the GIGO approach doesn't work; it just boomerangs and ruins one's reputation.

Nonetheless, I think some translators exhibit too much misplaced respect for the printed word.

I expect some to come down on me like a ton of bricks for making the above statement. But I stand by my words. C'mon guys, admit it: some texts are simply badly written. We all occasionally come across pretentious, obscure phrases that don't mean anything. The writer may have had something very specific in mind, or not. We will never know, because he/she did not communicate it properly.

Again: First you make sure that it's not you, it's the writer. So you consult your native-speaking friends and you post questions to translators' lists. In the case of unintelligible gobbledygook, opinions will vary vastly. As I said above, when the writer is Henry James, you give him the benefit of the doubt. Ah, you say, he made this sentence ambiguous on purpose, because he wanted the reader to see that Mr. Highbrow could have understood it to mean xxx while Miss Prettyface might have understood it to mean yyy. But when the novel is by an as-yet unknown quantity (or worse, by a Known Previous Offender) you have got to trust your own better judgment.

Good luck!

Ivrit kasha safa – it's a tough language

It's easy to laugh at mistakes. Perhaps it's not fair to laugh at the translator who translated the full-page color ad on page 3 of Friday's Metro supplement of the Jerusalem Post. But I can't help it – it was funny, and I can't help wondering who's responsible, how much this huge ad cost, and how other readers reacted to the weird address prominently displayed at the top of the page.

See, there's this company that holds sales of art reproductions, prints, and possibly also originals. Once in a while they advertise a big sale offering great bargains. They usually rent a hall in some public building.

The ad in the J. Post says:

We are forced to close our chain of galleries and must sell all of our stock at

"Bayit Yeudi Beserbia"

Tel Aviv

I wonder how many readers blinked and said the proverbial "Huh?..."

I don't know how many Jewish homes there are in Serbia these days…

I do know that there is no building by that name in Tel Aviv; the Hebrew name of the building is Beit Yehudei Besarabia, commemorating Jews from that area of what was at the time Romania.

No doubt about it, Hebrew can be a pretty awkward language. Even native Hebrew speakers are sometimes confounded by words written without nikud. If it's a word you've never come across before, if there's no context, if it can be read in several ways.

On the other hand, some combinations are so common and familiar, that they're a dead giveaway. For example, the "beit" in words such as beit sefer, beit holim.

We're also used to seeing this combination in names of buildings: Beit Asia – Asia House; Beit Tzionei American – ZOA House, and so on and so forth.

Whoever translated the ad obviously went to the trouble of looking up at least some things; otherwise he/she could not have guessed, for example, how to spell the name of the artist Pichhadze; on the other hand, he/she would have known to write Ruth Schloss, not Schlos. So I'm rather mystified, that's all.

Ruminations of a frustrated blogger

I wake up in the morning, my head teeming with brilliant ideas. Okay, at least they seem brilliant through the mist of half-sleep. They may dull a bit upon closer inspection, by the cold (30 deg. C) harsh light of day.

By the time I've showered and done my sun salutations on the narrow strip of relatively dust-free floor alongside my bed, half the post is written in my head.

If I'm lucky, I get to jot down a few ideas in my notebook (not Notebook) during breakfast. I have some really witty phrases, scathing remarks and entertaining quips dancing in my mind just begging to be put into Word.

But then the Work Day begins, and all my creativity is steamrolled out of me by the Exigencies of Life.

Said Exigencies currently comprise two chief culprits:

- My kitchen-in-the-making, already alluded to in my previous, klappa-related post (June 24th, 2008)

- The City of Rishon LeZion and its Roadworks Department, currently tearing up the road right under my window.

The only two rooms in the house that have escaped a fate worse than dust are our bedroom, which is only marginally messier than normal, and the tiny lavender-colored (your fault, Sparklette) aptly-named Water Closet known in Hebrew as sherutim, i.e. services, which I've always found funny, as I still half expect the tiny "room" to address me with a polite "How may I be of service, Ma'am," when I step in.

Of all the 1,675 streets in Greater Rashlatz, they had to start digging up mine. Again. This time it's with the purpose of scraping and resurfacing it. Do you know what a huge, noisy, green-or-yellow monster it takes to scrape yon road with deep ruts, like a stainless steel fork through a bed of mashed potatoes? Actually yes, I'm sure most of you know.

I've turned down job after unappealing job with the excellent excuse that I just can't concentrate.

Micha the shiputznik (handyman? Renovations contractor?) – the one who addresses me as "motek" -- and his two aides de camp, Simon and Moses, stride in around 8 a.m., and head straight for the coffee corner I set up not far from the rubble, in what used to be my lounge.

