I wonder how they translated…

Generally speaking, I read books in the language in which they were written. Which means I read English books in English and Hebrew books in Hebrew. When it comes to books in other languages, such as La Vie Devant Soi, Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne or Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí I usually I have a choice of reading them in English or in Hebrew.

People ask me, which language do you prefer to read in?
Well, I read Hebrew faster than I do English. In Hebrew, I can take in a whole page at a time. This comes in handy, but it's no fun.

Thing is, I can rarely read without thinking of a possible translation.
Reading a Hebrew translation of an English book is exhausting, because I'm constantly back-translating in my mind, trying to figure out what the original was.

On the other hand, when reading a Hebrew book in the original, and knowing it's been translated into English, I can't help thinking, "Hmm… I wonder what the translator made of this… and if he/she got this word right… and how on earth did he find an equivalent for this idiom, which surely doesn't appear in Neri Sevenier's book?..."

I'd been toying with the idea of buying a copy of a translated novel or two, so I could indulge my curiosity. Preferably second-hand. But never got around to it.

So imagine my joy when my exercise-class pal S., recently retired after 18 years of work at Steimatzky's, offered me a load of books! I declined the Dan Browns (in English, but would have declined them in any language), but pounced on the English versions of Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness, translated by Nicholas de Lange; and of David Grossman's Someone to Run With, translated by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz.

What a treasure! Two novels that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now all I have to do is find time to read each book in both languages simultaneously, and all(???) my questions and wonderings will be(???) answered….


I guess if you're a lucky lottery winner, you don't care much what it said in the Lotto, Toto or Pais ad, so long as they shell out.

But I don't buy any lottery tickets, I just amuse myself reading the poor translations of their ads and making fun of their typos, if typos they are.

Below is the bottom part of a huge ad that ran in the J. Post for 2 days in a row, before the most recent draw.

Like I said – if I won 2nd prize, I wouldn't care much that they referred to it as Second Price… (Not to mention if I won first prize, or price, or whatever anyone wished to call it.)

Do you, Nina R. Davis, take this client…

Taking on a new client is not a marriage. Neither is any arrangement with a client. You can change your mind. You may ask to alter the terms of the agreement. You can terminate the affair. Or – like with a marriage – you may be better off not getting into it in the first place.

In July 2010 I wrote a post about listening to your gut feeling and turning down a job. The other day I did it again.

A client gave my name to a prospective client, a respectable company. Let's call it Luftgescheft Limited. Another client chimed in and recommended me heartily. So far, so good. I'm deeply grateful to both.

Then Mr. Luft requested a getting-acquainted meeting. Generally, I hate such meetings. They're time consuming and often stressful. I'd much rather conduct my business from the comfort of my desk, via email and the occasional phone-call if absolutely necessary. Let my work and my polite emails speak for themselves. (I only rant and rave when I'm on very comfortable, familiar terms with a client…) But I went. I listened. Nodded. Spoke little. Tried to "get a handle" on the issues at hand. But mostly I was fascinated by Luft's physical and mental attitude. The guy reeked smugness, superiority and superciliousness. His attitude was so disconcerting that it actually got in the way of my absorbing what the company was all about; their "mission", credo, unique selling points, and so on.

So I made sure I had an escape hatch, and said I'm not quite sure I'm the right person for the project, and have to go home and think about it. Luft agreed, and only requested that I give him a "go/no-go" (his words) reply as soon as possible.

I went home and thought about it.
First, I realized that I have nothing to say about the company, and that wracking my brains to come up with good, convincing copy was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.
Secondly, I realized that I'd rather not deal with Mr. Luft at all.

To help me finalize my decision, I carefully read all the printouts I was given, and re-examined the company website. Everything I read confirmed my initial reaction. I could, and would be willing to, do a good job of editing their written material. But I did not want to get involved in writing new stuff. So I wrote a polite email that included an offer to give them names of other professionals, and sent it off.

That was a few days ago.

I would have expected a brief acknowledgement. Just "Thanks for your email", or "Thanks for letting me know", or even a stiff "We are in receipt of yours of the 12th inst." would have been fine. But I got nothing.

That in itself says something, does it not?


Nina's Tips for Lectures and Presentations

The ITA Annual Conference (2011)  is approaching. Many have sent the Committee proposals for lectures and presentations, and it seems like the program is going to be pretty full. Goody-goody – I look forward to breaking my head over which lecture to go to!

A few of years ago, I came back from the conference with the distinct feeling that people needed help in preparing their lectures. While this impression was still fresh in my mind, I dashed off a 10-page paper in longhand. And so it sat there for three or four years. I suppose now is as good a time as any (in fact, better than, say, after the upcoming conference) to share my thoughts with you, even though several conferences have taken place since, and I do believe participants have meanwhile honed their skills.

Warning: May contain a few points already mentioned on my blog or in some previous ramblings.

Tips for Lectures & Presentations

Most of us are neither born orators nor natural entertainers/performers. But even those who look and sound adept and facile often seem that way thanks to many hours of rehearsing and practicing their craft. So don't feel bad if you dread getting up there on the podium and talking to a roomful of staring, expectant faces, making them nod, tut-tut or chuckle.

I wouldn't recommend, for example, trying to emulate Irit Linur (at the 2006 conference) with her easy, nonchalant attitude, speaking in a natural, relaxed manner without any notes or PowerPoint.

So what can you do to make your next lecture/presentation a success?

Choosing a subject
  • This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: Choose a subject close to your heart, something you feel passionately about, really care about, and that you know well. This way, even if you lose your train of thought, you'll be able to ad-lib; and when Q&A time comes, you will feel you're on solid ground.
  • If you've chosen a subject on which you've spoken once (or twice, or thrice) before, try to give it a new spin, look at it from a different angle. Bring it up-to-date with new examples that weren't in existence last time you spoke on the same subject; or adapt it to your new target audience. (Not exactly an option if the same people come to hear you speak. You don't want to bore them to tears.)
  • Is your proposed subject really well-suited to an oral presentation? Be excruciatingly truthful. Some papers are better left as written papers and may be of great merit as research in the relevant field, but are boring as all hell to listen to, and may leave the listener with a feeling of "so what?" Don't inflict such a lecture on an unsuspecting audience. They won't forgive you and will not want to listen to what you have to say at the next conference.

Correct structure of the talk/presentation
  • Do not spend too much of your limited time on an introduction or "historical approach", only to realize belatedly that you have only five minutes left for the rest of your talk. As you write your lecture, consciously limit yourself. For example: 300 words introduction, 300 words summing up, 1400 words for the main body of the lecture. 
  • Write it all out, then time yourself. Read it aloud, not too fast, to anyone willing to listen. The cat, dog of goldfish will do in a pinch, though human beings are usually – not always – more helpful.
  • If you've been allocated 50 minutes, allow a few min for shuffling through your papers, making sure you have the right pair of glasses and that the bottle of mineral water is within easy reach yet securely placed, and will not get knocked over when you reach for the mouse or to adjust the mike. Allow at least 5, preferably 10 min for Q&A. That leaves you around 35 min to talk.
  • So you've timed yourself. The dog seemed impressed whereas the cat either curled up and went to sleep, or walked away disdainfully. Don't get discouraged. Concentrate on the timing: if you're short, go back and elaborate on one or two points; add an example, an appropriate anecdote, or a joke if you think you can pull it off.  If you've overpitched – go back and cut back.
    If you're giving a PowerPoint presentation
    • If you're creating a PPT, take into account that presenting it may take a bit longer than an unillustrated talk, what with pointing to various bits on the screen and fumbling with an unfamiliar keyboard. Ergo, the actual talk should take at the very most 30 min.
    • PPT has a very handy built-in timer; use it when practicing; get used to the sound of your own voice.
    • Change the number of slides and amount of text on each to fit into the allocated time. As with the text of a lecture, so with the presentation: If your slide show comprises 30 slides, use 2-3 for the intro, no more than the same for summing up, and keep the lion's share for the heart of the matter. It's okay if the cat yawns; if your audience yawns, it had better be because your lecture is right after lunch, or because they stayed up dancing half the night.
    • If you're comfortable with PPT and can easily use all its bells and whistles – great, bully for you, but don't overdo it. You don't want to overshadow or drown your message.
    •  If you feel comfortable with the basics only – that's fine, too. Though a little bit of color goes a long way. Try at least to use a different color font to emphasize key words, for instance. Or use a different background color to differentiate between the sections of your talk. E.g.,
               Color 1 – the intro
               Colors 2, 3, 4 – the main sections of the talk
               Color 1 again, or 5 – conclusions and summing up.
    • Don't put too much text on one slide, and keep the font large enough so it can be seen from the back of the hall. Otherwise people will be too busy trying to catch up on the reading and will miss what you're saying.
    • Use short but complete sentences in the PPT, and elaborate on them orally, preferably without referring to notes. If you know your material inside out, this shouldn't be a problem. Or, you can memorize the text that elaborates on each short, spiffy sentence.
    • Find out beforehand whether the PC at the conference will have a regular mouse, or if you'll be expected to use the touchpad. Most of the time, you'll probably be using the arrow keys. But if you'll want to use the pointer, say, and don't get along well with a touch pad, consider bringing your own mouse and asking the technician to attach it. A laser pointer is a very handy thing to have when referring to items up on the screen.

