Not About Language

In Memoriam

Time/Life is roaring, rushing,
cascading, crashing
all around me.

I call out Halt!
Stop! Quo vadis?

But it just laughs
and tumbles on.

Time/Life magazine
with all their
vibrant pictures
of life and death

Magazines with bullets
of death
and capsules
of life

Pictures and captions
Capturing life and death

As life crashes to death
And then halts.

Something to hold those pages down!

Gorgeous, minimalist, page holder – (thank you, Daria! I do use it, and not only when cooking.)

Really Effective (though large footprint) copy holder (thank you, Diana R! Maybe I'll treat myself to one, one of these days.)

Aggressive? Moi?

Just an observation...
A while ago I was translating (Heb>Eng) a lot of material about early State of Israel politics. And guess what? Our politicians were constantly demanding things. Israel "doreshet" this and Israel "doreshet" that. Mind you, I'm not saying these demands were not justified; in my opinion they usually are. But we come across as so aggressive... especially if these drishot are translated as "demands" and "demanding". A colleague suggested using "Israel calls on the Klingon Administration to do such-and-such". Most of the time that worked pretty well. Just wanted you to know.

Chutzpah, 2

What is more of a chutzpah, trying to pass off the work to be described below as a "proofreading" job, or the writer's presumption that he/she can write in English?...

Judge for yourselves.

Here are a few choice passages from what is commonly called in Hebrew "maslulei tiyulim", i.e. suggested tours or tour routes or treks or what-have-you. I am marking in red only some of the amusing (?) gaffes.


After the morning pick up, we will drive to Meggida National Park. There, we will descend with an escalator down to the amazing water cave which was made by men during the Canaan area and completely preserved up to these days.

From Meggido, we will drive to the ancient synagogue in Beith Alfa. In that synagogue ... we will observe an audio video presentation and the amazing mosaic which describes the holly arc, Isaac's sacrifice by Abraham and the wheel of fortune.


After the morning pick up, we will drive east to Qumran National park that lays on the Dead Sea Plato.

In 1974, a young Bedouin shepherd threw a stone to one of the caves in the region... From the cave ... he heard sounds of pottery vases.

From Qumran we will drive to Massada National Park. After watching an audio video presentation which tells the story and the history of this fortress, we will climb with a cable care to the top of the mountain. There, we will see the remains of the fortress which has been built by Herold.

After morning pick up, we will drive to Caesarea National Park. There, we will watch the impressive roman theater and the remains of a glorious port which have been built by Herold in Augustus Caesar's honor. There, we will discover Caesarea's stars throw a 3D technology experience.

We will travel around an accessible biblical path...

Well, what am I to do with such texts?

First of all, I told the client that this is not proofreading; this definitely comes under the heading of editing.

Secondly, I asked the client for the original Hebrew, thinking that this was merely an amateurish translation. No, says Client; as far as he knows, the text was originally written in English...

What do you think is more likely -- that the author truly thought his English only needs a bit of "polishing"? Or that s/he thought, "why pay xx shekels for Hebrew -> English translation if I can get away with yy shekels for mere editing of my English"?...


In any case, my favorite blunder in this job is the "Wheel of Fortune"... :-)


נינה שלום

רצ"ב הקבצים לתרגום.

בחלק מהם העברית גרועה. אנא דיימני בנפשך משפטים תקינים.

תשלום: 50 ₪ + מע"מ ל- 250 מילים

For those who do not read Hebrew, here's a translation:

Hi Nina,

Attached are the files for translation.

In some of them the Hebrew is bad. Please imagine correct sentences.

Payment: NIS 50 + VAT for 250 words

Is leaving easier in the summertime?...

My hairdresser says she started going to a gym called Lady Pitness .

I just heard on the radio a (probably Israeli) singer singing dreamily, "Sammer time, and the leaving is easy… Feesh are jamping, and the cautaun is high…"

Though I've lived in Israel all my life, I can't get used to the fact that most Israelis simply don't hear the difference between living and leaving, fit and feet, bad and bed, word and ward, sheet and you-know-what, and so on and so forth.

Israeli copywriters often fall in this trap. They come up with a slogan including some play on words which they think is a clever pun… whereas to Anglo ears it falls flat at best, or sounds ridiculous at worst. A case I came across recently is a HR company with the following slogan:

It's not DONE until it's DAN.

Why don't they just make up a slogan in Hebrew instead of producing such crap? (Which they would probably confuse with crêpe.)

