Castro Fashion in need of an English Editor

... but before you rush and send your CV or phone them up, look again. Yeah, they need an English editor -- they just don't know it, apparently!

This top is on display in their shop window in Kanyon Rothschild (which the new owners are trying to re-brand as G, but that's a different story) in Rishon.

As my daughter commented, "Too bad, it could have been a nice T if it didn't make me cringe every time I looked at it. "

More about Castro's choices in another post.

Translator, advertise thyself?

I look at the purple-and-pink, 1/8 page ad that cost me a small fortune, and wonder:

Was I mad, or what?

What was I thinking of, spending NIS 1400 (plus VAT) on an ad in a small local paper, sandwiched between Sarit who will wax your legs and pluck your eyebrows in Gedera, and a shop selling disposable tableware in Rehovot?

Who on earth did I think would read this ad? The chairman of a high-tech company in the Nes Ziona science park? A decision-maker in the PR department of the Weizmann Institute? I myself don't bother opening this weekly publication which gets delivered to my mailbox, except to find out where they're selling my favorite moisturizer at the best price (Kissme in Rishon Lezion – for NIS 45), or where I can get my mother's favorite perfume at a good price (Kolbo Haviv, on Herzl St. in Rishon.)

True, my accountant has been telling me, ever since our first meeting, that I must advertise, promote myself, actively look for new clients. That is, if I don't want to work for my previous employer for a measly NIS 50 shekels a page. But I don't think this is what he had in mind.

My (late) friend and colleague Clare Gordon said that she advertised in the Israel Bar Association's gazette (or newsletter or magazine or whatever it is), and that she did indeed receive work that way. So I suppose if you translate or edit in a very specific field, which has its own magazine, this could work. But so far I haven't been able to figure out if there's any magazine that would be relevant to me. The Association of Would-Be Writers? The Society of Mothers Whose Kids Live Across the Ocean? The Sorority of Sisterless Sisters? Surely not Forum Publishing?

I wonder if I'd have splurged on this ad had I met the rag's persuasive sales rep after listening to Micaela Ziv's lecture & presentation for the STC on March 16, 2008. Micaela said, among many other wise things, that all the money her company had ever spent on advertising brought in zero, yes zero, business. * Sigh *

Oh, wait! I did have one response to my ad. Young T., a graduate of Bar Ilan University's department of translation, currently working as a secretary, wondered whether I'd be interested in giving her work. I replied very politely, saying I'm a one-woman-band. I can't give her work, but I can give her advice. Other than not wasting money on a big ad in Gal Gefen, that is. I guess that counts for something, too.

For your entertainment, here's the ad; someone might as well see it!

Sorry, you can't say/write...

  • זרימת המידע מ- ולתוך הרשתות

As a translation of "… information flow from and to networks."
You just can't do that in Hebrew, you have to re-write, for example, thus:

זרימת המידע מתוך הרשתות ולתוכן

  • True, "ensure" is not always easy to translate, but that's no excuse for using the awkward word ווידוא indiscriminately. Alternatives include:

יש להבטיח כי/ש...

יש לוודא כי/ש...

יש לדאוג לכך ש...

  • malicious codeקוד זדוני

I've also seen נוזקה – and indeed Google gives more hits for this word than it did, say, a year ago, but not all users are happy with this word.

Similarly, I've seen נגיף for computer virus, but not all writers have adopted this term, for various reasons.

  • [Training & education] processes have been refined and are under continuous improvement
  • Cost management has been refined to a level of industry practice
  • Processes have been refined to the level of best industry practices

You can't say

ניהול העלויות זוקק עד לרמה של הנהגים המקובלים בתעשיה,

התהליכים הזדככו ועוברים שיפור תמידי

You have to find alternative verbs, even if you think they don't quite catch the essence of "refine", so long as they suit the context.


התהליכים שוכללו, לוטשו, שופרו, נעשו מדוייקים יותר, ממוקדים יותר

At a time like this, I find Eitan Avneyon's Word for Word (thesaurus of the Hebrew language) very helpful.

  • The integrity of the data does not mean היושרה של הנתונים; the data have no moral values; it means that the data are whole, have not been compromised or damaged.
    in other words,
    שלמות הנתונים
  • In many bureaucratic and HR texts in English, there is talk of "people", when in fact they are referring to a company's employees. While it's all very friendly, human and touchy-feely to call us "people", I suggest that you do not translate it as בני אדם, as one translator did. My instructions, at the time, from Israel's Civil Service, for example, were to call us lowly employees עובדים . Which is fine with me – it ain't no crime. Zu lo boosha.