    Whether it's a talk or a talk-plus-presentation
    Make the most of the short time at your disposal by being clear and specific. Don't ramble on, no promotional talk, sales pitch, or highfalutin bla-bla yadda-yadda. Stick to the point, make sure everything you say contributes to your message.

    If you're handing out handouts
    Make sure the text is easy on the eyes. Use a large (at least 12 pt), user-friendly font, with line spacing of 1.5 or 2, wide margins to scribble in, double spaces between paragraphs; in short, what tech writers call "plenty of white space". Use bullets or numbers if appropriate.

    Other stuff

    1. Dress neatly and comfortably. You don’t want a belt or tie that restrict your breathing nor shoes that pinch, nor a strap that keeps slipping off your shoulder.
    2. No, it's not okay to come dressed for a picnic in old jeans and shloompy T-shirt. Unless you're a famous performer and it's part of your image…
    3. Get a haircut, or use hairspray, hair gel, Dapper Dan's hair pomade, bobby pins, a hat, hairband or any other contraption – just don't mess with your hair and don't keep pushing it out of your eyes during the presentation.
    4. Focus on a few friendly faces in the audience. Try to find one in each corner of the hall, plus a couple in the center and in the front row, and talk to them. Your best friend / colleague / mother / son is in the audience? Great! Speak to them, too.
    5. Ever taken part in a school play? An amateur production? Pretend this isn't you on the podium; not the same "you" who came here on a bus or sat at the lunch table next to the guy in the 3rd row. You're an actor, and a damn good one, and you're putting on a show.
    6. Don't begin your talk by apologizing. We don't need to know what you can't or won't do or forgot to do. We know you're only human. But we came to hear what you do have to say. So tell us.
    I promise we'll applaud at the end.

    In a timely, though not surprising, coincidence, my colleague Inga Michaeli, recent former Chair of the ITA, also wrote a post on the same subject, in Hebrew: טיפים להרצאה מוצלחת (Tips for a successful lecture). Read it on Inga's blog.

    With thanks to all the good writers, speakers and presenters I've learnt from, and to my friend Marion Claire, the Confident Speaker's Coach.

    The case of the 13 books

    Maybe I didn't feel it was urgent to read the Sexy New Finds for Your Lips (November Cosmo, page 80), or the Beauty Cheat Sheet (ibid, p. 82) back when we were in the UK in October because I had a premonition that the cows and sheep of the West Pennine Moors would not be impressed.

    Or maybe I was too enthralled by the boxes of books that had been delivered to our hosts, Jenny and Bob, by Amazon UK via the trusty Royal Mail and their intrepid drivers, aided by Jenny standing outside Rose Cottage and waving to them with a big flag.

    Well, no sooner had we had a nice cuppa tea, than we pounced on those cardboard boxes and padded envelopes, tearing them open and pulling out the, yes, thirteen books we'd ordered. What's wrong with thirteen? It's a lucky number, isn't it? And we did bring an extra trolley to help haul them home.

    In the interest of proper disclosure, only 5 of the 13 books were for me, of which one is purely a reference book I need for my work – the much-valued Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, (1025 p., 1.5 kg = 3.3 lb) compared to the 13th edition I had (737 p., 1.1 kg = 2.5 lb).

    My other acquisitions, and the reasoning, if any, behind them, were:

    Down and Out in Paris and London / George Orwell
    Why? No idea. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At the moment it still seems like a good idea. As you will see from the link provided, you can read it online and decide for yourselves.

    The Definitive Book of Body Language / Allan and Barbara Pease
    Why? Because Tim Roth is cute and I'm hooked on Lie to Me. No, seriously: because, in the early '70s, I found the more pioneering work on body language, by Julius Fast, fascinating. And I was told that this newer book is more comprehensive and up-to-date. So far it's a bit of a drag. But it's not a book you have to read from cover to cover. You can dip into it, choosing the chapters that appeal to you.

    Notes from a Small Island / Bill Bryson
    Why? Well, I'd never even heard of Bill Bryson, until my friend Trish, complimenting me on my travel blog [Nina Makes Tracks], said something like, "Who knows, maybe you'll be the next Bill Bryson." So obviously I proceeded to Google, and became intrigued. Bryson has written a lot, but this one appealed to me. The one paragraph I read so far was so just like my own impressions! Here's an excerpt from the paragraph in question, from Chapter 1, p. 29:

    "If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say Surrey to Cornwall….your companions will….look knowingly at each other….and then they'll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it's better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet. Within minutes the conversation will plunge into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swiveling your head in quiet wonderment."
    Can't tell you how many times I have experienced this exact type of conversation, upon embarking on a car ride in England, be it from one end of London to another of from London to, say, Barnsley, Yorks.

    A Short History of Nearly Everything / Bill Bryson
    Why? Because I like rough guides to science, which is what this 687 page baby is about. Bryson's easy style is, of course, a marked bonus.

    Here endeth my part of the purchases.
    We also ordered two fat omnibuses of humorous fantasy writer Tom Holt for our son Daniel; five fat fantasy novels for Hubby, a.k.a. Michael: a Robert Jordan, a David Gemmel, and three Raymond E. Feists. And last but très important, A pocket Calorie Counter, by Carolyn Humphries, to replace one that was falling apart from over-use. (Nah, we don't count calories. We keep track of carbs, for purely health reasons.)

    * * *
    … so, to make a long story short, what did I read in the UK?
    - a bit of the body language book. Interesting, even useful, in small bites; gets tedious.
    And what am I reading now?
    - Tom Holt's Odds and Gods, one of his earlier stories. It is funny. If you like, l'll substantiate with a few choice quotations, even though they fail miserably – or hilariously – to provide the full picture.

    Cosmo Ain't What It Used To Be

    But then, nothing is, right?

    How many of you read Cosmopolitan? If you do, do you read the American edition, The British, or perchance the Israeli one? There are plenty other editions, of course, in other languages and countries, but I assume they have much in common: What to wear [the skinny jeans or the ones you can actually breathe and sit in? The dark grey or the dark-dark grey burqa?]; which hair-mousse/lipstick/eyeshadow is fashionable [not the ones you already have and paid a pretty penny for, that's for sure;] how to ask your boss for a raise [refer to the Body Language book first;] and – most important of all, the perennial best-seller – sex, sex, sex.

