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".

Wikipedia entry on the etymology of Pakistan

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Posted by céline on August 26, 2015 | Comments (0)

Irak or Iraq?

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.

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Posted by céline on July 28, 2015 | Comments (0)

Invoicing US companies from the UK

July 23, 2015

Central Park

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.

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Freelancers: should you be insured against loss of income?

January 16, 2014

coffeeIt’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?

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Jus de chaussette

December 17, 2013

coffeeMy 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.


Coffee photo by Rog01

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Posted by céline on December 17, 2013 | Comments (1)


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.

Laic (adj.)
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?

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Posted by céline on October 5, 2013 | Comments (9)
Culture, Words

June 11, 2013