Transcription is difficult, as is rendering foreign names in English

We grant you that.

Nonetheless, you have to make an effort.

Okay, so you heard something that sounded like …"the French thinker, Rojee Garudi …" If you're in the dark, you have to make an educated guess. I looked up "French philosopher Roger" – and immediately found Roger Garaudy.

It is not okay to hand in a translation about "Silvio Birliskoni" -> Berlusconi, nor

"Austrian counselor, Wefkink Shosel" -> Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel.

Similarly, you can't back-translate or make up names and titles.

E.g. It's not "the general manager of International Agency for Nuclear Power", but "the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency"; and the name of the chairman is not Ahmad Baradai but Mohammed El-Baradei.

One of the accepted spellings of חומיני is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; there must be others, but not Aiat Alla Ali Khaminai, I think (correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not on solid ground here); and he is the "supreme leader", not the "superior guide".

Onwards and upwards, brave defenders of language!

How festive was your ceremony?

How often have you come across the expression "tekes hagigi"?

Quite often, I'm sure.

Translators seem to feel compelled to translate this literally, as a "festive ceremony". I actually found myself doing the same, not wanting to leave out a word which presumably indicated the special atmosphere of the ceremony.

But upon closer inspection or attention you'll realize that this word combination is but a cliché, a sort of knee-jerk idiom often used in Hebrew journalism whether it's appropriate or not. As in many other cases, writers of Hebrew feel the text isn't impressive enough without a (preferably pompous) adjective. So they throw in a handful.

The case in point was a graduation ceremony for IDF soldiers completing their officers' training course. It was probably quite a formal and solemn occasion. Though the attending parents may have been feeling proud etc., I don't know if the occasion really calls for the adjective "festive".

Another example:

שר הקפה והתה, בן-מוקה ועמיתו - שר הסודה והקולה האמריקני, מר דרינק, חתמו עם סיום ביקורו של השר בן-מוקה בוושינגטון, על מזכר הבנות משותף, לפיו ישראל וארה"ב ישתפו פעולה בתחום האנרגיות המתחדשות.

הטקס החגיגי, שנערך במשרד הסודה והקולה האמריקני בוושינגטון, הוא שיאו של ביקורו הכלכלי-מדיני של השר בן-מוקה בארה"ב.

Okay, so they signed a memorandum. I get it. They were all wearing dark suits and ties. Their shoes were shined. Cocktails were passed around. But was it really so "festive"? Can't an Israeli PR person write the word tekes without the adjective hagigi?... Let me see, what other types of tkasim are there?

טקס מסורתי, טקס מעונב, טקס ממלכתי, טקס רשמי (כפילות מיותרת?)

האם שמעתם אי פעם על טקס פרוע, טקס שובר-מוסכמות, טקס פורץ דרך?

A solemn ceremony, a traditional ceremony, a moving ceremony, a formal ceremony (tautology?)

Amazon to the rescue

The other day I was translating a document about Jaffa, which included, as a sort of motto I guess, a quote from Agnon. It reads as follows:

יפו יפת ימים עיר קדומים. יפת בן נח בנה אותה וקרא שמו עליה. אבל מכל יפייפותו של יפת לא נשתייר בה אלא מה שאין בני אדם יכולים ליטול ממנה והיא משתנית והולכת לפי טיב יושביה
ש"י עגנון, תמול שלשום

Now, I don't have any Agnon in English at home. I doubt that I have any in Hebrew – whatever I had was long ago confiscated by my kids, possibly when they were studying for Bagrut.

I asked the client if she knew what page/chapter the quotation was from. After all, even if one of you guys have read the book, you're not likely to remember what page this bit appears on, and I wouldn't dare ask you to leaf through the entire book looking for it. No, she did not.

So I went to my good ol' friend Amazon. First I tried It found the book chick-chack and let me search it. I typed in a key word and found the quotation. However, it gave me only the beginning of the sentence. I did not qualify for access to the entire scanned text because I hadn't bought anything on in a longish time.