    See, I feel that I owe you a follow-up to my post of October 14th, where I went on and on about what-book-to-take-on-vacation. The upshot was, I didn't take any book. I bought a Cosmo at the airport. I do that occasionally, mostly on trips, to while away the time in airport lounges and the like. I wouldn't read it while sitting in a waiting room here in Israel: someone might think I'm a shallow person who doesn't appreciate Literature, god forbid! But everything goes in the anonymity of a large international airport. ["Hey, see that silvery-haired woman in blue over there? Isn't she the one who hands out the tickets to the Ptashka jazz concerts?.. Quick, I'll hide the Cosmo!"]

    Don't remember when I first discovered Cosmo. Possibly on my first trip to the States in 1972. Sure, it had articles on sex in those bygone days, too. I Googled and found a pic of the October 1972 cover. Let's see now, how many articles about sex does that issue contain, and how are they worded?

    • The Bugaboo of Male Impotence [Great, I just learnt a new word. How come baby stroller manufacturers decided on a word meaning "irrational fear" for their product name?... Are new moms terrified of strollers?...]
    • The Undiscovered Joys of Having a Chinese Lover [is that even politically correct?]
    • Analyst's Couch: The Unfaithful Husband [that qualifies as being about sex, right?]
    • How to Get Your Husband to Love You Like a Mistress (and Keep you Sexy and Satisfied) [Sounds a rather indirect approach…]

    Other topics mentioned on the cover are low blood sugar, yoga, weight reduction, an excerpt from a novel, a short story, and more. Out of the 11 front-cover topics, four deal with sex, in one way or another, in fairly tame, polite language.

    Now let's consider the November 2010 issue (American edition):
    Look at the slightly shy cleavage of Tuesday Weld (on the 1972 cover), half covered by the huge pendant, as opposed to the in-your-face cleavage of Katy Perry with the tiny, strategically placed pendant. Notice the coy placement of Weld's left hand, compared to Perry's forceful gesture. Then Look at the modest font used for the list of topics on the 1972 cover, as opposed to the screamingly huge titles on the 2010 cover. Then consider the wording of some of the topics:

    • First, Take Off His Pants. Next, Treat Him to the Sexy Strokes He's Been Craving All Along… but Won't Ask For [well, at least they used capitalization rules correctly…]
    • Wicked Things Other Women Do in Bed (Our Naughtiest Sex Poll)
    • What Your Turn-Ons Reveal
    • Uh, well… the other topics are more loosely related to sex…

    But the articles inside more than make up for it, with absolute must-know, hot information, such as Should You Have a Sex Code, Keep Your Long-Distance Love Hot, Feel Closer After a Fight, Your Top Sex Fantasies Analyzed, Sex Q+A, etc.

    And of course, an all-time favorite that has absolutely nothing to do with sex, we women do it for sheer fun and enjoyment – Get Killer Abs in 6 Minutes a Day.

    Not that I'm complaining. I'm no prude. And though the magazine has been on our coffee table for three weeks now, I've read only a fraction of its glossy, enticing 240 pages. I'm a working woman, you know; can't sit around reading Cosmo all day, even if it means I am still ignorant of the Sexy New Finds for My Lips. (Page 80, if you're interested.)

    As for what I read during my 2 weeks in the UK – the blog-post is in the making. Hint: We'd ordered 13 books from Amazon UK, and they were waiting for us in Heath Charnock when we got there. [Never heard of H. Charnock? See How to get lost on the West Pennine Moors.]

    Pitaro strikes [out] again

    One of my favorite pastimes is tearing apart bad copywriting and rotten translations of decent or even half-decent copywriting.

    A case in point is Pitaro office furniture. They pour god knows how much money into their "creative" and into placing their full-page ads in weekend supplements and so on, but obviously pay zilch, or near zilch, to their English copywriters and/or translators, if any. I have no other explanation as to why they consistently come up with bad English in their catch phrases, tag lines, slogans. It stands out all the more both because there is very little text on the big page (which, in itself, is a good thing), and because they are so consistent in their transgression.

    The first time I came upon their stupid "loose your body" caption, I wrote to them. The webmaster answered politely and forwarded my letter to the Powers that Be, who more or less told me I didn’t know what I was talking about, and ignored my comments. I didn't save their subsequent embarrassing blunders, but do have their latest "gem":

    Everyday, is like a day off.

    Guys, you meant "every day" not "everyday". And the comma is totally uncalled for. Such a short, simple statement, and you messed it up. How do you manage it?...

    Gentle Readers, if you're in the mood, you can have more fun with the text on their home page.

    It's that time of year again

    I bet you all feel really sorry for me –– it's that time of year again when thou mayest behold me as I agonize over which book to take on my trip abroad…

    See, I'd actually made up my mind: I'd planned to take Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot ; the very one which Clara (=Mom) enjoyed so much, that she begged Mr. Fry to write a sequel. (He sweetly declined. See bottom of page). But I can't find the ruddy thing!!! Grrr!!! (Vered , my abject apologies for all those exclamation marks.) Obviously, the minute I buy a new/second-hand copy, the old one will resurface. Besides, I don't have time to get a new one – we're flying Friday morning, and I doubt very much that Natbag  bookstores would have it.

    So here I go dithering again.

    I've just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go . Let me tell you – this blood-curdling novel will never let me go. Clara warned me. I'm not saying I'm sorry I read it – it's very good. But so depressing! I hate depressing books. They depress me. I don't enjoy being depressed. I can't go into details and tell you precisely what it's about, because that would constitute a Major Spoiler. Not that there's a twist in the plot a la The Crying Game  or Planet of the Apes… In fact, going back to the first page of the book, it seems to be all spelled out right there on Page One (actually p. 3). But when first reading it, it doesn't really sink in. You don't quite get it.  The first mention of what's really going on is only on page 80 (out of 282); then pivotal events and crucial bits of information appear gradually closer together – on pages 136, 164, 207, 228. [All page numbers refer to the Faber & Faber paperback edition, 2006.] The plot takes place in "England, late 1990s", and is a dystopia, in the same sense that  George Orwell's 1984 , Neville Shute's On the Beach,  Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange  and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451  are, to name a few famous ones. Yet its tone and point of view are different, low key, and … but that would be telling.

    In brief, after that sad tale, I didn't want another heart-breaker. But I happened to pick up Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Here's yet another dystopia if ever there was one, and on a more epic scale at that. Since I felt I didn't know enough American history to do the novel justice, I started from the Postscript, that runs in tiny print from page 363 to 391. So far I've read a brief bio of FDR and of Charles A. Lindbergh. But, as interesting as it all is, it's not the type of novel I like to take on vacation with me. So I'm stuck.

    Now, if I had a Kindle, say…

    Israeli Hebrew - It's Not What You Think

    Dr. Nurit Dekel's talk at the ITA Lecture Evening (Tel Aviv, October 5, 2010) "Israeli Hebrew - It's Not What You Think" caused an uproar and a furor. Arie Gus' talk was fascinating and enjoyable. Good mix, wouldn't you say? Happily, Nurit spoke before Arie, so the evening ended on a pleasant note.

    Without getting into the discussion of modern Hebrew compared to old Hebrew, and to what extent the former is a continuation of the latter or a different language in its own right, I'd like to add my 7 agorot's worth (at today's exchange rate).

    I think the purely linguistic observations and analysis totally miss a salient point, mentioned by Micaela Ziv and a few other sensible, down-to-earth people.* Every language has different registers; it has colloquial, slangy, spoken language and it has literary, educated, higher language. In society, you're allowed to use the former so long as you can also express yourself in the latter when and where appropriate. And this is where both Nurit and her colleague Prof. Ghil'ad Zuckerman fall flat on their faces.

