A slogan for the Ministry

The phone rings and my fave agency, Fair Translations, is on the line:

"Can you translate this slogan for us? Like, right now? The Ministry for Public Befuddlement has launched a new website and wrote this short slogan in Hebrew. It looked so simple… but I guess it isn't… so can you translate it please?... Uh, we're not charging the Ministry for it, so you realize we can't pay much…"

Why on earth is the agency not charging the Ministry – which must be pretty rich, considering we are constantly befuddled by it and pay a nifty monthly fee for this privilege – for the English slogan? Did the company that built the website and the advertising agency that came up with the Hebrew slogan do the work for the Ministry for free?

As it happens, Ms. Fair caught me in-between jobs, my head was clear, and I came up with a few slogans within minutes. I have no idea which one the Befuddlement guys will choose – probably the driest, most uninteresting one… I still have no idea how much I'll be paid for this job. Whatever. I've had a good working relationship with this agency for several years now, and I'd much rather help them than leave them in the lurch.

As for the Ministry – next time I need anything from them, maybe I can call in the favor? Tell them they owe me one?...


Update and anticlimax:

Ms. Fair called back, confused:
That's not what she meant… it's not the slogan that needed translation… what she actually meant was the title of the web page… or the name of the service being offered… or…
I referred her to today's Jerusalem Post, whose correspondent had already translated the name of the service in question quite adequately.

But who knows – maybe the Ministry will like my slogan and use it anyway some day...


What to read in a hospital waiting room

A person going in for one-day hospitalization probably doesn't need to take with any reading material. Not so the relative or close friend accompanying the patient.
So while my husband was packing his assorted test results, doctor's referral and such papers, I packed half a dozen Sudokus, a company profile in need of re-writing, the December issue of The Marker, earphones for my iPod Shuffle & Palm, and a Grisham – just in case.
I even considered bringing along my cute Eee, but decided against it, for reasons of extra weight and the concentration it requires. Must say, though, it would at least have kept my lap warm in that freezing waiting room. (Designed probably to freeze any stray swine-flu bugs in mid-flight.)

Concentration is exactly what one has difficulty with when hanging around a hospital waiting room, even when the surgery is – as was my husband's case – more limb-threatening than life-threatening. The crowd of family & friends tends to cluster around the thin, large monitors displaying the names of the patients and their whereabouts in the system.

Compared to the cramped, dingy, windowless, underground family waiting room at Ichilov hospital, the spanking-new Assuta Ramat HaHayal lounge is a five-star hotel. Airy and spacious, emphatically modern in design, with reasonably comfortable seats, some arranged in rows, others in clusters around low tables. At each end of the rectangular hall is a desk with a few hospital clerks, some more helpful than others. And at one end there are the coffee and soft-drink spouting machines. No snack dispenser, as far as I recall. If it had one, it must have not stocked any of my fave snacks, which is why it did not leave its mark, neither on my memory nor on my waistline.

Though the facility gives the distinct impression of not being completed yet, it does have some basic amenities for visitors called in Hebrew "melavim", i.e. those who come with the patients and then hang anxiously around. There's an Arcafe coffee shop, a Steimatzky book store, and a Metuka confectionary (sorry, they don't have an English site). So if you haven't brought a sandwich from home, you won't starve. Actually, if you just step out onto HaBarzel street, your options are nearly endless. Cafes, restaurants, and quite a few interesting-looking shops. In the days preceding the surgery, I saw myself, in my mind's eye, exploring them all. But I didn't – I stayed with the rest of the pack, close to the monitors.

I somehow managed one Sudoku without making a mess of it. The Marker proved to be too depressing: article after article telling me how the banks and investment houses were taking a huge chunk out of my investments and savings.
The company profile made no sense. (Surprise, surprise.)
That left Grisham.

I think I started reading John Grisham in the mid nineties, with The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, and A Time to Kill – each gripping and good in its own way. Then I came across a few that left a bad taste in my mouth, for various reasons. The Partner, for example, contains some distasteful, ugly torture scenes: the protagonist undergoes dreadful torture to protect his ill-gained money. Something about the plot is very dry and technical. Also, the entire story hinges on the absolute, total trust the protagonist has in his lover. I won't go into details to avoid a spoiler.
The Testament left me cold. The description of greedy heirs was as good as the description of greed in most of Grisham's novels. The quest through the wetlands of Brazil was interesting. What is wishy-washy is the Rachel Lane bit – character, motive, behavior… a missionary living with an indigenous tribe and carrying out "God's work." Not that such people don't exist. But it was unconvincing, unsatisfying.

The Brethren were also distasteful; the convoluted plot did not make up for that. And then, in December 2001, I read A Painted House, which is a complete departure from his white-collar crime novels. This Grisham story, with its portrayal of poor farmers in Arkansas, feels like it's trying hard to be Steinbeck, but it ain't. On page 150 the plot finally thickens and the story begins to gather momentum. I think 150 pages of exposition is way, way too much. Think of what other writers (Kazuo Ishiguro and Emile Ajar, to name but two) have accomplished in 150 pages. There's a conflict, a bad guy, a bit of a mystery… but it's neither here nor there. It's not The Grapes of Wrath and it's not a real thriller.
The Summons (read in February 2003) was – guess what - all about greed, and the two protagonists – the brothers – were unappealing, each in his own way, so that I didn’t really care who gets the money. The writing is sloppy and therefore annoying. Grisham doesn’t seem to have a clear idea who his protagonists are. Choice of words and descriptions of actions are often haphazard, no good reason for including or excluding them, they don’t serve any purpose. The dead judge is the strongest character in the book, which may be intentional, or perhaps stems from the fact that he is based on a real person that was very clear to Grisham. Anyway, the book was definitely not one of his best and not very memorable. [The only reason I could write the above paragraph is because I keep a journal of my reading.]

After these disappointments, I took a break from Grisham and skipped a few of his novels. Until I picked up The Broker.
Well, John Grisham redeemed himself!
Folks, it is a really good action-thriller, with not too much violence and dead bodies. If the book had been written by Ludlum, say, by page 30 there would have been a trail of mutilated bodies lying around. Also, if you don't care for the Italian language and descriptions of Italian cities, you may be tempted to skip a bit here & there. But it's good. Mind you, don't take the spy-related stuff too seriously. As Grisham says in the Author's Note at the end of the book, this is not his forte. I'm sure he did some research, but if you've watched enough spy or detective movies or TV series (how can you not?), you can imagine what a surveillance room or van looks like, and you can invent your own. The important thing is the chase, and the way the good guy outsmarts the bad guys; and the fact that the good guy is not as pure as the driven snow; in fact he was a greedy bastard. But he was caught, he does some penance, learns humility, and redeems himself – just like Grisham redeemed himself in my eyes. It was engrossing, and from a certain point downright unputdownable.

So how much of it did I actually read in the six hours of waiting in the hospital? Not a single page. I told you – you can't concentrate there. On anything. I got talking to two lovely women, one waiting for her daughter, the other for her husband. The latter, it turned out, had studied in the same elementary school (Hess) and high school (Eilon) as I did. We had a whale of a time reminiscing about teachers, their nicknames and their quirks. Really helped pass the time. As for the book -- I could read it anytime. Which I obviously did.

Whose translation is this, anyway?

On Friday, December 5th Haaretz (and possibly other papers) carried a 7x5 inch ad by Shalem Press, inviting the public to an event celebrating the launching of the first ever full Hebrew translation of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The ad contained the names of several VIPs and luminaries, and of course all relevant details of time and place. What it did not contain was the name of the translator.

Perplexed, I re-read the ad carefully. No, I had not overlooked it. The name of eminent translator Aharon Amir was glaringly missing.

