Perfect English, now available in French
January 11, 2016
On Wednesday I woke up with a wry neck. Painful and not so good as I was due to play in a golf competition, but mostly, I was disappointed for once to live in an English-speaking environment, because the French word for this annoying condition is much nicer: torticolis. It was first introduced in French in the 16th century by Rabelais in his novel Pantagruel. It was spelled tortycolly and was borrowed from Italian torti colli, plural of torto collo (from Latin tortus "crooked, twisted" and collum "neck"), referring to a religious hypocrite or bigot, who adopts this ostentatious posture in a show of piety. I was pleased to find an illustration of Molière's Tartuffe, who is probably the most famous religious hypocrite in French literature, striking this pose.
Then on Saturday night I tried to get free medical advice from a doctor friend at a party ("It's nothing, stop whinging" was her considered diagnostic - I have blogged before about how difficult it is for sensitive French people to adapt to British-style "you're not dying so you're ok" approach to health care), and it turned out that torticollis is also used in English, but mostly by health professionals.
December 14, 2015
Don't cross a Canadian, or she'll utter an ominous threat: ‘I'm gonna fix your wagon!’ It's the kind of expression that you understand immediately, and it sounds like it probably stems from the days when Canadians were busy running away from bears and surviving in sub-zero temperatures without the benefit of central heating, rather than smashing each other with sticks in ice rinks and producing tins of maple syrup (maple syrup? In a tin? Whatever next?).
I've never heard it in Britain, where I think one would use, for example, ‘I'm gonna sort you out’, whereas in French, I would say Je vais te régler ton compte (I'm going to settle your account). Neatly enough for a translator, both expressions also contain a threat disguised as a promise of doing something positive for the offender.
Word Detective has info on the origin of that expression, which is not as old as it seems:
(...) ‘to fix someone's wagon’ employs a perfectly innocent-sounding phrase as euphemistic slang for ‘settling a dispute for good in a very forceful manner’ (‘She said her brother would fix my wagon, which he did; right here at the corner of my mouth I've still got a scar where he hit me,’ Truman Capote, 1951). Oddly enough, that 1951 citation from Truman Capote's novel ‘The Grass Harp’ is actually the earliest example found so far of the phrase in print. If the phrase is really that recent, it's likely that the wagon in question is actually a child's wagon (e.g., the Radio Flyer ‘little red wagon’ so popular in the 20th century US), and the phrase originated either as children's slang or, more likely, as a sarcastic adult reference to the perceived weakness of an opponent (e.g., ‘Oh, Tommy's decided to go back on our deal, huh? Well, I'll just go fix little Tommy's wagon for him.’).
Hobbes in a Radio Flyer red wagon
November 16, 2015
Golf is great: you get to spend time in beautiful environments and learn new expressions. After a round recently, one of the staff, noticing I wasn't sure where to go, explained where the women's changing room was, and also that "the blower's over there for your ones and twos". I nodded dutifully as this mysteriousness; I'm quite used to not having a clue about what's going on in the golf world. It's only when I got to the air pressure shoe cleaner that it came to me: "SHOES!". It was rhyming slang. I was so proud of myself.
(This is a blower in case you were wondering)
It turns out that Cockney rhyming slang has several expressions for shoes:
Scooby's (Scooby Doos)
St. Louis (St. Louis Blues)
Toms (Tom Cruise)
Churches (church pews)
August 26, 2015
After Iraq, Pakistan. Did you know that it's an acronym?
It was coined in 1933 as Pakstan by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, a Pakistan Movement activist, who published it in his pamphlet Now or Never, using it as an acronym ("thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN") referring to the names of the five northern regions of the British Raj: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan". The letter i was incorporated to ease pronunciation and form the linguistically correct and meaningful name: it literally means "Land of the Pure" in Urdu and Persian. It comes from the word pāk, meaning "pure" in Persian and Pashto, while the word istān is a Persian word meaning "place of".
July 28, 2015
Good question, which was raised during a discussion of Tony Blair’s legacy on Facebook, which, as it turns out, isn't only for watching cute kitten videos.
In English, Iraq is far more used than Irak, which is the preferred spelling in French, most notably in publishing heavyweights such a Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique. I’m more used to the Irak spelling, so I wondered, why q?
It turns out that the q is a Roman transliteration which indicates a different version of the phoneme /k/ in Arabic, which comes from far back in the throat (lingual-glottal). As neither language has a specific letter for it, the Roman transliteration uses a q to indicate a slightly different sound; the same goes for Qatar. This is how جمهورية العراق, or Republic of Iraq, is pronounced in Arabic.
So, what’s a French girl to do? When it comes to toponymy, French has a habit of messing with foreign names, and q or k, I’ll still pronounce it /k/, but I quite like consistency and I can’t imagine spelling Qatar Katar, so I think I’ll use Iraq from now on.
July 23, 2015
Hey, I have something useful (although not particularly riveting - it’s about tax) to share!
I recently acquired a new American client, and they asked me to provide a US taxpayer identification number (TIN) and a completed W8-BEN-E form to prove that my company isn’t registered in the US. Failing that, they would have to deduct 30% non-resident withholding tax from my invoices. Yikes!
The W8-BEN-E form is available on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website, and as I started struggling at question 5, I asked an accountant to help me out. Just in case you find yourself in the same situation, Naked Translations is a UK Limited company, and the right box to tick was “Active NFFE” (non-financial foreign entity). Obviously. The rest is fairly straightforward.
My policy is always to hire professionals to do the work I don’t feel qualified to take on, but if you feel like grappling with the IRS’ arcane ways, this document gives a clear explanation of form W8-BEN-E.
Then you just send the form to your client, and then they file it in case the IRS needs to see it.
The picture was taken when I spent two weeks with another American client in March. It's those American connections that motivated me to kickstart this blog again. More on that subject in another post.
Freelancers: should you be insured against loss of income?
January 16, 2014