    Zuckerman says he has no problem with sub-standard Hebrew expressions like "shalosh shekel" (= three shekels, but using the grammatically incorrect form of the numeral); but I am sure he would not be caught dead saying it, because – if he were to do so in an environment where he is not known – it would immediately brand him as an ignoramus, or at least lower-class and uneducated. Certainly not the refined international professor that he is. Same goes for Dekel. She says that she does not correct her daughters when they use grammatically incorrect but linguistically logical forms of verbs and nouns. But she is doing them a disservice. I wonder how she would feel if her daughter went for a job interview, say, and got rejected because her spoken language made her sounded like a common "fakatza" or "frecha" (empty-headed bimbo). Though of course, in reality, many HR interviewers speak Hebrew that is not much better than their interviewees. Perhaps that's precisely what Kedem is counting on – pretty soon, lowest-common-denominator language, whether it's called Hebrew or Israeli, will prevail, becoming the accepted norm. No one will object to it. But that's not the worst of it.

    As Micaela wisely and sadly pointed out:

    "I am all for languages evolving and see Nurit's lecture as a sign that the revival of Hebrew has been a success. On the other hand, some of Nurit's fine examples indicate what I already know as a former educator: the level of spoken Hebrew is very low.
    A language can / should / does evolve; the question is how it does so - i.e., are the younger generation articulate in Hebrew? The answer, sadly - is for the most part - no!
    I am not too perturbed about whether Hebrew is adopting more "Europeanized" syntax or not, but I am very concerned that so many youngsters have a very limited vocabulary ("kazeh, ke'ilu") which means they can neither think, speak nor write clearly and coherently - and that is very dangerous for our future.

    If anything, studies like Nurit's should be conducted on a written corpus and this will reveal the real issue. The problem is not that informal speech differs from written text. That is true in almost every country. The problem is that today, many young Israelis can only write the way they speak because the education system does not require them to make any serious effort to express themselves well."


    * A couple of other sensible, level-headed reactions:

    "My dispute with Nurit Dekel is not the name nor the fact that language/s evolve but that she advocated adopting the lowest common denominator as the rule-setter."
    Nathan Ginsbury

    "Does that mean "the miracle of the revival of the Hebrew language never happened?" No. It just means the brilliant pioneers who toiled with great love and skill to bring Hebrew into the modern age as the spoken language of the renascent Jewish state devised a version of Hebrew that has a lot in common with the European and other languages they spoke. To me this makes it no less a miracle that we speak Hebrew - a version that has enough in common with ancient Hebrew so that we can understand it."
    Shoshana London Sappir


    Unwritten book review

    There's no law that says I must write a book review of every book I read, right?
    For the past 15 years I've been keeping track of what I read, in a Word document that is now 52 pages long. Sometimes I jot down some impressions, other times I just note the approximate date, the title and the author. Um, no, I don't write down the name of the translator because I've been reading mostly in the original language, basically English and Hebrew. Which reminds me I really must go back to that Book Reviews document and give credit where credit is due, namely to the inimitable Nili Mirsky as the translator of the Gogol stories, Constance Garnett and Avrahm Yarmolinsky as translators of the Chekhov stories, and the one-and-only Gaio Sciloni as the translator of Italo Calvino, in case I ever get back to his If on a Winter's Night a Traveller , (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore), which is still on my bookshelf since winter 1997, when my son's Lit teacher gave the class an excerpt to read (in the Hebrew translation)

    But I digress.

    My current complaint is that I have not been able to bring myself to write a brief review of the 540 page Terry Pratchett novel Unseen Academicals. It's lurking in the back of my mind, interfering with my enjoyment (if that's the right word) of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go.

    Now, as I said, there's no law that says I must write about the books I read. Consulting my list I can see that, of the 48 Terry Pratchetts I read so far, I have only bothered to "review" around 28, so why let Unseen Academicals trouble me? I enjoyed its treatment of some subjects (supermodels, soccer fans, the Patrician), plodded through some ploddier bits, chuckled occasionally, and totally missed various allusions to British football culture. Doesn't mean I have to put it all down on paper/hard disk/the web.

    Many of my earlier "reviews" of Terry Pratchett works were extremely short, others a bit more detailed. For example (and I quote, not "polishing" anything I wrote years ago):

    Moving Pictures – Hollywood or Bust. Somewhat too obvious take-off on Hollywood.
    Reaper Man – Terrific. DEATH as Beau Nidle, member of the Foreign Legion…
    Small Gods – Scathing commentary on organized religion. Any religion.
    Soul Music – Long live Rock 'n Roll…
    Interesting Times – Whence originates the curse, "May you live in interesting times…" As Rincewind says, who wants interesting? Give me boring, boring, safe and boring….
    Maskerade – A new twist on the Phantom of the Opera?
    Carpe Jugulum – A bit morbid, ghoulish… I think I took it too seriously… Found the threat of the New Vampyres too convincing… But Granny Weatherwax wins the day – yet again! Long live the witches, and long live Terry Pratchett for giving us heroes and saviors who are female and not necessarily young, sexy, and/or gorgeous!

    The Science of Discworld (with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen)
    - In fact, a book on science. Peppered with chapters about the wizards as a palliative and comic relief. Very informative, explains complex concepts clearly, and has many an amusing and philosophical insight.

    The Truth - Pratchett takes on the Press; what it's like to be a newspaper editor and a journalist by nature. Scenes with the two thugs – include direct quotes from Pulp Fiction.

    The Science of Discworld II (with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen)
    - Continues along the same lines as The Science of Discworld I, but so far seems more difficult scientifically. At the moment it deals with evolution. In any case, the writers’ approach and point view is refreshing, and they do their best not to offend religious believers while in no way compromising their own principles and beliefs, which is no mean feat. Slow going for someone who does most of her reading just before falling asleep.
    At some point the science became more understandable, and the book more engrossing.

    Only You Can Save Mankind
    The first in the Johnny Maxwell series for kids/youth. Charming and – being Pratchett – includes pretty harsh yet funny social commentary, and anti-war sentiments, which I gather are further developed in depth for adults in his more recent books, Nightwatch, and later Thud.
    Sample quotation:
    "What is sexist?" [says the alien captain].
    "What"? says Johnny.
    "It was a word you used."
    "Oh, that. It just means you should treat people as people, and, you know...
    not just assume girls can't do stuff. We got a talk about it at school.
    There's lots of stuff most girls can't do, but you've got to pretend they
    can, so that more of them will. That's all of it, really."
    "Presumably there's, uh, stuff boys can't do?" [asks the alien captain].
    "Oh, yeah. But that's just girls' stuff," said Johnny. "Anyway, some girls
    go and become engineers and things, so they can do proper stuff if they

    The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents - Supposedly, a children’s book, or at least a book for young people. To me, it was a thriller, albeit one with a social/moral message, or issues, as a basis.
    It was a gripping page-turner, and a mystery, and scary. Reminded me somewhat of Watership Down.
    Yes, it has humor, supplied mostly by Malicia Grim whose entire outlook on life is based on stories. And by the main(?) character, the would-be cynical Maurice; and, come to think of it, some scenes with the rats, and some scenes with the schlimazel rat-catchers, and so on. But on the whole, it is more action-suspense than comedy.
    The fact that it takes place on Discworld and makes some references to “familiar” locations and characters such as Unseen University, the wizards, the Watch – makes it feel more “like home”; it’s good to know I’m on familiar territory, I more-or-less know the rules along which Discworld operates. And, since it’s Terry Pratchett, the plot and the characters and the conflicts have significance and values.

    Going Postal - Ha! Ha ha ha!!! Reading and chuckling, really chuckling aloud – that’s something that few writers can cause me to do. Moist von Lipwig. Really! How can he give a hero such a drippy name. Anyway, the plot is thickening, the bad guy will get his comeuppance, and Moist will get his ashtray girl. I assume.
    Yes, Moist gets his girl. The plot seems a bit more conventional or straightforward, less convoluted, than some of his other novels. But definitely not too simple. The Patrician is finely etched and comes shining through as an admirable, dispassionate, cunning and capable administrator. The social criticism is as scathing as ever. Adora Bell Dearheart, known as Killer to her friends, is a typically atypical female protagonist. In that sense, Terry Pratchett does a lot more for womankind than the cerebral, academically highfalutin Carolyn G. Heilbrun.
    A couple of choice quotations:
    “What a place! What a situation! What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.”
    “She grabbed him by the ears and gave him a big kiss on the mouth. It was like being kissed by an ashtray, but in a good way.”
    Pity I didn’t write “ha!” in pencil in the margins in other places, as I used to in my university days.