In righteous indignation, and seeing myself as defending the honor of all mistreated translators, I wrote an email to Shalem Press, a division of Shalem Center, pointing out the omission.

I left the research, or at least basic Googling, to later. Which was when I found out that Aharon Amir (who died February 2008) passed away before completing the translation. Or at least, that was what one website said. Other websites make it sound as if Amir had translated the whole thing (from English,) whereas the editor, Menachem Lorberbaum, edited while comparing with the Latin version, and added a preface, notes and a glossary. Surely that was not the reason for omitting Amir's name?...

A letter (i.e. email) of reply arrived a few days later. Naomi Arbel, on behalf of the publishing house, thanked me for calling the omission to her attention. Said it was an oversight that occurred since there was no picture of the book jacket in the ad. (Strange excuse.) She continued to say that Shalem Press are always "very attentive" about having the translator's name on book jackets and in publicity material, and will continue to do so in the future.

Though the excuse sounded lame, I know that mistakes happen, and was pleased that the error would be fixed. Imagine my disappointment when this Friday, December 11, the exact same ad appeared again. No correction.

Now, I know it's a nuisance and probably costly to re-do the ad and insert another line. Though it could be done fairly easily, there is definitely enough space in the ad to make room for another short line of text. But no one bothered. Or maybe they tried and the paper said Sorry, too late. I don't know. It just seems so unfair. Such an important, huge, and probably difficult, book. Amir must have put so much work into it. See Shlomo Avineri's review, published in Haaretz, in Hebrew.

Maariv also published a review of the book, by one Mati Shmuelof who totally ignored the translator. No mention of his name or anything. If it weren't for a short comment at the very end mentioning the notes and Hebrew/English glossary, one could be led to think that he'd read the book in English or Latin. (Fat chance.)

Aharon Amir's list of translating credits is dazzling; surely he doesn't need me to defend his interests, his name? But that's not the point.

How many of you have read, or will ever read, this tome, unless you have to, as part of your studies? That, too, is totally beside the point.

The point is, that credit should be given to the translator. Period.

Would you translate this bank's slogan for free?

Once again, an Israeli bank demonstrates that it is unwilling to pay a dime to have its advertising – in this case its slogan – translated professionally.

One of my fave agencies called me and asked me to translate an ad for Bank Leumi, slated to be published in the J. Post. This type of job is always a rush job.
I said yes, because I happened to be in-between two other things and could afford to take time out for a 150-word ad.
However, I noticed that the ad ended with a slogan. I told the girl at the agency that I'd translate the ad, but not the slogan. Perhaps the big bank has already had its slogan translated into English (and Russian, and perhaps other languages), in which case it would be silly to re-invent the wheel. On the other hand, if inventing the wheel is called for, it costs money. I am a professional translator and copywriter, I don't create English versions of Hebrew slogans for free. That is, not anymore I don't.

The girl said other translators do it… why, only the other day someone translated a Bezeq ad for them, slogan and all, and didn't make a fuss about it…
I said, well I don't. On principle.
The client (the J. Post? Bank Leumi? Both?) said, that's the way we always do it.
I said, fine, but I don't. On principle.

I sent off the translated ad, minus slogan, to the agency, and apologized for causing them this headache. They now have to find some sucker who will, at a moment's notice, translate the slogan for peanuts. It might turn out good. It might turn out awful. Neither the Post nor Leumi seem to care.


To be fair, I must admit that in the past, in similar situations, I used to translate the slogan, with or without complaining about it being unfair. Why? Because I could. I suppose it was vanity: it was a challenge, and I got a kick out of being able to quickly think up good copy, natural-sounding English versions of Hebrew slogans. But slowly the realization dawned on me that I was giving away my talent for free. And to whom? Not to some poor, deserving non-profit association, but to the richest business corporations in the country. If I'm so talented, and save everyone involved lots of time and bother by coming up with a solution so fast, I should be paid more, not less, wouldn't you think?


Obviously, I am not the only one approached by the agencies, and I am not the only one who can do a good job. I think we translators and copywriters should show some solidarity. I think we should all stand up to the big corporations and refuse to work for them for nothing, or next-to-nothing. C'mon guys, show some backbone!

Would you let this bank manage your relationships?

Once again, an Israeli bank demonstrates that it's not a good idea to scrimp and save when having its huge expensive ads translated from Hebrew to English.

Today's (December 6th, 2009) J. Post carries, on page 5, a huge, yellow ad for Bank Hapoalim, covering nearly the entire page. You can see a snippet of it on the bank's Hebrew website. See it? Green grass, yellow sky, and a text about solar energy and loans for solar systems.
Great idea.
Forget the trivial fact that the English slogan uses superfluous capital letters:
Let the Sun Work for You. Forget other inaccuracies. I can live with those.
But then, after you've presumably been persuaded that this is a good reason to apply for credit or take out a loan, you read the following:

For further information, call your relationship managers, branches, or dial *whatever.

Relationship managers?

I couldn't figure out what they meant. Maybe this is a new term for "private banker", I mused, and clicked on the link provided.
The Hebrew page with the additional information said nothing about relationship managers; it says
לפרטים נוספים יש לפנות לסניפים, למרכזי עסקים או למוקד הייעודי בטלפון כך-וכך
i.e., for further details contact the branches, the business centers or the call center.
So I proceeded to the bank's unimpressive English language site, where the mystery was solved. The hapless translator must have gone to that page, where he/she came upon the following:
"Through our Customer Relationship Managers, our private banking clients benefit from yadda yadda yadda"

I'm quite sure the translator copied the phrase verbatim. Someone must have goofed at the proofreading stage, if there was one, which I doubt.

Once again, I wonder: why would an institution like a bank invest big shekels in an ad, only to make a fool of itself in the English version thereof?

Grievance, Part II – on being an underpaid arbitrator

Another type of job that I am sometimes called upon to do is checking customer complaints and serving as an arbitrator.
Like reviewing the work of prospective translators, this too is a serious responsibility. And like in the case of reviewing prospective translators, here too a Nameless Agency pays a flat sum that would barely buy you a shawarma & pop.

This is how it usually goes:

Scene 1: Typical day at agency
The client, Mr. Israeli, gave the agency his company profile to be translated from Hebrew to English. Maybe he agreed to pay extra for editing, maybe he didn't. In case of the latter, and if the agency wanted to make a good impression and snag the client for future work, they will have given the job to one of their best translators, to ensure a good product despite not investing in editing. If the client did agree to shell out extra for editing, the job might be given to any translator who happens to be available, but will also be edited by someone capable.

Scene 2: A few days later
Client calls, red in the face. He thinks the translation stinks. Or else he gave it to his buddy who lived in the States for a couple of years and Buddy said it's no good. Client writes scathing email, demands money back. Sometimes he supplies an alternative translation done by someone else, as an example of how it should have been done. Or else he, or Buddy, mark up the document with their changes and comments.

Scene 3: Later the same day
Clerk at agency doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Calls me. I, sucker that I am for challenges, and curious as the proverbial cat, take the job, even though the pay is, as I said, insulting.

What do I find?
Well, obviously, sometimes the client has a good point, other times he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

The No Leg case:
Often, Mr. Israeli's English is not as good as he thinks it is. He simply does not understand the words, phrases and tone of the translated document. Or else, he had a preconceived notion of what the document should sound like, and is disappointed when it doesn't live up to his expectations. In such cases, I explain that people have different styles, and if you gave the same text to several translators each would produce a different version. Sometimes, it's the register that bothers the client. In which case I have to ask if he gave the agency any guidelines or instructions as to who his target audience is and what sort of style/language he prefers – laid-back and friendly? Jargon-laden? Formal?
A major stumbling block is the original text. It is often very badly written, but how are you going to say that to the client? You can, for example, quote a couple of obscure, ungrammatical, ambiguous sentences, and tactfully point out that it is no wonder that the translator got it wrong.