Luckily, I do buy things from from time to time. I have the books delivered, either at a reasonable rate or else I'm eligible for free super-saver delivery, to my mother-in-law's address in London, and pick them up when we visit. Neat arrangement if I'm not in a rush for the book/s.

Delighted, I watched as took a minute to verify that I am indeed one of their Faithful Financial Supporters, then let me search the entire text of the novel, where I quickly found the full quotation. Since I know you're dying of curiosity, here it is:

"Jaffa, belle of the seas, ancient city. Japheth, son of Noah, built it and gave her his name. But of all the Greek beauty of Japheth, all that remains is what human beings can't remove from her, and their city changes with the nature of her inhabitants."

S.I. Agnon, Only Yesterday, translated by Barbara Harshav, Published by Princeton University Press.

And a propos of Jaffa: are you familiar with the Jaffa Mishlama? No? I'm not surprised. I first noticed the sign bearing that name, in Hebrew, HaMishlama LeYafo, when I was driving along Ben Zvi Blvd., from Jaffa going east. I was totally mystified by it. The word does not appear in any of my dictionaries. (Someone is bound to say that I obviously have the wrong dictionaries…)

Okay, we know the drill: we Google it and find out what it means. Some sort of administrative offices taking care of Jaffa-related business. Great. Why give it such an abstruse name?

Reading a-what comes naturally!

I have recently started using a text-to-voice program called Natural Reader. I find it quite useful in self-editing: a pleasant voice reads aloud what I've written, while I look at the screen and see my silly typos.

Of course, it does some funny things. Never mind that it pronounces the name of the French statesman Guy Mollet as if it rhymed with [Ken] Follet. But in the following sentence, describing a budget in Israel of the mid 1950s,
"...make an effort to increase the special budget for activities in Asia and Africa which had been reduced to IL 35,000 from the previous year's IL 70,000" it read the IL as... Illinois, what else?!

I'm mighty apprehensive about this

Those of us who are sometimes (or often) called upon to translate speeches and other texts by government officials are often appalled by their sloppy use of language. This, of course, makes it all the more difficult to translate their "texts" into good English (or any other language.)

However, ein breira, there's nothing for it, you have to be especially careful when translating such material.


Apparently, a certain minister, say of Coffee & Tea, wrote or said that –

בשנים האחרונות, בצד המודעות לסביבה ושינויי האקלים, בעידן שאחרי ועידת באלי, אנו רואים שינוי חד בתפיסה של האנושות לגבי המים.

The translator for some reason wrote:

"In the last years, alongside awareness regarding the environment and climate changes, in the post Bali Era, we have seen the sharp change in mankind's apprehension regarding water."

Forget all the other jarring bits, such as "in the last years" rather than the more idiomatic "in recent years" and "the sharp change" instead of "a sharp change". But "apprehension"??? What was he/she thinking of?

Oh, wait. You wanted some solutions. Alternatives include, but are not restricted to:

... people's conception of water

... the way people think of water

... humanity's attitude to water

and so on.

Another thing that bugs me: Why wasn't the minister's speech edited? Wouldn't it be nice if the original speech, in Hebrew, had been edited and polished before it was given to the translator? And wouldn't it be nice if the translated version had been edited and polished before the minister gave his speech at some international conference?...

Honda has lost me

Ever since I reached a "certain age" (no points for guessing), the publication Club 50 has been after me. For a long while I resisted. I don't want to read your publication, I told the persistent sales rep over the phone; if anything, I want to write for it. I don't need your courses and don't have time for them. I'm too busy working. I am computer-literate, having worked with PCs since the Unhappy Days of DOS 1.1; I don't need advice on how to deal with grandchildren because my grown kids are showing no signs of sprouting offspring; etc etc.

Nonetheless, I was somehow sucked into subscribing. Perhaps out of solidarity with other people born circa 19??. Or perhaps because I used to work alongside Amnon Herzig at Bank Hapoalim's head office. Or perhaps my resistance sagged because I happened to be sleep-deprived, or coffee-deprived, or chocolate-deprived that day. Whatever.

This month's magazine contained an ad for Honda Jazz which, according to said mag, is terrific for ferrying about your grandkids. A big black-and-red voucher was attached, offering a 5000 shekel discount.
And guess what the voucher says, in smaller print, under the big promise:

בואו עם ואוצ'ר זה לאחת מסוכנויות הונדה ותוכלו לבחור בין...