As I stare at the ruins, I begin to wonder if I know what I'm doing, and what was so terribly wrong, anyway, with my old kitchen.

Hubby and I have migrated to the front porch. Which overlooks the street where those big yellow monsters go garrumphing by. We set up our dinette table in-between our desks, after having sent the two large potted plants for some R&R with the next-door neighbor, bless her.

* * *

Well, patient readers, this is as far as I got. No need to bore you with all the grimy details. The deed is done. The kitchen is up and running. Well, not by itself, of course. It still requires some human input and elbow-grease. If you want to see it, here's the link to the pictorial saga: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninush/

If you want advice on how not to order a new kitchen, feel free to contact me.

The dangers of phone consumer surveys

My colleague Miriam Erez contributed the following:

"Last night I answered a phone consumer survey on moist wipes (yes, I do this if I have time, having once done this job and thus testifying that it's one of the hardest jobs I've done. Plus I actually enjoy them!). Anyway, moist wipes. The caller repeatedly asked for my evaluation of various properties of (a list of) moist wipe products that included *Farsh Wahnz* and a product I'd never heard of called *AH-geese*. The survey took 18 minutes (even though she told me it would take eight). It wasn't 'til Minute 15 that it dawned on me: *AH-geese* > Huggies!"

- I don't know how many of you are familiar with Israeli slang, but my daughter-in-law uses "farsh" quite often, to describe things that are lame, unsatisfactory, shvach (Yiddish) or schwach (German).

Miriam continues:

"Well I sure wasn't gonna 1) embarrass her and 2) take up more of my own leisure time by informing her that due to her inability to correctly pronounce the name of the product she's supposed to be surveying, we'd have to backtrack and change all my *AH-geese* answers (all of which were "never heard of it"). If it throws off their results, serves them right for 1) Not localizing the product's name (*chibuki*?) and 2) Having failed to localize, neglecting to instruct the public in how to correctly pronounce it. Aaargh!"

The things we Israeli translators take for granted…

I suspect there isn't a single Israeli, no matter of what descent or ethnic community, who does not recognize Russian when he or she hears it spoken. Wherever we go, we hear Russian olim conversing with each other; on the bus, at the supermarket, in line for the post office or the doctor. You don't have to be a linguist to recognize the sound of the language. But what about, say, Rumanian, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, or Serbo-Croatian …? Some people would go "Pshaw! Obviously! How can you confuse them? Each has such a distinctive sound!" Others may shrug – "they all sound more or less the same to me." But I'm sure no one would think for a moment that those languages are the same, or at least so similar that any speaker of one would automatically understand speakers of the other.

"I was surprised to learn," says the university-educated American heroine of this novel I'm reading (not exactly of my free will) "that the Romanian language is not similar to Russian at all, despite the proximity of the two countries."


Long Live Kitchen Klappot?

Klappot, according to today's kitchen designers, are in. "Zeh ma she'holech hayom" – it's le dernier cri, as the pushy designers keep telling me. Or at least they kept telling me, until I shook them off and chose a carpenter who still remembers how to make ordinary cabinets and doors (which, not surprisingly, are cheaper than klappot).

The subject of klappot recently came up on the Hebtranslators list on Yahoo Groups. By now – late June – I'm quite the expert; but when I first set foot in the sumptuous show rooms of several large kitchen companies, I was ignorant.

My Facebook friends may have noticed recently that I am considering the advantages of living in a cave. It says so in my "status", which has not changed in a while, because I am still considering.

I can tell you right off the bat that the main advantage of living in a cave would be that no cabinet maker or handyman would pursue me there with outrageously expensive proposals for renovating my kitchen. Not worth their while; caves don't usually have kitchens.

Yes, I know, I should be grateful that I have a kitchen and the wherewithal to refurbish it. Many people would be happy to have a kitchen half the size of mine – though in that case the fridge and stove/cooker would have to move out to the hall and they might have to eat on their laps. But – take my word for it – my kitchen cabinets, their door hinges beyond repair and the drawers beyond salvation, are about to come crashing down, dishes and all. The old terrazzo tiles are badly chipped, the fridge manufacturer has long ago run out of spare parts, our technician barely recognizes the model, I can't reach anything on the top shelves without a stepladder (dangerous for osteoporosis-prone ladies), and, in short, I had all the excuses I needed for ordering a new kitchen.

So how dare I complain?!

Um… who's complaining? I'm just, like, sharing.

Back to the klappot business. As the helpful folks on Hebtranslators list pointed out, this contraption comes to replace ordinary cabinet doors; it has special hinges and it opens upwards. See illustration 1 and Illustration 2, for instance.