The Good Point case:
Other times, the client has a good point. The translation is of poor quality. The translator was too literal; chose the wrong words; misunderstood the Hebrew; never heard of style, can't write to save his life, and so on. In such cases, the agency – aside from reimbursing or otherwise appeasing the client – has to do its own reckoning: did they give the job to the wrong translator? (Probably.) Did they give the translator any guidelines? (Possibly.)

What do I do?
After carefully reviewing all the documents involved, marking up the offending translation and the letter/document of complaint, I type up my opinion. Generally, I also explain it over the phone to the clerk at the agency (who may have a fancy job title but usually doesn't know the difference between copywriting, marcom, rewriting, editing and proofreading.) I also add tips on how to handle the irate client and what feedback to give the translator.

What do I get for it?
Barely enough money for a pita with shawarma + can of soda pop, and a pat on the back: "Thanks, you're terrific." Or an incredible "Really? It was that bad???" Or a resigned, "Yeah, I thought that client was trouble when I first laid eyes on his ghastly company profile."

What am I going to do about this sorry state of affairs?
I can't change the way the agency works. I can't teach Mr. Israeli et al how to write. I can't weed out all inept translators. All I can do is refuse to continue doing such responsible work for next-to-nothing, and urge my colleagues to do the same.


Loans to Whom???

That's it – Isracard has lost any shred of respect I ever had for it, if I had any.
Bad copywriting reflects badly on the company, in my book.
Their crude Hebrew slogan, "halva'ot le-kooooolam" הלוואות לכוווולם, is bad enough. Yeah, I get the point, I get the visual, I get the message. It's still annoying and infantile. I can ignore it. But when this "gem" gets translated literally into English, the mind boggles.

The offending ad takes up practically an entire page on yesterday's (November 17th) Jerusalem Post. At the bottom, in big red letters, is this scintillating copy:
Loans to a-a-a-all – that's Isracard.

Now, the Hebrew le-kooolam is bad enough. But at least it's idiomatic; people actually talk that way. You can just imagine a kindergarten teacher smiling at her flock and saying, "hineh balonim le-kooolam!" i.e., "Here are balloons for everyone!" That's about how sophisticated this slogan is. But what's this a-a-a-all ??? It's so totally meaningless that it defies contemplation.

I am currently translating one book about advertising & copywriting – Vered Mosenzon's The Yellow Tool Box – while reading another: Don't Mess with the Logo, by Jon Edge & Andy Milligan. I found the following paragraph very appropriate:

"Well, anyway, when you thought of all the reasons you would recommend [brand X] to someone else, were any of those reasons 'You'll love the advertising'? If you answered yes, then you work in advertising or you used to work in advertising or want to work in advertising. Any other sane person would say no."

See, that paragraph describes me. A company's advertising, to me, is definitely part of its brand value. Any company with lousy copywriting loses points and loses some of my trust. Why on earth does Isracard treat us like kindergarten kids? Why don't they care enough to have their ads and slogans re-invented in English? Don't we English-speaking customers count? Don't they want our business? Obviously, paying a copywriter to re-create their message in English is more expensive than telling the J. Post (or any other publication) "oh, just have it translated, I don't care if it's literal, so long as it doesn't cost me extra" – or something to that effect. Yet it irks me. It is unprofessional and short-sighted.


Hey, Daria -- you're the tops!

I wanted to give my entrepreneur daughter a compliment. I wanted to tell her she's the tops, she's terrific, she can take over the world. Or that part of the world in which she's most interested, anyway. I was lost for words, and went to my Poetry & Lyrics folder where I keep some of my faves. Below is an excerpt from Cole Porter's You're the Top, from Anything Goes; and here is the whole thing. I'd forgotten how deliciously funny it is:

At least it'll tell you how great you are.
You're the tops ...
You're the top, you're the Colosseum,
You're the top, you're the Louvre Museum,
You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You're a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, you're Mickey Mouse.
You're the Nile, you're the Tower of Pisa,
You're the smile on the Mona Lisa,
I'm a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if baby I'm the bottom, you're the top.

You're the top you're Mahatma Gandhi,
You're the top, you're Napoleon Brandy ...
You're the top, You're an Arrow collar.
You're the top, You're a Coolidge dollar.
You're the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire.
You're an O'Neill drama, You're Whistler's mama,
You're Camembert.
You're a rose; You're Inferno's Dante,
You're the nose of the great Durante.
I'm just in the way, as the French would say 'de trop'
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top.

You're the top, You're a Waldorf salad.
You're the top, You're a Berlin ballad.
You're the baby grand of a lady and a gent,
You're an old Dutch master, You're Mrs Aster,
You're Pepsodent.
You're romance, You're the steppes of Russia,
You're the pants on a Roxy usher.
I'm a lazy lout, that's just about to stop,
But if baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top.

Now, you tell me: Can I call my firstborn Camembert? Will she really consider it a compliment if I compare her to the Coliseum? Can I tell her "You're Pepsodent" with a straight face?... Perhaps I'll settle for Napoleon brandy. Or just send her a link to the clip on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=My7HaXp1Sq4…

Open letter to the Grievance Committee (that's you guys!)

I have a grievance I want to share with you all.

A certain translation agency, which shall remain nameless, sometimes asks me to evaluate the work of prospective translators or editors. This involves receiving from the agency a sample text, say two pages long, and its translated or edited version. I'm asked to check the translation or the editing done, and give my opinion in writing, in some detail. I.e. not just "yes, he/she's okay" "no, don't bother with him/her." I think you'll agree with me that this is a very responsible task. For this type of job, they are willing to pay only NIS 30. Flat rate; not even "per unit". I tried to argue, but in vain. Anything higher is considered "exorbitant".

Last time I turned them down, the project manager shrugged her shoulders and said never mind, she'd give the work to someone else.

Obviously, there are "someone elses" out there who take on such work for this ridiculously low rate. I even know one personally -- a highly educated person, a very good translator, who is a member of the ITA and is far from being a starving student who must take any work at any price.

Now, obviously I can't tell people what work to take and what to turn down... But I think anyone who agrees to do this very responsible work for 30 shekels apiece is doing harm to the entire community of translators, and reinforcing agencies' practice of exploiting translators. Mind you, if all good translators/editors refuse to undertake this type of work, the agency might lower its standards and give it to mediocre translators/editors, who might misjudge the work of aspiring translators and thus cause a different kind of damage.

To be fair, I'll add that despite my disapproval and resentment I have in the past taken on such jobs, out of sheer curiosity. I wanted to see what kind of translators and editors are out there, looking for work. I wanted to see for myself how good they were. And if they weren't that good, I wanted to know what kind of mistakes they made, what are the most common pitfalls. I find this kind of information very useful in my work, and in helping other translators avoid said pitfalls. The agency in question was only too happy to take advantage of my weakness and curiosity. Can't blame them. But I have decided to be a collaborator no more.

I actually thought of airing this grievance on the ITA Group website on Yahoo Groups, but was not sure whether there was any point and whether it would serve any useful purpose. At worst, it would trigger a long thread of arguments, stirring up the embers of resentment and discontent without doing anyone any good.

So I thought I'd post it on my blog and get it out of my system. Constructive suggestions welcome.


Signs Abroad - part II

... and below is another sign that I liked, because of its casual, chatty, friendly tone. I shall type the text under the pic, because it's a bit fuzzy, even if you click and enlarge it.

This photo was taken at the Lost Gardens of Heligan -- a beautiful place, if you love green thingies like gardens, trees, bushes, hothouses and sample-jungles.