    Johnny and the Bomb - Whimsical and engrossing. The comments on the weirdness of time and time travel fit in very well with what I recently read about time in Brian Greene’s book.
    As usual, has a strong feminine figure, though less likeable than some, because she’s such a smart-ass, smarty-pants and looks down on everyone else. She does come down a notch at the end.
    I'll stop here, since I think I've made my point. If you want to read more of my book reviews, just say the word, I'll be delighted.

    Anyway: I have finally made my peace with the fact that I am not writing a review of Unseen Academicals. If you want to know what it's all about, there's always Amazon.

    Phew. That's a relief.
    Back to Never Let Me Go. Yes, I know they've just made a movie of it. Not sure I'll want to see it. And if I get too depressed reading it, there's always a good Terry Pratchett to fall back on.

    A committee's work is never done

    An innocuous-looking item in the Jerusalem Post caught my eye the other day and gave me the shivers: "Public diplomacy Web site finally appears in English", said the heading.
    No sooner had I come to grips with that bit of news, than another bit of similar information landed on my desk: the leaflet Masbirim Israel, called in its English incarnation Presenting Israel, is nearly ready for print.

    Theoretically this is Good News. So why the shivers?
    Because I know that both the website and the brochure are the result of the work of a committee of experts…  Much has been said about the painful work of a committee. For example:

    To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent.
      - Robert Copeland
    (There are some nastier barbs aimed at committees, but if you're in the mood you can go browse any number of quotation sites.)

    The subject of hasbara, or public diplomacy, is very close not only to my heart but also to my keyboard and my hard disk.  I have been involved, to one extent or another, with both projects, and beg that you do not put them under a microscope and do not put me through the wringer. Or rather, if you're in the mood to criticize, go ahead, but send your feedback directly to the Ministry.  Minister Edelstein's   efforts are commendable, and I support him whole-heartedly. But the committee, the committee…

    How can you expect to get any sensible decisions made, when arguments become heated, experts clash, tempers flare? Inevitably, compromises and concessions are made, and high horses have to be gotten off of.

    In conclusion: any faults you may find in either website or brochure are not the fault of any one person…  they're the outcome of joint efforts by the committee. Have fun!

    Shana Tova -- One-Size-Fits-All

    No point in waxing nostalgic over old New Year's greeting cards… Things change. Fact of life. Yes, when I was a school girl, sending Shana Tova cards was quite a project (only it wasn't referred to as a project, nor an enterprise or an assignment). We walked into the center of town, to our favorite bookshop or kiosk, that now had a table laid out with an enormous selection of cute, small cards with matching envelopes: with and without cherubs and doves, with and without silver or gold sparkles. You had to choose carefully, which you'd send to whom, how much you'd spend, how many plain ones you needed and how many fancy ones. Anyone from my generation, growing up in Israel when I did, remembers this, and I'm sure it's been documented in various novels, short stories, newspaper articles.

    So, if there's no point in pining for Old Times, what am I complaining about?
    I'm complaining about the other extreme: Sending one Shana Tova greeting to your entire list of Contacts, Friends, or Customers, or your entire Address Book. By email or by texting (SMS, to Israelis.)

    I know it's efficient. I know you simply don't have the time to send an individual email greeting to each. I know that most of the people who include me in their Shana Tova mailing list do indeed mean it, and do indeed think of me not only on Rosh Hashana. Still, it simply doesn't have the same impact. No matter how clever and original your copywriting, it's still impersonal, and I have not gotten used to it.

    Do I have a solution? Not exactly... not as such. I've become so upset by this phenomenon in the past couple of years that I've stopped sending greetings altogehter. I phone some people; I send a few personal emails; I enclose a real, tangible card when sending, say, an invoice/receipt or any other bit of correspondence that requires the use of snail-mail; and of course I reply to the greetings I receive by email. Because, as I said, the senders are my friends who truly wish me well and whom I really want to wish a Happy [Jewish] New Year. But I just can't bring myself to create and send a mass message.

    Hope I haven't offended my friends. I'll probably get my comeuppance next year, when my friends will say, "Well, ma'am, if that's the way you feel about it, no problem, I'll just delete your name from the list." And I'll be the only person in Israel not getting any New Year greetings, and shall feel very forlorn…

    I wonder whether there's an in-between method. How would that work?

    - First of all, either phone or send a paper greeting card to elderly people who don't have a computer and/or computer skills.

    - Next, prepare one e-greeting for family. If you don't have too huge a family, you can even give their names in the body of the email, and/or make the text a bit more specific, e.g., Sweetie – may your enterprise flourish, Honeybunch – knock their socks off, Baby – enjoy your new job/apartment, Auntie – hope you can go back to running this year; and so forth.

    - Stage three – prepare one text for friends in Israel, wherein you can allude to local issues; and a slightly different text for friends abroad, wherein you can express your hope of their coming to visit you in Israel next year (or not).

    - Stage four – a text for customers, both current and prospective. Should be easy to wish them success in their business ventures, with the implied hope that they count you in and send some work your way. And a separate text for colleagues, who have helped you in the past and whom you wish to thank and wish well.

    - Stage five – well, anyone else who has not been included in the previous categories, but whom you do not wish to leave out.

    Does this sound like a lot of work?... Almost as time-consuming as going into town and hand-picking paper cards, addressing them and sticking on stamps?... Aw, shucks! I guess it's time I got used to the mass e-greetings.

    Thank you, my friends, for thinking of me. Shana Tova to all.

    Back to autobiographies

    Reading biographies and autobiographies can be a terrible bore. For the most part, unless the protagonist is a figure of note, the tale is relevant and interesting only to close family members. Even autobiographies of famous people can be a bore. I am told that Churchill's contains some very tedious passages…

    Years ago, I asked a friend to get me Virginia Woolf's latest biography, a heavy tome, considered by critics to be "definitive". Guess what – it was tedious beyond words, containing entire paragraphs along the lines of "… and the teapot on the mantelpiece described in Woolf's story XYZ turns out to be an accurate description of the teapot that was found in her home, given to her apparently by her Aunt Gertrude on her 20th birthday." Who cares, I ask you?

    My mother loved autobiographies, so long as they were written by brilliant people and/or focused on subjects that were close to her heart (the theater, science fiction, Zionism & Israel…) Among her favorites were Neil Simon's memoirs, Rewrites and The Play Goes On; Golda Meir's autobiography My Life; and Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot -- an autobiography of the first 20 years of his life; Clara was so sorry he stopped there, that she wrote to Fry to tell him how much she enjoyed his book and asked him to write another, of the next twenty years… He answered very kindly, but declined. (Am scanning his letter for you as I write, so scroll down to see it.) She also read Woody Allen's biography by Eric Lax, and at least one memoir by Isaac Asimov, I'm not sure which one - he wrote several.

    Most of the above are on my bookshelf, of course, just waiting to be read… The only one I read so far, quite a while ago, is Rewrites. What can I tell you – pure agony, what a writer goes through. You read or watch a Neil Simon play, and the witty, funny dialog flows so naturally, so effortlessly. Ha! There's never writing, there's only rewriting, say the real pros.

    Clara (a.k.a Mom), too, wrote her memoirs. She wrote them in longhand and dictated them to me on weekends when she stayed with us. I have plenty of letters, diaries and notebooks that can help me fill in gaps, if any. I do intend to complete that document one of these days, before it's too late, bind it and give it to her closest friends and family – should they be interested. I won't blame them if they decline. You can love and admire a person but not have the patience to wade through their autobiography.