Obviously, Israelis aren't the only ones mutilating the English language… The link below has been making the rounds. If you haven't already received it through one of the translators' lists or forums, go ahead and enjoy:

Translator, advertise thyself – Update

Remember that purple-and-pink, 1/8 page ad I told you about on March 23? The one sandwiched between Sarit who will wax your legs and a shop selling disposable tableware?
I've got an update! Guess who saw the ad and called? A beautician. No, not the one whose ad is next to mine… a different one. Maybe she was examining the competition, who knows. I didn't ask. Anyway, her high-school son had to hand in a paper in English, an essay on a subject of his choice, and she wanted me to translate it from the Hebrew…
I said I'd look at it.
She only had it in handwritten form, she said, and couldn't email it. So she faxed it to me. Many years ago, I used to work for one of Israel's top handwriting analysts. Not those charlatans who do it as a party trick (or worse -- offer their "services" to HR agencies); I mean a highly educated professional who was an expert on questioned documents – i.e., examining forgeries, etc. More about that in a later post. Point is, I could determine with reasonable certainty that the handwritten text was written by Ma, not by Son. Though the content and style seemed to be in keeping with the mindset of an average Israeli teenager. For all I know, maybe his hand was in a cast and he dictated it to his mother.
Would it be ethical of me to translate the paper into English, knowing that the boy plans to hand it in as his own? Won't his English teacher, if she's any good, (of course it's a she…) realize that it can't possibly be his own work?... Even if I eschew difficult words?... After all, the average Israeli high school kid is bound to have at least a few grammatical or stylistic errors, don't you think?.. Does this come under [moral] aiding and abetting? Would I be colluding in and encouraging dishonesty? Is it acceptable to say, I'm just doing my job, what Ma & Son do with it is up to them?

Are you ready for this?

I know Google is not the answer to everything… But if you're trying out an expression and it is nowhere to be found on Google, it should give you pause for thought.

For example, in a really god-awful .ppt presentation of a certain large Israeli company, let's call it Celestial Drinks, the company discusses how sales people can recognize when you (their potential customer) are ripe to fall into their greedy little hands. In Hebrew they called it bashlut ha-kniya - בשלות הקניה
– which is poor Hebrew to begin with (it's the person that's supposed to be "ripe", not the purchase.) And they elaborate:

לכל לקוח רמת בשלות/ נכונות שונה לרכישת מוצר

True enough; I won't argue with that.

The translator called it Buying Ripeness. I think this sounds awful. You just wouldn't say that. (As I intimated, Google supports my gut feeling here.) But try "buying readiness", and you'll see that there is indeed such a thing.


There are other ways of expressing the above idea, where "ripe" does work well. Something like being ripe to close the deal. But in a ppt presentation, based on short bullets, you want to avoid longish explanations.

Let's "clarify" something....

Let's get this straight once and for all: levarer does not mean to clarify. "To clarify" translates as lehavhir. Levarer, more often than not, simply means to find out, to ask, to inquire, to look into.

You don't "clarify" when the next train to Haifa leaves; you find out.

End-of-Month Blues

I don't know about you guys, but the last couple of days of each month are exhausting.

Which is why I am writing this only today and not on March 31st.

First, there are all those customers (and friends, and acquaintances, and relatives) who suddenly remember that today is the last date for handing in a paper, submitting a proposal, an application, an offer, a what-have-you. So every job is a rush job, a matter of life-or-death, of please-please-you-must-do-this-for-me.

Secondly, there are all those pro forma invoices and tax invoices to prepare...

I am quite organized at work, I have templates for my pro-formas, I keep a detailed Excel file with all relevant details, I can sort and re-arrange etc., and if I happen to mess things up then Hubby comes to the rescue...

Nonetheless, it's never simple.

The Glockenspiel company wants its invoice & breakdown in English, the Highfalutin Academy wants it in Hebrew. The BuzWords Corp wants two separate documents – one with the total sum and one with a detailed breakdown, and I'm lucky they're not asking for it in Russian. Next, the new client claims my ishur for tax deduction at the source is out of date. I hasten to the relevant government website, and by Golly, the blasted thing ended on March 23rd! Why didn't anyone tell me? My accountant is on vacation, the phone at his office is constantly engaged, and they don't answer emails. One of the reasons I chose that particular accountant (aside from a recommendation by friends) is that his offices were conveniently located. Then the guy ups and moves to Ashdod! It's not as if I pay him a visit alle Montag und Donnerstag, but still.

I remember that my colleague Hagit demonstrated an application that is supposed to deal with most of these woes. And I saw on Hagit's site that my colleague Yael recommends it.

Anyone wish to second that emotion?

Castro's Kanji

As I said, I have another Castro tale to tell.

A few years ago I bought a gray-and-red sweater/cardigan, which has decorative elements looking – to my uninitiated eye -- like Chinese or Japanese, both on the front and on the back:

Wore if for a few winters. Got tired of it. Offered it to Daughter 2 who is living and studying is Freezing Canada.

The young lady looked at it critically and said, "Can't wear it, I'm not sure what it says, and where I live there's a large Asian community."

Sounded fair enough. You don't want to walk around your [Canadian] university campus with a sweater saying Chinese Go Home or something like that.

In any case, she promised to find out exactly what it says – if anything; it could always be gibberish, the product of an imaginative graphic artist's mind.

Well, not quite.

Seems that the symbols are perfectly good Kanji.

The symbols on the front of the sweater mean "day", "new" and "road";

the symbol on the back is "ei", which stands for… "English".

Looks like Castro's graphic designers didn't give much thought to the message; or perhaps this item was never intended to be exported to countries with Chinese/Japanese speaking populations. Who knows.

Oh, and said daughter won't wear my sweatshirt that says CASTRO on it in big letters across the front, either; she says that, in Canada, the first association that pops into one's head is not the Israeli fashion chain…