Here's the text:
The Crystal Grotto
I'm sorry that it's still a little mucky in here but
restoration isn't complete yet. The Crystal Grotto is
at first glance a charming, plain, traditional grotto
of the late 18th century, however in its roof, hidden
by gunge, are set crystals. we are reliably informed
by people who visited the gardens in the 1920s
that on summer evenings candles would be
brought out here and the crystals would reflect
light onto the paths. We are setting out to achieve
that again.

Signs Abroad

If you follow this blog you know by now, that I always take with me a book or two when going abroad, but don't always get to read them. However, being a compulsive reader, I do read other things -- anything within sight.

On our most recent trip, earlier in October (2009), we rented (or hired) a car and toured Cornwall for a few days. Plus a bit of Somerset on the way. One of our last stops was St. Just -- just a little town, nothing special. If you follow the link you'll see the little town square where we parked our blue Seat Leon. But a short drive west brings you to Cape Cornwall -- with a beautiful view of the ocean and a hill with a pillar on top.

Anyway, wandering and admiring the view, I came upon this here bench and sign:

Upon closer inspection, the sign says:

[In case pic isn't clear, the offending phrase is: "The National Trust... needs money for it's work..."]

Well! Who'd have thunk it? Literally carved in stone, for the whole tourist world to see, such a boo-boo!
Haven't written yet to the National Trust. At the bottom, hidden by grass, it says "Please will you help?"
I certainly shall, by sending them a link to this post. Mind you, I'm afraid correcting a mistake etched in stone is rather a nuisance compared to correcting a printing error. On the other hand, who knows how many such stones the National Trust has scattered all over the UK... Wonder if they all contain the same mistake...

But I did also learn something on this same grassy patch, from yet another sign -- click on pic to enlarge and read:
(Should have moved aside a certain blade of grass]

Until I reached the end of the text, I had no idea what a chough was. Did you?

The case against automatic translation tools?...

My daughter Shira recently signed up for an online newsletter on landscape architecture. The publishing house is German, but the website is in perfectly good English, as well it should be. Um, that is, most of it is. Something seems to have slipped through the cracks. The site editor must have dozed off and forgot to polish a certain machine-generated paragraph. (Just a theory.)

The newsletter registration page is quite normal, until the last paragraph, which reads: [Read aloud for maximum effect]

Data protection: Their email address is used only for the dispatch of our own information. We pass your address on not to third and dispatch also no advertisement of third. At the end of each newsletter a comfortable notice possibility exists. The Klicks on hyperlinks in emails and on web pages is made measured anonymous. The education of personal user profiles without your agreement is impossible thereby.


This weird text is followed by a standard Privacy Policy page.

Anyone want to point this out to the publishing house?

Translation tips –- Hebrew to English

Here are a few typical goofy translations, of the sort I encounter repeatedly.

These may not be downright awful mistakes… they're just not the best way of phrasing things:

1. From the October 26, 2009 J. Post:

"Cameri Theater actor Limor Goldstein… has responded positively to a request from the theater's manager to step in …" etc.

"Responded positively" reeks of literal translation of the ubiquitous Hebrew expression נענה בחיוב, נענתה בחיוב [na'ana be'hiyuv, na'anta be'hiyuv]

The more natural way to say it in English would be: agreed, accepted, said yes, etc.

(Yes, this would require rewriting the sentence. Piece of cake, right?)

2. From the October 21, 2009 J. Post:

"The decision on whether to close the file on Foreign Minister A. L. or to invite him to a hearing that will determine whether or not the state will press charges against him…"

Just because he's a minister, does not mean he is invited and has the option of declining the invitation… This too is a common literal translation of the Hebrew להזמין [lehazmin] which indeed usually translates as "invite". Though had the original, Hebrew writer of this article used the verb לזמן [lezamen] rather than lehazmin, the English translator would have been less likely to err (I hope.) In this case, I believe the minister was summoned. This verb is very useful in other contexts too.

In Hebrew, you use this "inviting" verb in contexts wherein you'd use a totally different verb in English:

- The headmaster / head teacher called/ summoned the parents of the unruly kid to the school. The teacher calling the parents may be very polite, but I doubt you'd call it an invitation.

- The doctor's/dentist's receptionist called to schedule an appointment for your check-up

And so on.

3. Writers of Hebrew have a fondness for the word project. Not everything is a project. Sometimes program is more apt. E.g.: "Program Objective: Locate 20 students aged 12-16 who would participate in and benefit from the program." (A program run in certain schools offering extra tutoring to pupils who need it.)

4. The Hebrew word קוסמטיקה [cosmetica]. No, it does not necessarily mean cosmetics. In Hebrew usage, this word covers everything from creams and wonder-serums to lipstick and false eyelashes. In English, there's skincare products (= creams etc) and there's cosmetics (lipstick etc.) So be on your guard.

BTW -- there is a good Hebrew word for cosmetics in Hebrew -- תמרוקים [tamrukim]. But I see that its meaning is a bit fuzzy. According to my Heb>Eng dictionary, it means both make up and creams & unguents; but according to my Heb-Heb dictionary, it refers only to skincare, not to makeup. Go figure.

5. פרס [pras] – literally – prize. But in many instances it's an award, not a prize.

You shop, we drop - Grammar Court

Walking or driving through London, I often see these large Tesco delivery trucks, carrying the slogan "You shop, we drop".
I can't help but feel that it appeals to every housewife (or other shopper) staggering home with heavy shopping bags. Never occurred to me that some may consider it ungrammatical.

I don't care what the Grammar Court decides -- I think it's brilliant. Along with so much other British copywriting. Well, actually, the Judge decided it's grammatical. So much the better!

- to be continued...

London – not what you thought

Whenever I tell friends and colleagues that I'm going to London – which, I'm happy to say, has been happening fairly regularly during the past nearly 30 years of my life – people react with "Lucky you! Have a great time! Have fun!"

While I don't wish to complain, and I do often have fun, it's not of the type my friends have in mind. In their mind's eye, they see me shopping on Oxford Street , feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square , watching the mime artists in Covent Garden , spending my evenings in the West End catching up on the latest shows, dining out, downing pints in pubs, and possibly also visiting the Queen .

I'd like to set the record straight.

Though, with the exception of visiting the Queen, I have, over the years, done all of the above, this is not what my typical London visit consists of. See, London is a big city, and I stay on the south-east edge, in a small suburb called New Eltham that no one has ever heard of. For starters, it's "south of the river", which to North Londoners is tantamount to some obscure region of Africa. To be a wee bit more accurate, if you care to look at a map, it's on the border of Kent, or it used to be part of Kent. It's part of the borough of Greenwich, which I'm sure you heard of, that of Greenwich Mean Time fame. Sleepy little township with lots of little old ladies with neat white hairdos, the same square, pale grey or cream colored parkas, sensible shoes and plaid shopping bags. It's got the obligatory High Street with Marks & Spencer's, a Boots, a Superdrug if I feel the urge to be more economical, a Next for my fave socks, a WHSmith for bday cards (more about that later). It has the minimum required number of Chinese, Indian and Italian restaurants (say 3 each per n square miles, where n stands for – but let's not overcomplicate things); and it has at least one café that serves a decent latte.

So you see, I'm not really complaining. Also, the view from the upstairs spare bedroom window is adorable – the back yard with its lawn, rosebush, flower pots, squirrels scurrying around, etcetera; and beyond it the green green grass of Avery Hill Park. Charming. Soothing, Quiet (except when the Scouts are having a camping day).

At the risk of sounding like an estate agent, I'll add that it's within easy walking distance to the train station, and the neighbors are really nice. That is, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt – I never hear them or see them. No loud music, no fighting or shouting, no TV station blaring in Russian, no car honking. Rather dead, in other words.