Sorry, Honda guys, you have lost me as a prospective customer. And not just because I don't have grandkids. Are you lost for words, or what? Couldn't you think of the Hebrew word for voucher? You think I'd be less impressed by your generous offer had you written שובר הנחה ?

Fun & Games with Coffee

When I'm stuck in a place like Ichilov hospital, I find solace in their coffee stands. Looking at the bill I received from one such stand, I saw that the title was, which is a mite weird, but I can live with it. Underneath, the Hebrew reads:

קופיקו שירותי מזון בע"מ, בי"ח איכילוב

I'm afraid that coffee will never taste the same…

Overused words I hate: Today's Special – "you shall be exposed!"

I've already grumbled about mefanek and probably also about hazuy.

My latest pet peeve is the verb חשף, usually in binyan nif'al, i.e.

להיחשף, נחשפנו, תיחשפו

See examples below:

· בסדרה זו ניחשף לכמה מסיפורי המיתוסים השונים

· ניחשף למורכבות היחסים בין קבוצות שונות

· בכל מפגש ניחשף להרצאה הפונה אל הראש

· בקורס זה ניחשף לאינטליגנציות השונות

· בעזרת שקופיות ומוצגים שונים ניחשף לחלק מהנרטיבים המרכיבים את תרבות פקה-פקה החדשה

We are constantly being "exposed to" things. What's wrong with "we will see / learn about / experience", and so forth? That is, aside from the fact that all the above sentences employ that "friendly we" I mentioned the other day…

Many translators feel compelled to stick to the original, turning out sentences like the following:

"Essentially, one hundred thousand children and sixty thousand parents will be exposed to the computer world and will acquire the basic skills to operate the computer " etc.

I guess the expression is fine once in a while, even though I don't care for it much; my associations seem to be unpleasant, as in "exposed to the elements", but maybe that's just me being glum.

The overdoing it is what bothers me.

As for the English sentence above, I'd probably write that those parents would be introduced to the computer world.

Obliphica oil: What's in a name?

As most women are aware, every once in a while a different, so-called "new" oil is discovered and hailed as the latest and best thing for your complexion, hair, nails, overall body skin and whatnot.

Does anyone out there remember what was the previous wonder oil? Because I don't, and I'm a compulsive reader of product labels and ads.

The most recent ubiquitous "wonder" oil is Obliphica oil. Note, however, that this name appears mostly on Israeli websites as well as on eBay, by people (Israelis?) trying to sell hair care products... The other names for it are Sallow Thorn, Sea Buckthorn and Hippophae rhamnoides. Sea buckthorn gives the most Google hits. To me, Obliphica has a very unappealing ring to it, some weird combination of "obligation" and "fichsa" (literally: yuck!). Therefore it translates in my brain as "…this obligatory yucky stuff will do wonders for your complexion…"

If the product is designed for export to the States, prospective customers might respond to Sea Buckthorn better than to Obliphica. Then again, Sea Buckthorn doesn't immediately strike me as a source of oil. (But then nor do grape seeds, for that matter. Or peach kernels.) Perhaps to some, Obliphica sounds exotic, which translates as "must be good for me."

In short, keep your target audience in mind when deciding how to refer to this oil.

Oh, and while we're at it – is it any good? Do you recommend it?

The friendly "we"

The friendly "we" is virtually inescapable when reading (and translating) Hebrew itineraries, tourism brochures, travel routes:

"נעלה במעלה ההר... משם נערוך תצפית על... נקשיב להרצאה מרתקת אודות... נלמד על אודות תושביה ועל אורחות חייהם..."

(Can everyone see the Hebrew, or should I transliterate?)

I guess I should be glad they draw the line somewhere and don't follow us to the toilet.

This usage seems particularly inappropriate when written/said not by a tour-guide who, presumably, will be climbing the mountain with us, but by a lecturer who clearly will not be learning this stuff together with us, his class; he's supposed to be teaching it. In the case of the brochure I was translating, the text was written by the person giving the course. He's already learnt the material, that's why he's the lecturer.

I wonder whether this tone of familiarity is aimed at engendering a feeling of camaraderie between the tour guide and his flock, and/or among flock members. Whatever. I don't think it works in English. (Don't know about other languages – do let me know!)

So you, the translator, would have to dip into your English Michelin, Lonely Planet or similar guide, see how they phrase things, and adopt elegant solutions.