    And so – I said to myself – I shall do my best with translating the autobiography of the American gentleman mentioned in my previous post, in the hope that some of his kith and kin will read and appreciate it. But meanwhile, the project has been put on hold, or given to someone else, or perhaps canceled. Funnily, I'm a bit curious about this man's history. Maybe I'll read it all the same…

    Brush up your Grossman

    The other day I started a new translation project. It's a biggie – over 44,000 words – and – surprise, surprise – it's a rush job. Why did I agree? Heaven knows. Probably because I'm tired of doing little bits and pieces and would rather sink my keyboard keys into a longish, hopefully consistent text. And also because the text is a manuscript, the memoirs of an elderly gentleman, and as such I deem it important. A mitzvah, if you will.

    Thing is, the author is American, and the manuscript is in English, which means the translation is into Hebrew. Theoretically, shouldn't be a problem. Been there, done that, and so on; I'm a native Hebrew speaker, lived and studied here in Israel… But after a lengthy period of translating mostly Hebrew > English, I have to brush up my active Hebrew. I need the words to come to me quickly and easily. Can't afford to wrack my brain and agonize over it.

    A case in point occurred fairly early on in the text. A certain character's occupation was described – though not in so many words – as a carter or wagoner in a shtetl. The text used the Yiddish word, which was foreign to me. My mind went totally blank. I consulted an online English/Yiddish dictionary, (completely forgetting that I have the original 1928 hardcover on my shelf) but had difficulty finding the word I wanted, because it was misspelled in the manuscript. I gave up in disgust.

    Solution? Or rather, pre-emptive action? – Pick up a well-written Hebrew novel and read it, to rev up the literary Hebrew generator, as it were. Especially in this case, since the text calls for elegant, high register Hebrew. Chatty everyday language or cool, modern-day Etgar Keret type style won't cut it.

    I can do that. As a matter of fact, the pile of unfinished books on my night table (which includes, for instance, Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case and Stamboul Train, mentioned previously on this blog, also includes an Amos Oz and a David Grossman – my two favorite Hebrew writers. Respectively, these are Rhyming Life and Death, and Her Body Knows – Two Novellas.

    But as good and enjoyable as these two may be, it means I must put down the book I am currently reading, viz., Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, with its biting social satire and quirky characters.

    It was quite a relief to revert to Pratchett after the last book I read – Larry Niven's A World Out of Time. I found JB Corbell's adventures in Time and Space very tiring, in addition to downright scary at times. I do most of my reading around bedtime, and prefer not to read scary stuff, lest it should give me nightmares.

    But I digress.

    Back to the problem at hand. As I got up for my lunch-break, an old Hebrew song suddenly started playing itself, loud and clear, in my head: "Kor'im lo Lipa ha'eglon…" [Lipa the carter/wagoner]
    Problem solved, this time around.

    I really ought to pick up that Grossman. Or Oz.

    Dead Copywriting for the Dead Sea

    It's difficult to write original copy for any location or project associated with the Dead Sea. Whether you're promoting its hotels and spas, its beauty-care products, its natural wonders or anything else. Seems that everything has been said.

    Having written, translated and edited a lot of that type of text, I thought I was inured to the common, trite and/or pretentious bla-bla. But one writer (I don’t want to know who) managed to surprise me. I'll call him Yankele for the sake of convenience.

    Yankele wrote, for example:

    - תוכלו גם לטבול במי מרפא טבעיים וחיים
    Tuchlu gam litbol b'mei marpeh tivi'im ve-hayim.
    Excuse me? You can dip in what kind of natural, healing water? The Dead Sea as a source of mayim hayim? The connotation of this idiom is refreshing, potable water.

    - תוכלו למרוח את גופכם בבוץ השחור ולחוש את הבריאות מחלחלת אל כל תא בגופכם
    Tuchlu limro'ach et gufchem babotz ha'shachor ve'lachush et ha'bri'ut mehalhelt el kol ta begufchem.

    You can apply the local black mud to your body and feel health as it suffuses every cell of your body.
    - Nu, schön, I'll let that pass. If that's what Yankele feels, fine.

    - The thermo-mineral water… nourishes the skin, making it shiny and beautiful.
    Or something to that effect. Which I think is an exaggerated promise.

    - The friendly sun caresses you 330 days a year.
    Dead Sea sun, in summer, caressing? At 40 deg. C? Scorching is more like it.

    - The only lake in the world in whose water you cannot drown.
    This is plain wrong. Of course you can drown. If you're floating comfortably on your back, you're not likely to drown. But many floaters, when attempting to get back on their feet, have found themselves inadvertently face-down in the water. Not fun.

    This is just a sample. There were plenty more wild exaggerations and inaccuracies in the text, stemming from either ignorance, provincialism, or just carelessness and being swept away by the desire to write impressive copy.

    Though I had been asked to translate the Hebrew text into English, and did my best to side-step the above problems, I couldn't help but express my exasperation with the Hebrew. I provided my client (the Super Duper Agency, not Yankele et al) with a marked-up version of the Hebrew, pointing out the problematic words, expressions and statements. I didn't expect to be paid for this, and indeed Yankele et al refused to pay, which is understandable; they didn't ask for a critique or editing of the Hebrew. The agency, however, appreciated my efforts and said they'd find a way to compensate me, which is very decent of them.

    I wondered what would become of the Hebrew text. Would the end-client ignore my comments and use the text as written?... Quick Googling of some of the Hebrew phrases indicated that the text was probably based on the official Dead Sea website. Looks like they wanted a shorter, spiffy version for advertising purposes. I do hope they come up with something better than the document that landed on my desk.

    English Editing studies offered at Beit Berl

    Editing is important.
    It's a fact of life, there's no getting around it.

    In the coming school year, Beit Berl College is offering a program in English editing. The program covers two semesters and the course is given in English. My only complaint is that the relevant web-page is in Hebrew only. If there is an English version somewhere on the site, it is well-hidden.

    Want to know more about it? Can't read the Hebrew? A Campus Day (generally referred to in Hebrew as "open day") will be held on September 2nd; and entrance exams on September 5th.

    Have fun!

    My colleague Yael Sela-Shapiro has undertaken to call Beit Berl's attention to the omission.
    Update to the Update: Here's the info in English, courtesy of Beit Berl:

    A Diploma in Editing English

    Course Coordinator : Dr Yitzchak Enav

    The Beit Berl English Editing Program offers students a range of theoretical and practical studies. The program, about to enter its tenth year, includes courses and workshops on a variety of texts spanning the literary and Judaic to the academic and technical. This hands-on, practical experience prepares editors of English for competent work in their field.

    The course is open to Native and Near-native speakers of English and to e graduates of Beit Berl College's English and Translation Departments. No knowledge of Hebrew is required: a welcome fact that makes the course most suitable for new immigrants anxious to equip themselves for their first work in Israel.

    Prospective candidates wishing to learn more about the program are invited to visit classes during the academic year.

    Course Schedules
    The duration of the course is one academic year of some 280 academic hours of study. All classes take place on one day each week. At the core of these studies is a very solid grounding in editing English in general. The courses then focus on several varieties of texts in areas relevant to English editing in Israel.

    Conditions of Acceptance
    Computer Literacy
    - An entrance examination
    - A personal interview with teachers of the program

    Course Requirements
    - Attendance of at least 80% of the lessons given
    - The completion of all written work on schedule.
    - The completion of all final projects.

    Graduation Certificate:
    Graduates are awarded a Beit Berl Academic College, "Diploma in Editing English."