Mind you, staying here in New Eltham does not mean I'm in detention or house arrest. We – Hubby and I – have been known to wander off, be it to stately homes around the corner like Eltham Palace – very handy, having a stately home to gawk at and admire right around the corner --- or to get on a train and go off to, say, Loch Ness . (Okay, that was for Shira's bat mitzvah trip, but it still counts!). This time, for instance, we plan to go off to Cornwall. Visit Penzance , for example; muse on the days – if there ever were such days – when pirates were romantic and chivalrous and took pity on orphans*. Unlike today's uncouth Sumalis.

-- -- --

Now that I've gotten that straight, I can go back to other things I wanted to tell you about: Why I like flying over on BA; the movies I watched on the flight; the books I'm reading, and the books I intend to buy at Waterstone's, or some other useful shop.

* FREDERIC: Then, again, you make a point of never molesting an orphan!

SAMUEL: Of course: we are orphans ourselves, and know what it is.

Editors, let us be heard!

At the tail end of this year's ITA AGM, an important subject came up for discussion: Editors. Are they adequately represented by the ITA? Should they be? If the ITA is designed to encompass editors as well as translators (which I always assumed it was), does it do so successfully? If not, what should be done about it and by whom? Should editors have their own association? Should they belong to both associations? Should more editors join the ITA? Should they be heard more? Should the ITA have more editor-oriented activities? Should the ITA's name explicitly reflect the fact that it represents editors, too?

The subject seemed to take some people in the audience by surprise. Personally, I had never given it much thought, because I am both an editor and a translator and have always felt perfectly at home in the ITA. My presentations at ITA conferences were mostly from the point of view of an editor, but were just as helpful to translators as to editors, if not more so. And a propos presentations – I may take Kelli Brown's advice and upload said presentations onto SlideShare.

Just like translators constantly have to educate clients and drill it into their heads that translation is a profession and a skill, (rather than just "typing the text in a different language",) so do editors. Most people are not aware that written material – be it original text or a translation, a letter to the Authorities or a school paper – needs editing. Even translation agency employees are often in the dark. The [usually] young people who work there were never taught the difference between, say, proofreading, light editing, heavy editing, re-writing and even copywriting. As a result, they don't know how to explain things to prospective customers, who would rather not pay extra for editing. (Whether customers are charged extra for editing or whether editing is included in the cost of a translation job is a different story.) A veteran employee at The Gang begged me to please-please "write something" that would explain to her "girls" what editing was all about. Another agency I sometimes do work for has more than once sent me a text, asking for "proofreading", whereas it quickly turned out that the text actually needed serious editing.

In brief: Editing needs good PR. The nature of editing needs to explicated. The need for editing should be crystal-clear to all; it should go without saying. But since so far it isn't and it doesn't, let's jump in and do it: let's all chip in and educate the world about editing. Okay – not the world… but whoever you can, to the extent that you can. We should help the ITA promote us, and we should help ourselves.

Politically correct?

The other day I was approached by an international charitable organization, let's call it the Unbiased Helping Hand, with a request to edit their monthly newsletter.
I said yes please. The document was around 4000 words long, the remuneration was reasonable, and – surprise, surprise – the text was quite well-written. In other words, it did not require much fuss or editing, so the reasonable remuneration turned out to be quite worthwhile. I was aware that this is an international organization, and assumed the text had to be politically-correct in every way imaginable. So I was careful with any changes I made.

In due course I received feedback on my work.
UHH, I think you've taken it too far…

Not wishing to tackle political topics on this blog, I will nonetheless point out these two questionable preferences on the part of UHH:
Gaza crossing, quoth UHH, not border crossing, because it's not exactly a border. Google "Gaza border crossing" and you'll see that such disparate news media as Al Jazeera, the BBC World Service, Haaretz, and others are quite happy with calling it a border crossing.
Gilad Shalit, quoth UHH, is the captured soldier, not the imprisoned soldier. Presumably, ever since he's been captured, he is not in captivity. Or else his captivity does not constitute a prison, which – perhaps they reason – is for civil offenders?

I did not get into an argument with them; no point. Their newsletter, their preferences.

The Case of the Client from Hell

New Eltham, London SE 9

I'm sure most of you -- translators and editors -- have come across this loathsome character: the know-it-all Client from Hell.

This case started out innocently enough back home in Israel. A regular client, Ms. Fair Lady of Fair Translations, called and asked me to undertake a longish (~20,000 word) document describing an online computer game for kids, let's call it Lost in Adventureland. The job consisted of about 80% English editing and 20% Hebrew to-English translation. I can just hear the client, Mr. PiTA, saying haughtily: "My English is fine, I could do it myself only I don't have the time."

I took the job, mainly because I'd already done part of the project in the past and was more-or-less familiar with the subject; and because the timetable, believe it or not, was reasonable.

Reasonable, that is, until certain people, namely elderly mothers, started dying all around me. First my own dear mother, Clara C. Rimon, died; and during the week of mourning we were informed that my mother-in-law, Fay Davis, would not last much longer.

I told Ms. Fairlady that I was a mite preoccupied, and suggested that I send the job to my daughter Shira in Canada, who over the past few years has become a remarkably adept translator and editor. Fine, said Fairlady, provided I too would give the document the once-over, to ensure consistency of style.

Despite the gloom of having just lost two grandmothers (plus her bf's grandmother, to boot), my daughter came through and supplied the goods (though the timetable became very unreasonable as the deadline was moved forward to "right now"). I fulfilled my share of the bargain, and with a sigh of relief sent off some 70 pages back to Fairlady. Since there were a few unclear bits left over, highlighted in yellow and requiring answers/decisions from PiTA, I naturally added a note that I'd be happy to answer any queries and explain the yellow bits.

Next day, the document lands in my Inbox, with a note from Fairlady asking me to review the changes made by PiTA. With dire premonitions, I opened the document... and screamed.

Mr. PiTA, using Track Changes, had crossed out our thoughtful corrections of his poor English, and re-inserted his original mistakes. Page after page after page.

He inserted the where none was called for, and took it out where it was necessary.
He changed feedback to feedbacks and correct tense usage into incorrect forms of verbs. He changed in detail to in details and took my carefully placed onlys and put them back the way they were, in the wrong places. He deleted elegant sentences, reverting to his own clumsy, wordy phrasing. He created incorrect possessive forms by adding apostrophes left, right and center.

And so on and so forth.

What on earth possessed him?
Why did he bother giving the document to be edited, if he was so certain his English was perfectly good just the way it was?


What book to read during Shiva

The short answer? Probably none.
By the time all the visitors have left, and I'm facing a sink full of dishes, a coffee table covered in cookie crumbs, and the decision of whether to snack on cookies or drown my sorrow in tea/juice/beer, reading is the last thing on my mind.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, my only sister was killed in a car crash in 1984. My compassionate mother-in-law, who lives (at least as I write these lines) in London, sent me a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I never bothered to even open it. I know she meant well, and thought perhaps I'd find some solace in the book. But as far as I'm concerned, there is no rhyme or reason. These things just happen. So to the extent that I can still keep my eyes open after a long day of mourning, I just carry on with the book that is currently on my night table – How We Know What Isn't So. The following morning, with my breakfast coffee, I read the paper like I always do, get annoyed over the same things as always, but do very badly on the word-games and puzzles, because my mind isn't functioning properly and I have the attention span of a newt.

But I digress. This post was supposed to be about my mother, Clara Rimon, nee Caren. Born in Brooklyn, NY, November 27th, 1917; made aliya to pre-State Israel on June 22, 1946; died in Shmuel HaRofeh Geriatric Hospital, a.k.a. Shmulik, in Beer Yaakov, July 17, 2009.