I thought it was a funny name, possibly onomatopoeic in origin: clap, clap!

The klappot they (Décor, Regba, Topaz) were trying to sell us were huge, at least a meter long each. Can you imagine pushing up a 120 x 40 cm horizontal door, just in order to get out your favorite coffee mug each morning?... Seems somehow inefficient to me. Not to mention expensive. Yes, klappot are in – they're fashionable, expensive, and being aggressively promoted by most kitchen companies. Are they here to stay? Probably not. One day an alien archeologist will say: "Hmm… see this large flap with the primitive bit of metal looking somewhat like a hinge? Indicates early 21st century interior. Let's tag it and bag it. Was called a klappa if I'm not mistaken."


Tourism Text and Pizza

When the girl from the agency said there's another hotel leaflet on its way to me (see previous post), she added that the translator was given my corrections and said he'd do his best to incorporate them. Great. He really did. On the other hand, he made the following new mistakes:


Mangled English

תאטרון בובות

A doll-house theater [should be: puppet theater]

מול חנות הדראגסטור

Opposite the Dereg-Store [should be: drugstore]

Other than that and skipping five non-consecutive paragraphs, he did fine.


A certain popular pizza chain is opening a new branch a few hundred meters from my home. I refuse to give it publicity by stating its name and providing a link, because their copywriting offends me!

The beautifully designed brochure was delivered to my mailbox, and I read it not so much because I was dying to know what new toppings they have (none) but because I was curious about the copywriting: is it well-written? Original? Convincing? Is the register just right?

It's only a pizza; so the word ביס , originating in Yiddish but very common in Hebrew, is fine with me; no need to use the higher-register נגיסה.

But the following sentences managed to annoy me:

בין ביס לביס הם כבר בוחרים לעצמם את הסלייס הבא.

יש לכם הזדמנות לקחת סלייס מההצלחה...

Is this the latest English word to become "in", or איני , as they say in Hebrew?...

Suspicious Minds

As I was editing a tourism-related leaflet, translated from Hebrew to English, I found myself wishing that the translator had applied some healthy skepticism, or critical thinking.

On the whole, it was an excellent translation. The text flowed smoothly and gracefully, describing the various amenities and services at the Hotel de Kef, practically making me want to pack a suitcase and go there pronto. Well, practically. I do remember what Israeli hotels catering to families are like during the summer vacation.

As I was saying, it was a good translation. So the mistakes were all the more conspicuous. No one's perfect, I know. And if you haven't lived in Israel long enough, pitfalls in the form of obscure Hebrew expressions are everywhere. That's why we need a finely-tuned ear and a suspicious-detective's approach.




קלאב אין אילת

This does not mean "a club in Eilat"… It's the name of a hotel, Club Inn Eilat.

פיצה משפחתית

In Israel, this refers to the size of the pizza, not to a type of pizza; it's not a home-style or family-style pizza, but a family-sized pizza, which would be either a Large or Extra Large or Super – depending on chain or brand.


The easy way out was to assume it meant some sort of "children's football"; but we shouldn't be assuming things. It's actually a respectable branch of sport in its own right (which I personally am not familiar with), called futsal. Follow the link; looks very macho to me.


I, too, used to render this as Jacuzzi, until my daughter in Canada informed me that not every hot tub is a Jacuzzi ® . It may eventually go the way of Hoover and similar, but not yet. Mind you, the first time I wrote "hot tub" in a text for local consumption, the client thought me an ignoramus who was not familiar with the term Jacuzzi… Can't win, eh?


This word has different connotations to different nationals… That's what localization is all about, right?

To the average Anglo, toast means a golden-brown slice of bread that has popped out of the toaster.

But when a café on Ben Yehuda street or a hotel pool-side bar offers "tostim", what you will get is a sandwich or large "beigaleh" with stuff inside (cheese, tomato, olives – whatever) which has been toasted or grilled in, well, you know, one of those contraptions that makes toasted sandwiches. According to my Canadian family, and supported by Google Image Search, it's simply a sandwich maker.

And since we're on the subject of hotels and tourism, two amusing transliterations into Hebrew, which required some sleuthing in order to discover the original:

Mangled Hebrew transliteration

Source language

מלון טוליפ פרו וילג'

Turns out that the Fattal (don't get me started on that name…) chain has a hotel in Eilat called Golden Tulip Privilege Eilat. The Hebrew text transformed "privilege" into "Pro Village"…

פארק גוטה

I had no idea what park this referred to… Seems that the hotel in question, in Weimar, Germany, is located near Goethe Park…

Ministers' Speeches & Press Releases – Take Two


Someone Should Tell Pooh Bah the Truth about Time Travel

Scene I

The other day I went through the unsettling experience of "doing something" with excerpts from a government minister's speech pasted together in the form of a press release.