    A Brief Description of the Courses

    * Aspects of Language: vocabulary, syntax, grammar and discourse
    analysis : Dr Pamela Peled
    * The Fundamentals of Editing English: Anita Tamari
    * The Literary Sources of the English language : a study of varieties of literary texts in their linguistic and cultural context : Dr Yitzchak Enav

    Textual Varieties
    • Editing the Technical Text: Shirley Gamaroff
    • Editing the Academic Text: Anita Tamari
    • Editing the Business and Marketing Text: Renee Salzman
    • Editing the Journalistic Text: Carol Novis
    • Editing the Judaic Text: Ilana Krauss
    • Editing the Medical Text : Dr Neil Schwartz
    • Editing the Legal text: Roy Engel
    • Editing the Literary- Critical Text

    • Creative Writing: Lia Nirgad
    • Workshops in Profession Readiness : Dr Doron Narkiss and Shirley Zauer

    Listen to your gut feelings

    Clara (a.k.a. Mom) was blessed with what I called a built-in b.s. detector for literature, or almost any book, in fact. She had never officially studied literature or literary analysis, but she always read, all the time (as did my dad.) When I was studying English Lit & Linguistics at Tel Aviv University in my early twenties, she studied vicariously: she read all the books on my Required Reading list, though she was already familiar with many and was merely re-reading them (Steinbeck, Twain, etc). She then read my handwritten papers and corrected my English before I typed them up on the huge, clunky Underwood. And she read my exam papers when I came home triumphantly waving my high-marked exams on Henry James, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare etc. But I do not flatter myself that I, or Tel Aviv University, in any way contributed to her inner b.s. detector; it was an innate quality. We – I and TAU – may have just reinforced it.

    Clara used to read a story, novel, script or newspaper article and instinctively, unerringly know whether it was good, indifferent, or downright bad. She'd have a hard time explaining in detail, if you asked her. But most times I didn't need to ask. Her brief report and very expressive face gave me all the information I needed.

    I didn't quite inherit this trait of Clara's. But I do have something similar, and akin to it, I think. You probably have it, too. It's the gut-feeling that tells you when a certain job is not right for you and you should turn it down: flatly, unequivocally, without hemming and hawing or explaining. Just say No and walk away.

    It may be a copywriting or marketing project; it may be a translation or editing job; it may be something else relevant to your field. The phone rings, or an email pops up in your mailbox. The client thinks it's right up your alley; or else he needs it urgently; or no one else wants it; or it's just a seemingly-routine job. You listen, or look at the text or website, and a slight nauseating feeling begins to form in the pit of your stomach; your upper lip twitches in that tiny sneer demonstrated so well by Tim Roth in the TV series Lie to Me. Your inner voice is tugging at you saying "this is trouble; stay away; say no." But for some reason, you switch the warning bells off and take the job. Maybe you didn't have anything else on your desk at that moment and panicked a bit. Maybe the client was very persuasive. Maybe you thought you could fit it into your schedule.  Maybe, maybe, maybe. Whatever the reasons, you live to regret it. The text is horrible / badly written / incomprehensible / boring to tears / infuriating; the pay is lousy; the client a terrible nag or else evasive and unreachable; the thing drags on forever; it gets too complicated, out of hand. Any or all of the above, or plenty of other equally disturbing developments. 

    The long and the short of it is: you should have listened to your gut feeling.

    You know those Nike ads where you see a person jogging energetically, with the slogan "Just do it"? Sure you do. Well, create a mirror image of it, so that the person is running away from the target..  and change the slogan to read "Just say no". Then hang it somewhere conspicuous and contemplate it once a day.

    Things Clara Taught Me

    A whole year has passed since my mom, Clara Caren Rimon, died. At the time, I was at a loss for words. I wrote something in this blog – then closed the door and shifted my attention elsewhere, where it was needed.

    Now, on her yahrzeit, I pulled out a big basket of photos and a load of video cassettes. The video cassettes are much more fun: I watched Clara singing, dancing and acting. By a quirky coincidence, Israel TV's Channel 2 today aired an old Israeli musical -- Hamesh Hamesh -- in which Clara had a part! She even appears on the movie's poster.

    And I got to thinking of all the things – theoretical and practical, emotional and logical – that I learnt and absorbed from her during my life, whether directly and explicitly -- because she told me so -- or implicitly – through her actions, attitude, personal example.

    Here's a very random, partial list, of things I learnt:

    • To recite nursery rhymes to my kids ("There was an old lady who lived in a shoe…")
    • To sing lullabies to my kids ("Rock a by baby, in the tree top…")
    •  To read to them at bedtime, and other times, from A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, "I Wish that I Had Duck Feet…"
    • Always wear an apron when working in the kitchen
    • When boiling potatoes, add salt if you intend to mash them; don't add salt if you want them whole.
    • When peeling boiled potatoes-in-their-jackets, use a sharp knife and dip it often in ice water.
    • Don't waste food. Use leftovers imaginatively.
    • Invite people over for dinner often. Especially people who have no family in the country.
    •  Keep a shopping list on the fridge door. Add items during the week, as the need arises. Don't let yourself run out of staples. "What?? We're all out of sugar??" – Not in my house!
    • Label things before putting them in the freezer. In fact, label everything.
    •  Remember to take the shopping list with you when you go shopping.
    •  The first-aid items that are the answer to nearly everything: Aspirin; Vaseline; Band-Aids; iodine/Mercurochrome/Gentian Violet; salt water (for gargling); hot water bottle.
    • Touch-typing is an invaluable skill.
    • Save scratch paper – use the reverse side of typed material; re-use envelopes; recycle greeting cards.
    • How to hem a dress or a pair of pants
    • How to knit.
    • Make Purim costumes
    • It's impolite to ask personal questions or make personal comments.
    • Always say Please and Thank you.
    • Danny Kaye
    • Allan Sherman; Tom Lehrer
    • Charlie Chaplin
    • Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Leslie Caron
    • Science Fiction; Isaac Asimov – his fiction and nonfiction
    • Keep pens & pencils everywhere; also elastic bands; scotch tape; scissors; gummed labels.
    • Take an afternoon nap. Do not call people between 2-4 p.m.
    • Never marry a man who drinks [to excess] or gambles
    • Keep track of everyone's birthdays and anniversaries; send cards; if you can't afford to buy them, make your own.
    • Stand up straight. Don't slouch. Shoulders back. Hold your tummy in. Get your hair out of your eyes.
    • Look after your back. Bend from the knees, not from the waist.
    • Dance, dance, dance. Ballet, modern dance, folk dancing.
    • Appreciate classical music.
    • If you have a talent, use it.
    • Don't sit at home and expect the world to come to you. Go out and introduce yourself.
    • Smile.

    … and so it goes. I'm sure my kids can add plenty. And by the time I post this, I will have remembered a dozen other things. Isn't that wonderful?

    On the Trail of Language

    Gosh, it's been a while. Not that I haven't had what to say; but I've said it mostly in my new blog, Nina Makes Tracks. That's because I've been on the road for the past few weeks, and am continuing my journey.

    Previously, when I've been away on a trip, I tried to limit my blogging here to language related issues, with a rather broad definition of "language related". So before embarking on this-here trip, I thought I'd split my experiences and impressions into trip-related and language-related. Not sure how well that is working out; obviously, the two are interwoven.

    Nonetheless, here are a few language-related things I came across along the way:

    1. Turnout (American) vs. Layby (British)
    As you drive along narrow, winding country roads, every once in a while you have a sort of bay on the side of the road that lets you pull over and let other vehicles pass you, whether in the same direction or coming from the opposite direction.
    I've gotten used to the British term "layby", while the American term still sounds funny to me: "turnout" is the number of people who show up for a lecture or event.
    E.g.: The lecture on the translation of sex scenes had a very good turnout, whereas the AGM had a rather poor turnout.

    2. On our RV trip, we keep buying bottled water, since we've been driving through some pretty arid areas and not all places where we stop have potable water. Generally, we simply buy the cheapest on offer. The last batch we bought was labeled Niagara - purified drinking water. This had me smiling. For Americans and Canadians, this is obviously a perfectly good name, calling to mind torrents of cool, natural water. For Israelis, on the other hand, "niagara" is a synonym for the toilet tank of a flush toilet.