And this is where I get stuck. I have too much to say about her and don't want to bore my readers. Her most outstanding features were her cheerfulness, her warm and caring heart, and her remarkable acting talent. She was my mother, and to a certain extent I took her for granted, not realizing what an amazing person she was.
Instead of trying to do justice to her myself, I quote below from a letter from a dear old friend:

From: Mike Slobodkin
To: The AACI
Re: Clara Rimon July 17, 2009

Tonight at about 9:15 p.m. the English speaking community in Israel lost one of its, to say the least, most colorful and outspoken members, who did not mince words. She made aliya more comfortable for me and I assume many other people. Clara and Nahum were a delightful couple and I had the good fortune of being adopted by them when I was in Israel my first 30 years and had no one. We also met for animated play readings, starting in the ZOA House.
Rather than simply grieving at our loss, I'm happy to say I had the good fortune of meeting Nahum and Clara Rimon.

As soon as the Shiva is over, I fly to London to join my husband who is sitting at his mother's sickbed. Another Shiva looms very close.
So my next post might not be on a very happy note. However… both Clara (my mom) and Fay (my mother in law) lived full, active lives for more than 91 years. Both had their wits about them till the very end, and both had a sense of humor. If I thought there was a Heaven, I'd think they'd be having a ball up there together.

When will they ever learn?

On Friday, June 19, a full page ad in Haaretz weekly supplement caught my eye. Okay, maybe it didn't exactly "catch my eye" – I've already made it clear that I'm a compulsive ad-and-label reader.

The ad was for Pitaro office furniture, and showed a young man languidly relaxing (what's the matter? Doesn't he have any work to do??) in the latest model office chair, referred to in Israel often as "kisseh menahalim" – literally, a manager's chair. (What's the matter – don't other employees deserve a good chair that will protect their backs??)

Forget the fact that the fellow in the picture is entertaining himself with paper airplanes, his office and desk suspiciously bare, bereft of any "work" aside from a token laptop. The ad was visually "clean", no clutter, no blah-blah-yadda-yadda.
Good idea. Keep it simple. One or two punchy sentences, that's all you need.
And the punchy title goes:
Loose your body, free your mind


Is that New English that I am not aware of, or is it yet another example of the incompetence of client and advertising agency combined?
I wrote to the client, Pitaro, and to the advertising agency – Almog Dvir. (Beware - their website is one of the most annoying ever.)

A friendly guy from Pitaro hastened to thank me profusely for my comment, and explained that they meant something along the lines of hang loose, relax your body, loosen up. They'd speak to the advertising agency, he wrote, and would take care of it.
The agency in question replied very curtly: Got it. Thanks for your comment. Will fix as needed.

A week went by.
A second ad in the same vein appeared on the following Friday, June 26. This time, the guy was blowing bubbles; his office and desk, too, are unnervingly clean and tidy, with only hints of any "work".

Had the text been corrected? You're kidding.

What books to bring back from vacation

Or, better, what books I brought back from this trip. Whether the choice was wise, or what I, or anyone else, should or should not bring, is a totally different issue.

1. New copy (of the fourth edition) of Strunk & White, The Elements of Style
Because this classic lives on in spirit but not in substance. The copy I had fell to pieces, and I can't even find those. Bought at the University of Waterloo bookstore.

2. A Dictionary of Catch Phrases from the 16th century to the present day, by Eric Partridge
Because it sounded interesting… The tiny print does make perusing it a bit difficult, but it can supply endless hours of enjoyable browsing for language freaks, and can perhaps settle disputes between language aficionados about the origin and meaning of various phrases. The amount of research that went into that tome is mind-boggling. I didn't know, for example, that "I didn't know that" is a c.p. (catch phrase) originating in 1974, having to do with "a series of radio and TV commercials in which their 'salesman' extolled some of the superior points of the new Ford car…. His prospective customer then said: 'I didn't know that!'…" etc etc.

3.Quick study sheet on technical and business writing, published by Barcharts.
These concise reference sources are actually called Laminated Reference Guides.
Ridiculously cheap, a huge selection of topics, and probably very helpful. see list.
The one I bought includes sections such as: Reports, Proposals, Using Visual Aids, Word Choice & style, Persuasion Techniques, Collaborative Writing, and plenty more.
Bought at the University of Waterloo bookstore.

4. Edwardian England 1901 -15, Society and Politics, by Donald Read. Reader in modern English history, University of Kent. Published by Harrap, London. 2nd hand copy, reject of the University of Waterloo library.
My daughter Shira thought her brother Daniel, who's interested in history, would like it. All I did was say "thanks" and add it to my suitcase.

5. Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
My daughter-in-law Nurit, a McCourt fan, asked for it. She enjoyed his previous books immensely. I shall ask her if it was all she hoped for.

6. How We Know What Isn't So, by Thomas Gilovich (borrowed, not bought)
- Saw it among Shira's textbooks (required reading for a U of W psychology course) and was immediately drawn to it. The subject – "the fallibility of human reason in everyday life", appealed to me. Reading it now, and am amazed and dismayed by the ways in which my reasoning fails me. Hope to be more aware of my illogical assumptions and conclusions in the future. Daniel glanced at it and commented, "Sounds like Tversky & Kahneman"* . Indeed, Gilovich does quote these awesome guys often.

7 + 8. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, and The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
I recently read an interesting article about Capote, don't remember where and by whom, (possibly the NY Times? Perhaps in connection with the movie Capote, which I enjoyed?) calling him one of the most important American writers of the 20th century. If I've ever read anything by him, (most likely Breakfast at Tiffany's,) I certainly do not remember. So I wanted to read and judge for myself. Raymond Carver has also been called great and important, and I can't stand most of his stories.

9. Survival of the Sickest, by Dr. Sharon Moalem
Because of my colleague Yael Sela-Shapiro's rave review on her blog.
Seems that Nurit – always interested in issues of sickness and health – has already read the book in Hebrew, and thought Moalem's conclusions a bit far-fetched. Will let you know what I think when I get around to reading it.

10. Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, by Susan Sontag
Because my daughter Daria asked for it. Since it's a fairly recently published book, Amazon.uk does not yet have any review. The NY Times book review is not very reassuring.

11. Writers' Forum (magazine), June 2009 issue. Bought at Heathrow airport Terminal 5, during a 5 hour layover.
Because I'm tired of reading glossies telling me why my [nonexistent] makeup and [casual] clothes are all wrong for me, and how a jar of ridiculously priced cream will make me look 20 years younger. And because I still hope to be a [published] writer and still think that there may be some secrets that I don't know. (There' aren't. The secret is write, write, write, edit edit edit, and submit, submit, submit ad infinitum.)

Add to the above list the 2 books I took with me from home and never touched (except to pack and repack) – see posts from May 26th and May 31st); my husband's six very-thick novels (by C.J. Sansom – historical novel / thriller, Ian Irvine - fantasy) plus the one he brought with from home; figure in the Michelin guide and loads of maps and brochures such as The Parks Canada Mountain Guide; and you'll see how we ended up with 18 books plus miscellaneous printed matter. Very heavy stuff.

* Israeli scholars famous for their studies in the field of judgment and decision making, and more.
- Except where otherwise stated, books were ordered online from www.amazon.uk , and most are 2nd hand in good condition. As I've noted in the past, a very good deal if you can have them delivered to the UK and pick them up when you happen to be in the neighborhood.

What book to take on vacation - part II

The short answer?

Here I am, in Salmon Arm, BC, and my Greene and Darwin are so far just objects making my suitcase that much heavier to drag in and out of the car trunk, up and down motel stairs...

Not that I haven't been doing any reading.
I've read maps, signposts, information signs, menus, weather reports, bear sighting reports and avalanche warnings, for example. All awfully interesting. And a bit scary :-)

Well, the trip has just begun, I am sure there will be some down time when I can settle down with one of my books. Thought British Airlines does not make it easy -- their selection of movies and music is amazing; did some catching up in that area.