I say "do something" because it started out as a Hebrew-to-English translation and ended up as retroactive editing, as it were.

What's the big idea, I ask?!

Perhaps if I were dealing directly with Pooh-Bah's Bureau, things would be different. Perhaps I could then say to the girl manning (tee-hee) Pooh-Bah's desk, "Lookie, Motek," I'd say to her (picked that one up from my carpenter and my handyman, who address me thus) "next time you know your boss is planning to give a speech at an international conference or State ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries, please send me his speech a day or two before the event." (See, I'm being reasonable, I'm not asking to have it a whole week before the event which was, presumably planned and scheduled months earlier.) "If it's in Hebrew, (goes this imaginary conversation) I'll translate it. If it's in the minister's personal dialect of English, I'll, um, polish it."

But no.

I get the job from Yum-Yum, who got it from Pitti-Sing, who got it – but there the trail is lost, disappearing in a tangle of red tape.

Scene II

… so I start translating this speech about the importance of this or that national resource, or the lamentable lack thereof, and what billion-dollar-project has to be done about it and whose palms have to be Nivea'ed…

… and suddenly – Clink! A penny drops. This speech was given at the recent Green Eggs & Turkey Ceremony, which took place at the Institute of Higher Skullduggery, and was attended, among others, by my colleague M who distinctly said that Pooh-Bah spoke in English!

So why on earth am I being asked to translate it from Hebrew into English?

Scene III

A few urgent phone calls and emails later, Yum-Yum says Pitti-Sing says thank you for pointing this out, here is the speech in English, which she obtained from Peep-Bo, who obtained it from – oh, never mind, and would I please, um, "go over it" before it's placed on the appropriate government website.

Once more, with feeling:

I don't know if Pooh-Bah wrote this stuff himself. If so, he should have a Copy Editor. If he wrote it in Hebrew, he should hire a Very Good, if not Excellent, translator. You know – like one of us.

As it is, I'm at a loss. Scores – if not hundreds – of people heard the minister say that he intends to "flourish the desert". I can't travel back in time and have him say "make the desert flourish". I checked with Brian Greene to be on the safe side – can't be done.

Someone had better tell Pooh-Bah.

Who cares when you were born?!

Today I am translating a CV of a person in the hotel industry.

I don't like translating CVs, and try to get out of it when I can. Sometimes I can't, because it's for a friend or relative. If the job offer comes from an agency, I usually decline. It's simply not worth it. CVs are usually a headache; they're badly written; they contain words that are difficult or awkward to translate; they require a lot of looking-up, etc. And whereas a private client may be willing to pay NIS 90 or 100 per 250 words, agencies definitely are not. And 250 words of a CV are usually far more of a headache than 250 words of run-of-the-mill text.

Since I live in Israel and not in some Utopia, I know that most HR companies and HR departments expect to receive CVs written in a very specific format which is convenient for them: with your name and vital data right at the top, including very personal data such as your I.D. number and date of birth.

All that is bad enough. But why do people feel the need to add their marital status, how many children they have, the kids' ages, and that the latter are named Tommer, Tamir and Tammy? (No, not Tammy… that's an old fashioned name. She's probably called Stav or Tchelet.)

Others – and not only men -- tend to go into great detail regarding their military service: I served as a PZKR (or some such obscure acronym) of Hativat Trumpledor on Halleluiah Base in the Negev and had 60 servicemen and 20 latest-model APCs at my command.

I can think of very few jobs that would require such a detailed description one's IDF service. For example, if you're applying for the position of Arms Dealer or Weapons Instructor for a foreign government…

When I was working for an agency, henceforth to be referred to as The Gang, I instructed "les girls" – the post-army girls who are the link between customers and freelance translators -- to ask CV writers what their CV is intended for. In cases where it was intended for overseas consumption, I suggested some changes:

- No, no one cares, at this point, about your exact date of birth; they are not going to throw you a surprise birthday party.

- No, if you've completed your master's degree, no one cares which megama (track) you were in in high school, and whether it was in Bat Yam or Holon.

- If your prospective employer needs to know how many children you have in order to help arrange accommodation for you – that's a different story. But in general, your children are your own business and responsibility.

- As for your I.D. number – a foreign company definitely has no use for it; if you're applying for a job with an Israeli government office abroad, they probably expect it. But if you're applying directly to any company in Israel – there's no reason on earth to include this information in a first letter. Do you know how much information anyone, yes anyone, can find out about you if they have your ID number?...