… The tour then carries on to the top of the hill, from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of …

Parting words for today –

Tomorrow, March 4, is National Grammar Day! Hooray! Do you think we could institute something similar in Israel?

Awkward names

Some consonant clusters exist in language X but not in language Y. Okay, so you and I can't pronounced [USSR-born musician] Leonid Ptashka's name properly; he recently said that he's become so used to hearing it pronounced Petashka that sometimes when he introduces himself on the phone, he hears himself referring to himself as Petashka.

This, however, is no excuse for not being aware that such an insertion of a vowel, especially in formal writing, is a mistake. A colleague of mine in a previous job (a previous life?...) never tired of correcting his associates: My name is Dmitry, not Dimitry. (Yes, I'm talking about you, D. Markman, currently of MathWorks.)

I'm telling you all this because as I was translating a paragraph about Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs (in 1956) Dmitri Shepilov, from Hebrew to English, I noticed that the eminent writer/historian "corrected" the Hebrew, דמיטרי שפילוב, by adding a "yod" after the "dalet"…

In Linguistics class at TAU, my friends and I had lots of fun practicing our smidgen of Swahili, saying phrases like mtoto mbongo, which – if memory serves, which it very well may not – means "good boy".

Old Beef -- Hebrew's "bitchum ha.."

"Bitchum ha…" is used ad nauseam in Hebrew. That does not mean you, the translator, have to follow suit. Luckily, in English at least, this filler is not necessary. People simply say, "He's an expert in lunar architecture, with tons of experience in planning and design". They don't usually say "He's an expert in the field of lunar architecture, with tons of experience in the area of planning and design". Yeah, your text will be six words shorter, you'll miss out on a few agorot, but isn't that a fair price to pay for more streamlined English?...

National Insurance Issues

Heaven knows that translating Bureaucratese is among the most onerous and thankless tasks. So I promise to be very gentle with the translation of our (Israel's) National Insurance Institute website into English. After all, I'm sure one of my colleagues did the translation, and I'm not sure I would have liked to be in his or her shoes. A sneak peek, however, already revealed some unexpected choices. (E.g. "Eligibility for most National Insurance benefits is conditional on payment of National Insurance contributions.")

Says my friend M.L.: "Believe it or not, the UK pension booklet does talk about contributions, meaning the payments you’ve made in order to ‘contribute’ to your pension."

I am also pretty sure that whoever translated the website is not the same person who translated the awful e-mail message telling The World about the new website. Sorry I can't find said e-mail – which is a sure sign that I put it away "in a safe place".

One of the most difficult bureaucratic terms to translate is the ubiquitous "ishur". Once, when I had to translate "ishur me'harofeh", my Canadian family, some of whom are physicians, said it's simply a doctor's note, or a note from the doctor.

The NII website calls ishurim "authorizations", which is really not appropriate. The ishurim in question do not authorize you to do anything; they just confirm that you are entitled to certain benefits. The e-mail did much worse and called them "approvals". Pardon??? So we're still stuck with finding a good name for them. "Confirmation" is getting close, but still sounds wrong. Letter of Benefits? Statement of Rights? Confirmation of Eligibility? – All these are long, I concede, but at least achieve some clarity of description. Suggestions welcome. Why don't we make a list of some good suggestions and send them to the NII, on behalf of all English speakers who care… Better still, why don't we send those suggestions to as many institutions as issue the darn things, and get them all to use them…

Did I hear someone snickering "Dona Quixote"?...

Absorption Issues

Many years ago, Misrad HaKlita, or HaMisrad L'Klitat Aliya, made an unfortunate choice by translating klita literally, as absorption. By today, most of us have probably become inured, desensitized, and no longer perceive it as inappropriate. But those with a "fresh" ear often cringe. Absorption??? they say; does Israel swallow me live and gradually absorb me by osmosis into its body?... "Absorbing", they say, is what a diaper, or nappy, or panty-liner or tampon does…

With the help of a colleague, I am actually trying to take on the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and convince them to drop that offensive word. No other country in the world "absorbs" its immigrants. They either welcome them or grudgingly let them in… they greet them and "process" them (yes, that's a mite distasteful, too…), accept them or ignore them, integrate them or shun them…


The Jerusalem Post 9 August 2007:

Israel, UN cooperate to stem tide of Sudanese refugees.
Officials seek countries to absorb Africans.