Au revoir -- gotta go!

Oz – Gogol – Greene – Darwin

One of the most important things to be packed before a trip is a book, of course. The difficult question is which one. It can't be too heavy – your carry-on weighs a ton already.
It can't be too engrossing – you don't want to be so absorbed in the hero's shenanigans that you miss out on the view. My son once pointed out that judging from my trip journal, I spent most of a certain trip abroad totally involved in the adventures of Frodo and Sam and sighing over Strider rather than over the wonders of a new land.

The natural thing to do is probably to take the book you're in the middle of reading. Which is not a good idea if the book is 593 pages long and weighs 708 grams (including my bookmark and the weight of the lead – sorry, graphite – of my pencil markings in the margins.) Which is why the book in question, A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz, was not taken on any of my recent trips. Took me a long time to finish that book, and not for lack of interest –I loved it. For one thing, I discovered that Oz has a sense of humor – something that had never struck me before in earlier novels. Also, it brought back childhood memories, captured to perfection. For example, the Special Event of going to the pharmacy in the center of town in order to make a phone call.

When I at last finished A Tale of, I was sorry it ended and immediately picked up Oz's nonfiction, The Story Begins. I leafed through and chose the chapter describing the opening paragraphs of Gogol's The Nose. It was so intriguing, that I dropped the slim volume and picked up Gogol's Petersburg Tales (see my posts of November 29, 2008 and December 25, 2008). What a treat! Unlike my reaction to The Overcoat, The Nose was quite funny, in a lunatic sort of way.

But I digress. Oz and Gogol were both ruled out as travel companions.

Another book on my shelf is Ian McEwan's Atonement weighing in at 480 pages and 253 grams. I stopped at page 130. At the risk of sounding superficial, un-literary, unrefined and unappreciative, I'll say that I found the novel hard going. Each description in itself is a gem of insight: hits the nail on the head, touches a nerve, zeroes in on the essentials that make people tick, or work. But strung together as they are, interspersed between the "lowly" plot-propelling chapters, they slow down the story excruciatingly, while I believe in E.M. Forster's wistful "Oh dear, yes, the novel tells a story." I want a story to unfold smoothly, whereas this story (and I know it's a good one – I've seen the movie) lurches painfully – one step forward, two steps back, one in place.

Which leaves me with two books. Seeing as I'm leaving early tomorrow morning, I had better make up my mind.

I'm opting for Charles Darwin and Graham Greene.

Greene has for years been one of my favorite writers. In case I haven't mentioned it (and "Search Blog" says I haven't), I was reading A Burnt-Out Case, (208 p., 122 gr. including the Scotch tape holding it together) and stopped – can you believe it – on page 189! I could see how Querry, the well-meaning protagonist, was getting himself into a pickle, and I just couldn't stand it. As if, if I didn't read on, everything would be alright, and the story would have a happy end. So, no Burnt-Out Case, I'm not going to schlep 122 gr. for the sake of 19 heart-rending pages. If you know from your own acquaintance with the novel, that I can safely read on without crying my eyes out, do let me know, and perhaps I'll finish it tonight after packing and before calling for a taxi.

Instead of Burnt, I shall take my chances with The Honorary Consul-- 268 p., 151 gr., no Scotch tape – better condition, won't fall apart in transit. And yes, I know I'm taking a chance with regard to the fate awaiting the protagonist. I can tell from the cover: a Michael Caine type chappie, blindfolded, and two machine-gun toting revolutionaries behind him.

Which brings us to the book I am currently reading: The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin. I thought I should read it before The Origin of Species. You know – as background. It is heavyish and thickish – 480 pages, 324 gr. I'm currently on page 50. The margins are littered with my question marks – petioles? mytilus? ampullariae? infusoria? confervae? I don't even know what pelagic animals are, and I'll have you know that "Scoresby remarks that green water abounding with pelagic animals is invariably found in a certain part of the Arctic Sea." (p. 20) But in the margins are also exclamation marks, smileys and "ha!", indicating, of course, that I was amused. True, I do get a bit glassy-eyes when various beetles are described. But on the other hand there are plenty of adventures and astute, insightful observations about foreign cultures, social mores, Life, the Universe and Everything.

* * *

This will only take you a minute

How many times have you heard that before?
Don't you just love it?

The phone rings, and one of your regular customers is on the line, offering you a job, or rather, expecting you to take the teensy weensy job he is throwing at you.
You explain that you're in the middle of something, rather a long complicated piece – say about Prospects for Peace in the Piddled East, or the Logic of Life on Lucifer – and you can't right now. Needless to say, his job is urgent.
"There's nothing to it, really," he insists, "it's less than a page. It'll only take you a minute."

So, against your better judgment, you give in.

But it never takes just a minute, does it?

First of all, you save the document you've been toiling over and shove it aside, as it were.
You open the new email. Save the document into the appropriate folder. Glance at it. Realize it's more complicated than you thought. Start translating. Find out there's an unfinished sentence in the first paragraph. Paragraph two contains three unfamiliar names in Hebrew, or in Arabic, or in Ancient Greek, which you have no idea how to pronounce and therefore can't Google them properly. Paragraph three is so vague and convoluted, being made up of one long sentence, that you haven't the foggiest what the writer was trying to say.
You figure out a workaround – after all, you are an experienced, skilled translator – tweak it a bit, and send it off back whence it came.
What with one thing and another, you've spent nearly an hour on the stupid thing.

Never again, you say to yourself… Until next time.

Planning my getaway from literal translations

For the past few weeks, I've been jotting down notes, bits and pieces of rants and ideas, but never getting around to actually posting on this-here blog. My excuse this time is, that I've been preparing for a trip to Canada, and had a "to do" list as long as my arm. By now, after weeks of intensive to-doing, the list is less than a foot long, which is far better than an [adult] arm.

One would think I was going to some god-forsaken uncharted no-man's land, from the amount of errands, shopping and "sidurim*" that I've been doing; when in fact I'll be in a Very Civilized country, where I'm sure every petrol station will carry most of what any Western weary wayfarer might wequire.

I can see myself sitting in a roadside diner, sipping awful coffee (I'm addicted to Elite Brazilian Botz**) and leafing through the local paper. Will I get as upset with the Calgary Clarion, the Banff Bugle, the Waterloo Weather Weport or the Kitchener Kitchen Knews as I do here in Israel with the Jerusalem Post?...
Only Time will tell, and this time draws near, thank goodness. Just a few days away.

Meanwhile, I'll share with you some of the annoying snippets, the likes of which I hope not to encounter when on vacation:

1. An ad for the Mega supermarket chain gave a recipe for a zucchini-pepper-cheese dish. It says :"Oil an English cake dish with olive oil." For those of you who reacted with a "Huh?", this is a literal translation from Hebrew. It should say "Grease a loaf pan…"

2. In the same ad, a picture shows two types of strudel, and the caption says "Apple / Forest Fruit Strudel". Well, folks, there is no such thing as "forest fruit strudel"; what the translator meant was wild berries. Again, a case of literal translation

3. Yotvata sweet cream – it's not sweet cream, it's just plain cream, as distinguished from sour cream.

4. The Bank Hapoalim ad, pushing a new "budget management tool", says: "… a simple tool allowing you to monitor your incomes and expenses in detail, by category without any efforts". Once again, a case of literal translation from Hebrew. Writers in Hebrew tend to use the plural where it isn't really necessary, probably under the impression that more is better. In this case, it should be income and effort. Or use "effortlessly", in the right place in the sentence, of course.

5. The Marker's lifestyle magazine, Active, of April 2009, carried an article about fitness trends. Guess what the latest trend is? Having your own מאמן אישי וקואצ'ר - -- me'amen ishi ve'coacher – "personal trainer and coacher"… Yes, you got it, they mean coach.