- Lastly: There's no point in describing your English as "very good" or "high level", when the interview, if it's to be carried out in English, is sure to prove that you exaggerated a teensy bit…

And on that not-so-happy note, I shall get back to the CV I'm translating, and try to find a way of getting around the writer's misuse of the word "charismatic" in his description of himself…

How I ended up with egg on my face and learned a new word

Ah, got your attention, didn't I?!

The whole thing started as it often does, when a friend-of-a-friend etc contacted me about a piece of translation. The contacting lady was from Texas. Which isn't a bad thing in itself. The text was a kind of marketing letter sent out, presumably, by the Head Office of a certain chain of women's gyms, let's call it 2D (for reasons which will be made clear in a later post), to its various branches. The letter was proposing to the staff of the branches a way to drum up business.

Letter 1 in the correspondence went like this:


Hi Nina,

I got your reference from L. who is a friend of my colleague M. I wanted to see if you could send me your resume and rates for English into Hebrew translation as I had a small sample that I needed translated.




I duly sent CV and rates.
Letter 2 went like this:


Hi Nina,

Please can you quote me for translating the attached file and if you can send it to me ASAP.




There was an attached Word document of 382 words, plus the following brief instructions:

"The purpose and audience for the translation as follow:

  • The audience – franchisees i.e. owners of 2D clubs
  • The purpose – to communicate important business related information that would help franchisees with running their clubs successfully."

I thought I'd just do the best I can and send it off ASAP.

But, alas! I did not heed my own rules and warnings! What do I keep telling you? That poor source material is no excuse for poor end product. And besides – hahipazon hu mehasatan – perhaps you can think of a better translation than "haste makes waste", which the admirable Neri Sevenier's Thesaurus of Idioms and Phrases could not.

I did try. Since I was not familiar with the 2D chain, I Googled it; found the international website and the Israeli website. The Israeli website was really a mess -- someone had done a very literal translation. So it wasn't very useful. I also consulted a friend of my daughter, a young woman who is familiar with the women's fitness scene. Though I myself am not totally unfamiliar with it, having exercised with one of the leading chains for several years and having tried "co-ed" gyms too.

I must say I found the style of the Texas text a bit strange. Either because I'm not familiar with Texan English. Or else because whoever wrote the text had a strange style. Gai vais, as they say in Yiddish.

So I translated. I tried not to be literal. On the other hand I didn't leave anything out. I had not been asked for my 2c worth regarding the quality of the text or its appropriateness for international markets. I just translated. And wanted to send it out ASAP, to show I could provide "short turnaround time".

Many days passed.

When at last the response arrived, I was dumbstruck by the scathing criticism of my work. I just couldn't believe that the critique was leveled at me and referred to my, yes my work.

P., who had sent me the job, wanted to know what to tell the client.

Believe me, I told her. I found either an explanation or an excuse for every choice I made. But I had to admit (to myself, not to P.) that my translation was simply not good. It wasn't wrong; it just didn't have the right ring or feel to it. It was blah.

Days passed. P got back to me. The client is willing to give me (and her) a second chance, because they indeed had not made it clear that what they wanted me to do was not "to translate" but to "transcreate" the text …


Google it and ye shall find.

Personally, I think it's a way for clients to get out of commissioning (and paying for) copywriting. What they mean is, be creative, for heavens' sake; take the idea and write it up in your native language. Translating poetry, for example, is transcreation (assuming we allow the word.) You don't really translate a poem; you re-create an existing poem in your own language. Or perhaps the word is trying to imply that mere translation is technical and literal, whereas transcreation is creative and inspired.

What say you? Shall we embrace the new word or kick it out?

As for my "transcreation" efforts on behalf of 2D – the jury is still out. Will let you know. Maybe :-)

Hospital sign language

Can anyone tell me why the sign below causes me to shift uneasily?

The picture was taken in the waiting area of Assuta's shiny new building off HaShalom Road in Tel Aviv. But I wouldn't be surprised if similar signs are displayed in various other hospitals and clinics around the country.

I went for a bone scan, which entails being injected with a small amount of radioactive tracer that is "tagged" to a calcium like material. After being injected, patients are told to hang around for 3 hours to give the calcium time to circulate and be taken up by the bone. Patients then return to the Nuclear Medicine department for their scan.

Personally, I didn't hang around. I popped back home (well, actually, I was driven back home by my considerate hubby) to pass the time. Nonetheless, theoretically I was a "muzreket" (injectee?), waiting in the area designated for muzrakim only.

Don't know about you, but I find this sign very distasteful.