    3. While in Las Vegas, we were lucky enough to be taken to see a performance of Cirque du Soleil's production, "Love", set to music of the Beatles. It was magnificent. After the show, I leafed through the program, Inside Cirque du Soleil, Spring 2010. And guess what I found on page 20, in the article The 10 Commandments of Sensuality. The caption for the two photos illustrating Commandment #5 reads as follows: "Nordic God (white shorts) and Dark Knight (black shorts) in the throws of a feverish dance exploring the depths of love and anger." [Emphasis mine].

    C'est tout pour aujourd'hui, mes amis.

    The open road calls. The RV is "good to go", as they say here.
    We continue to travel towards Yellowstone.

    Of Lectures and Presentations

    Once again, I missed a good lecture/ presentation offered by the ITA.
    I refer to Stephen Rifkind's Improving the Quality of Presentations; a Very Important Subject, as all speakers and conference attendees will agree.

    My excuse for not attending was that I had a house-guest, a dear friend from London. She was staying for just over a week and I didn't want to go away for an entire afternoon/evening.
    But the reason I didn't go, I'm ashamed to admit, is the practically insurmountable distance. Can you imagine, traveling ALL THE WAY from Rishon to Haifa, and back again? In one afternoon/evening? It's a cross-country trip! It's all the way from what Tel Avivians consider The Gate to the South to what Rishonites consider Up North.

    I'm sure the lecture & presentation were edifying, useful and interesting, and the loss is all mine.

    I would, however, like to take advantage of your (hopefully) being in the right frame of mind to give you a few complementary tips about public speaking. Not my own, but from my friend, coach Marion Claire of Los Angeles. Years before she became a personal coach (what Israelis call "coacher", shudder shudder), Marion was a script writer and editor, who most definitely has a way with words, a way with people, and a way of getting her words across to people.

    Since copy-pasting the article in question is technically awkward at the moment, here's the link to Marion's Speaker's Tip #10 - Ten Rules for the Reluctant Speaker: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs011/1102717540757/archive/1103241326454.html. Enjoy.

    What are you talking about when you talk about golf

    I don't know a thing about golf. Haven't even read all the gossip about Tiger Woods.
    What I do know is gleaned from the movies Tin Cup and The Legend of Bagger Vance, and as such doesn't count for much. In Tin Cup I was caught up in the Kevin-and-Renee scenes while repressing the drunken-nogoodnik aspect which tends to get on my nerves; and in Bagger Vance, the feel-good atmosphere did make me feel good, even though I scoff at mysticism.

    There's a good review of Tin Cup on IMdb by a Finn fella:

    "I have seen this film 20 times, and it only gets better," said Max Koljonen from Helsinki, Finland, on 2 January 2004, and elaborated as follows:
    "First of all, this is a golf film. A great golf film. The best golf film. But there is more to it than just being a golf film. It´s the classic tale of a washed-up hero wanting to get the girl. But Kevin Costner gives this role something more. Okay, it´s not an Oscar-winning role, but the performance sure as heck should be.
    And it´s nice to see a golf film with a screenwriter who actually seems to know what the game really is about. For those who are not into golf, just look at Mr. Costner´s every move and how he delivers his lines as a drunken golf pro. In fact the whole cast is excellent. In comparison to films like Bagger Vance, Happy Gilmore and Caddyshack this film is the only one that explains why we men are so hooked on this game." [more]

    Well, I enjoyed the film, but "why men are so hooked on this game" is still a mystery to me, and one I can easily live with; that is, without solving.

    So, naturally, I was a bit skeptical when my son handed me a book of short stories – albeit by one of my fave writers – titled The Heart of a Goof – all about golf. The preface to the stories is so "golfy", it only reinforced my feeling of total ignorance.

    But anyone who can write a dedication like the one below, wins me over at the first tee:


    Chuckling and encouraged, I began reading, and have been chuckling my way through the adventures of Ferdinand Dibble and his nemesis George Parsloe, Bradbury Fisher, Vosper the butler, the formidable Mrs Maplebury, and others. Wodehouse fans – if you haven't yet read this one, you're in for a treat. I shall say no more, not to ruin it for you. Oh, and while you're at it, you can try an early one – Love Among the Chickens – too. Though the Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge (pronounced "Fanshawe Ewkridge") character is, um… but you should find out for yourselves.

    Bumps Along the Way of Words

    The first bumps along my daily way with words emerge in the morning, at the breakfast table, while I'm having breakfast. I often jot them down, but they seem too small or trivial in themselves to merit a separate post. Silly attitude, because they continue to fester and annoy me.

    Here are a few such bumps, some of them of a recurring nature:

    1. What is it with Israelis, writers of Hebrew, that they're so scared of committing themselves to numbers, to exact figures? Naturally, there are cases where an estimate or caution are called for, and you qualify your number with "about". But writers of Hebrew seem to take it to extremes. They refuse to be pinned down.
    "… the company has around 25 branches…"
    What's the matter, can't you count? Or is it a matter of the Uncertainty Principle? Do branches keep closing down and opening, so no one is ever sure, at any given moment, how many there are?
    Would you say the building you live in has "around 12 floors"? I can understand your saying "around 150 people live in my building", because you don't know all the families and you don’t know how many kids each family has… who can keep track, Uzi et al just moved out, Bracha just gave birth again…

    It gets worse when they write בערך כ- b'erech ke – or, literally: approximately about.

    2. You know how much Israelis like to throw in English words. A popular one is "attractive", used like this, for example:
    סביבת קניות מושכת ואטרקטיבית
    Svivat kniyot moshechet ve'attraktivit.
    How is one supposed to translate it? An attractive and attractive shopping environment?
    Well, actually, no. Writers of Hebrew often (or usually) use the adjective "attraktivi" in the sense of worthwhile; attractive because it's profitable. So an innocuous-looking four word phrase in Hebrew turns out to require a workaround in English. Bother.
    Anyone feel like trying?

    3. "The cream absorbs right away…" – so says the reviewer of various skin care products in the Lookin' Good section of the J. Post's Weekend magazine. I rather like that section, because I like reading reviews of cosmetic and skin-care products I'll never buy. But this recurring mistake bothers me. Absorb is a transitive verb; the cream itself doesn't absorb anything, but is absorbed by the skin. Shame I didn't buy that Nuxe moisturizer while it was on special; I definitely don't intend to shell out NIS 241 for it.

    4. Kanyon G Rothschild, the small, noisy mall that I cross twice a week (if I'm conscientious about attending exercise class, located behind that building), has ads in the local paper, advertising its newish household and knickknack shop, Enter. Guess what Enter offers you as incentive to browse and shop?

    תחתית מפנקת לספל – tachtit mefaneket le'sefel
    – a pampering coaster for your cup. Complete with a picture of a pale-blue hand-shaped coaster. How exciting! A pampering coaster! Who or what exactly is being pampered here? My mug? My desk? Me, seeing that my precious mug is enjoying resting on a ghostly blue hand-shaped thingy?...

    5. A current text about shopping centers that I recently translated contained the following sentence:
    למעלה ממאה אלף מבקרים, המצביעים ברגליים ומספקים הוכחה יומיומית להצלחת הקונספט.
    Literally: More than 100,000 visitors, voting with their feet, are daily proof of the success of the concept.
    I googled, and in Hebrew it seems that "voting with your feet" is used to express support. In English, however, "voting with your feet" means showing your dissatisfaction. FYI.

    6. For the grand finale of this post, I chose the most pretentious bit of copywriting I've seen in a long time. The contractor Gindi is building a new development in Nachlat Yehuda, the area just north of Rishon LeZion. It's called Nachlat HaHadasha – New Nachlat, and boasts expensive new homes, some of them fashionable lofts. So far, so good. Huge signs were erected along the road next to the building site, with the following slogan:

    נחלת החדשה: זו לא דירה, זה לא בית פרטי, זו חוויה תלת מימדית מעולם אחר.

    Nachlat HaHadasha: Zu lo dira, zeh lo bayit prati, zu havaya tlat meimadit me'olam acher.
    In free translation:
    New Nachlat: It's not an apartment, it's not a [detached] house, it's a three-dimensional experience from another world.