6. Camp Kimana Israel is advertising its 2009 summer camps for kids and youth from all over the world. The colorful flier is all in Hebrew, except for… the words summer camp, which are liberally strewn all over the page. I guess the Hebrew words מחנה קיץ – makhaneh kayitz – just doesn't have a posh enough ring to it…

* sidurim -- inimitable Hebrew word covering a combination of errands and assorted tasks
** Botz - Turkish coffee; finely ground coffee to which you add boiling water and let the coffee grounds settle like mud. But I thought Brazilian Turkish coffee sounded silly.

Pessach Seders Executed Here

First of all, with reference to my previous post: below, with my thanks, are comments and additions by my colleague Ruchie Avital:




Also possible if you can't work around it: in the context of.


Actually, the concept of center/periphery is not an Israeli concept. Google it and see.

הטבה, הטבות

And perks, extras and even freebees, register permitting.

לתת מענה

Also: address

As for the title of this post, it refers to my absolute abhorrence of the ridiculous Israeli tendency to overuse the words לבצע, ביצוע – levatze'ah, bitzu'ah.
The other day I noticed that the toy and stationery store around the corner displays a sign saying כאן מבצעים תיקוני אופניים – kan mevatz'im tikunei ofanayim – literally: bicycle repairs executed here. Why, oh why? Why not, simply, כאן מתקנים אופניים, for instance?...

And now, for today's batch of awkward words, not in table format because it's such persnickety work and takes forever. (If you know why a table created in Word does not appear as such when copy-pasted into Blogspot, speak now, or forever… no, you can speak later, too.)

Usually used in Hebrew as a blanket term to mean the person, party or agency involved, or in charge.
לפנות, פניה, פניות
Conveniently unspecific in Hebrew, it may mean: to write, call, contact, ask, inquire, approach. Decide according to context.
As a letter, report, information, etc: Send, send on, forward, pass on to someone, submit
(When applied to an apartment.) Grrr… hate that one. We all know what it means – owners put lots of money into the apartment to make it nicer and more comfortable, presumably. But without knowing what was done, how can you safely write "refurbished", "decorated" or "renovated"? Perphaps the owners meant merely "properly maintained"? Or "fully accessorized"? (With thanks to Ruchie.)
Charming, enchanting, enchanted, magical – and a few other words available in your thesaurus. Not our fault that the word is overused.
On principle, I refuse to buy any product or service that is advertised as "mefanek" – just sick and tired of this adjective!
When translating, try to avoid "pampering" – it rarely fits the bill. Again: get out your thesaurus and find an adjective or two that can apply to the specific "mefaneking" item. If it's a body lotion or bubble bath, it can be sensuous, luxurious, rich. And so on. You get the idea.
Have you noticed how everything in Israel is "yokrati"? All apartments, cars, neighborhoods, appliances, dishes… you name it. Sounds like even if you wanted to buy a simple, modest item you wouldn't be able to find one.
Sometimes the literal translation – prestigious – works. Often it does not. Luckily for the Hebrew>English translator, we have so many adjectives at our disposal! Though do try to resist the temptation to write "pretentious" :-)
"Ashir" -- cousin of yokrati and mefanek. Sumptuous or lavish often work well.
Le'adken. Beware of trap. Israelis often use this verb when all they mean is "inform". So don't automatically assume they really mean "to update".
נחשפנו ל... תיחשפו ל...
Beware of overexposure! This verb, originally meaning to be exposed to, has been overused and has practically taken over in contexts where a simple, "old fashioned" verb would do just as well, if not better: We learnt about… we experienced… we saw for the first time… So don't squirm in an attempt to translate the word literally, thus exposing yourself to, er… criticism?

"The time has come," the Walrus said...

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things."
Or, in my case: the time has come, my colleagues said, to stop ranting and go back to giving my fellow-translators some good, solid, specific tips.
Well, I don't plan to stop ranting altogether… Criticizing can be fun. Besides, I enjoy getting things off my chest and out of my system. But this blog aims to be useful.

So here's a quick recap of some annoying / awkward words and phrases that occur often in Hebrew texts, causing us all headaches. I don't have a solution to all; by all means, feel free to add your own solutions and suggestions.

Incidentally, there's plenty more where these came from... I kept it to a minimum this time because handling tables in html so that they come out looking decent on these pages is a huge pain in the neck. If you have any tips -- please send them my way!



אפשר, ניתן

"you can" usually works fine; better than "it is possible".


As part of… within… or just omit and reword sentence. Try to avoid "in the framework of…"


Shift Supervisor.


Though you'll see "Israel's periphery" in newspapers, I don't think it's right. I usually use "outlying regions" or something to that effect.

הטבה, הטבות

Does not always mean "benefits". It is used loosely in Hebrew in different contexts and often means a discount, special price, reduced rate.

לרכז, ריכוז

To coordinate the efforts on… to keep a list of, be responsible for, be in charge of, handle, coordinate.

לתת מענה

provide a solution, respond to, react to, deal with, come up with a plan


Stylish, stylized, uniquely designed, individually designed; and sometimes: hand crafted,
hand decorated. (Mostly it just means that someone actually put some thought into how it should look…)

You get what you pay for

Guess what – I found a couple of mistakes in a large ad in the J. Post, and I'm not going to complain about it!

You know why? Because I believe it's not humanly possible to do a good job under the circumstances imposed by the J. Post. I know. From personal experience.
The Lord (or someone) is my witness that I do not want to translate ads for the Post, nor for any other newspaper, for pennies. I don't think anyone should. But since I myself have been known to cave in, I can't go blaming anyone else.

Thus goes the story:
A few years ago, in-between jobs, when I was panicking that I'd never find work, a certain respectable translation agency, let's call it Translations Galore, offered me a certain project. Not having anything better at the time, I accepted. The pay was low, but still higher than their competitors, The Gang, were offering; it was easy – the stuff flowed from eyes to fingers to keyboard practically by itself; it was interesting; and it kept coming. In addition, my contact person there was really nice.

Time passed. I only do the occasional job for that agency. But I do have a soft spot for them. So when the girl in question calls me and begs me to translate an ad, I sometimes say yes.

Now, the terms are scandalous: the pay is lousy; turnaround time is between "right now", and "it's been 25 minutes, where the hell is that ad?!"; and the texts, well, you know what Israeli copywriting is like. Either awful or too wisecracking for its own good.

So I do what I can. Sometimes I'm inspired and the translation is good; sometimes I'm not inspired, and since there's no time to agonize, consult, or polish, I just do it and send it off. I have been an accomplice. Guilty as charged.

I can't help but wonder at the big, rich companies, who pay their advertising agencies a fortune to produce ads and place them in the printed media, yet don't give a hoot about the English version of those ads, and are apparently unwilling to pay for a professional translation or copywriting.

So next time you fume, snicker or laugh at a poor translation of an ad in an English-language Israeli newspaper, magazine or billboard, keep in mind that, often, the advertiser gets what it pays for.

* * *

Slightly different angle on the same subject:
I came across a large ad, in Hebrew, for a certain model of Toyota.
At the bottom of the ad, there were three short lines of text that looked like a slogan, yet fell so flat that I couldn't believe they were really supposed to be a slogan:

(Hayom, machar, Toyota)
A quick glance at Toyota pages on the Internet revealed that this is the literal translation of one of Toyota's tag lines, or catch phrases:

I find that in English it has quite a nice ring, or cadence.
Once again: The company must have paid a pretty penny to the company who came up with that slogan. The Israeli representative or agency must have paid a pretty shekel to place the Hebrew ad. Why on earth would they make do with such a silly literal translation of the slogan? If it's not important, why not just skip it; and if it is – do it properly.