Perfect English, now available in French
January 16, 2014
It’s sometimes tricky being a freelancer. You’re in charge of doing all the work, of getting yourself organised, of doing your accounts, sorting out your own technical support, but for me, the most difficult part is to plan for life’s mishaps in the absence of a benefits package which might include sickness or critical illness cover.
When I started out 14 years ago, I was very concerned that an accident might stop me working and abruptly put an end to my income. You see, I’ve always played a lot of football, where one can easily dislocate or break something and lose some or all productivity. Plus I have a habit of falling upstairs (rarely down, don’t ask me why). So I immediately took income protection insurance, which guarantees that if I am unable to work for a lengthy period of time, I will get a monthly amount until I’m able to start working again. As it happens, the worst that’s happened to me since was a few cuts on my forehead after stopping a particularly fierce effort at goal with my face, but it has been a comfort knowing that I’d still be able to afford decent cheese if I broke my wrist after tripping myself up.
Then I turned 40 towards the end of last year. I thought it was time I reviewed my financial situation, and I realised that what worked for me 14 years ago was no longer adequate. To put it simply, I was worried that my partner would lose our home if I fell gravely ill and/or died sooner than expected. So I talked to one of my friends and coworkers, who is a financial adviser, and we went through my options. I was planning on getting life insurance, as it’s the only product I had heard about, but she helpfully told me that I have more chance to develop a horrible disease than to die, so I ended up taking a combined critical illness and life policy. This ensures that if I get very ill, I’ll get a tax-free sum, which I can
blow on expensive restaurants and beautiful golf courses use to focus on getting better, and in the worst-case scenario, the rest gets paid to my partner when I die. She intends to use some of it to go on a round-the-world cruise, which is nice to know.
Of course, this is what works for me, but the right decision depends on everyone's particular circumstances, so here are a few links you might find useful:
Definition of critical illness insurance
Definition of life insurance
Critical illness or income protection insurance?
Critical illness insurance: The neglected cover that could be crucial
Should I get critical illness cover?
December 17, 2013
My mum’s coffee always felt dangerous. When I was at my parents’, I knew that coffee time was approaching when I started sweating spontaneously and my heart rate suddenly went nuclear for no apparent reason at all. I suggested a few times that it was so strong that it might one day kill me, but she always replied with an incredulous “Mais tu plaisantes ? C’est du jus de chaussette !” (Are you kidding? It’s sock juice!)
I suspect my mum thought her coffee was weak because she compared it to her older sister’s, to which I owed several out-of-body experiences. We had this discussion so many times, and jus de chaussette is so familiar to me, that I’ve never even thought of questioning it, until I had to translate an article on the effects of caffeine on performance. During my research, I found a neat little explanation for it:
During the 1870 war, soldiers had no equipment to make coffee, so they had to improvise: coffee beans were poured in a big iron vat or bowl, soldiers crushed it with their rifle butts. They boiled water in a pot, threw the crushed beans in it, took the pot off the boil and filtered its contents through a sock.
This is how I learnt that jus de chaussette isn't synonymous with weak coffee, but rather with bad coffee. It doesn't really matter anyway: in my parents' house, a flashy new espresso machine now produces perfect coffee, every time.
I miss sock juice.
October 5, 2013
I’m near Bordeaux spending the weekend with my family, and I spotted this sign on a local school. I love the lettering, the colour, and the fact that it states that the school is “laïque”. I wondered how I would translate this very French word into English; the first one that came to mind was “secular”, but I knew this wasn’t quite right. So straight after coming back (and eating my 11am chocolatine), I got down to work.
1560s, from Late Latin laicus, from Greek laikos "of or belonging to the people," from laos "people" as opposed to klerikos (clerc), which designate religious institutions. Incidentally, the English word “lay” (uneducated; non-clerical) has the same origin.
So laïcité is a legal or institutional system based on the separation of churches and State and is all about the social role and the place of religion within institutions and civil society. In France, this system was put in place by the 1905 law, which sets out that the State does not recognise, remunerate or subsidise any religion, and guarantees complete freedom of conscience.
The field of secularisation is wider: whilst it also concerns itself with replacing religious laws with civil laws, it also works within the private sphere, not just on the level of the State, with the aim of emancipating consciences and human society from religious rule.
Hence the problem with translating école laïque: it refers to a precise institutional system rooted in French history, and a footnote would be handy to explain its meaning. If I had to provide a translation on the hoof, while interpreting for example, I think I’d say “non-denominational state school”. Any better ideas?
June 11, 2013
Back to language: Les revenants was translated as “The returned”, but in this context, revenant (from revenir, to come back) has a different meaning. It was actually borrowed in English to mean a dead person reappearing in their community, looking exactly the same as when they died, which is the premise of this series. So why not translate the title as “The revenants”? Maybe because it's not a very common term?
By the way, I keep hearing people talk about “the French zombie series”, but although they are all undead, revenants are quite different from zombies, who have a unique way of walking, look rather beaten up and just want to eat human flesh. Revenants normally return for a specific purpose. Neither are they ghosts, as suggested by the English translation given by the Oxford dictionaries:
So, to sum up, this is a revenant:
This is a ghost:
This is a zombie:
I think we'll all agree that revenants are far scarier than ghosts or zombies.
June 3, 2013
When I read this tweet this morning, I knew that “which” was the wrong relative pronoun and should be replaced by “that”. However, my years of having two hours of English grammar per week are but a distant memory, and I couldn’t quite remember the grammatical rules that govern this particular use of which and that. Being a bit of a grammar
geek enthusiast, I thought I’d remind myself how it all works.
It’s all to do with restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses, of course! Restrictive relative clauses contain essential information, without which the sentence doesn’t make sense, and they can be introduced by that, which, whose, who or whom.
Example: We have got to clean the stinking swamp that is the House of Lords.
On the other hand, non-restrictive relative clauses give extra information, without which the sentence still makes sense. They can be introduced by which, whose, who or whom, but NOT by that, and should be separated from the main clause by a comma.
Example: We have got to clean out the stinking swamp that is the House of Lords, which is only marginally more repulsive than the House of Commons.
May 15, 2013
There’s a lot going on in my new new office. You can learn everything from accounting, French, maths, Greek literature, mechanics, and of course, this being Brighton, a lot of yoga and reiki and the like. “New new office”? I hear you wonder. Well, yes. I’ve moved again. You see, when you’re looking for a place to set down your computer and your favourite mug, it is crucial that you take your time to think about what you need and want from it in order to make the right decision. True to form, I didn’t. I saw an office and loved its modern, funky space and its location right in the middle of my favourite area of Brighton, I really liked the people, so I just got enthused and acted rashly, as I’m known to do, and took it.
I lasted four weeks. What I didn't consider was that the space was occupied by two different companies with people constantly on the phone and having meetings, and that this is actually a bit of a problem for a translator who needs to concentrate for hours on end to come up with pretty translations.
Thankfully, at the same time, four good friends were also looking for office space, and they found Brighton Junction, which I immediately loved (uh oh), and has proved to be absolutely perfect (phew). The building houses a coworking space with around 40 desks, more offices upstairs, and the friends’ centre, an adult education organisation. This means that it's a busy, buzzy place, filled with a wide variety of people coming to learn about all sorts of things, and our quieter shared office has a great mix of freelancers who make the right amount of studious noise.
The lesson of this story (which I will do my best not to ignore next time I am in a similar situation): think about what you want out of an office space and don't let secondary concerns, like a great area and pleasing architecture, drive your decision, when what matters is that it allows you to do your work in the best possible conditions.
My life/work imbalance
April 19, 2013