MORE ON CAVAFY.

A couple more tidbits from Dan Chiasson’s Cavafy essay (see here):
1) I hadn’t known about this episode:

What we do know is that, in 1924, Cavafy’s homosexuality came to public light. It was a dispute about grammar—Greeks feel passionate about many things, but grammar would have to rank near the top of the list—that led Socrates Lagoudakis, a columnist for the local paper with inflammatory, somewhat comic opinions, to condemn Cavafy as “another Oscar Wilde.” (Cavafy had spelled the Greek for “New York” with a smooth breathing mark, contra Lagoudakis, who, whenever he mentioned New York, used a rough one. Things escalated from there.)

Now you see why it’s for the best that in the new orthography, Νέα Υόρκη is written without any breathing at all.
2) This really pissed me off:

It has often been said that Cavafy is an easy poet to translate. Joseph Brodsky found that Cavafy actually gained in translation. (Brodsky, who was translating his own poems into English, had a stake in believing this.) If translation is the undressing of a poem in one language in order to outfit it in another, Cavafy, by stripping his poems of so much Belle Époque excess, had done half of the translator’s work. Brodsky argued that translation was “almost the next logical step in the direction the poet was moving.” And, in one of the canonical statements on translation, W.H. Auden, who knew no Greek, found in Cavafy “a tone of voice, a personal speech” that defied every poet’s assumption that what essentially distinguished prose and poetry is “that prose can be translated into another tongue but poetry cannot.”

After some backing and filling, explaining that his Greek isn’t really as simple as the translations might make you think, Chiasson concludes that “Cavafy survives translation relatively unscathed.”
This is pernicious nonsense, and Chiasson (who I presume can read Cavafy in the original) should be ashamed of himself, as Auden should have been—how dare someone who “knew no Greek” make idiotic pronouncements about the success of translation from Greek? As for Brodsky, his translations of his own poetry are so bad they exempt him from taking part in the discussion; it is enough, after all, to be a great poet: it would be unfair to expect greatness in other fields as well.
The fact is that Cavafy is as hard to translate as any other great poet. You can read an affecting appreciation of this by Maurice Leiter here (“the curtain of my ignorance/ keeps me from truly knowing him”), and see the record of my struggle with one short poem here (and I wish hippugeek would start hanging around here again). No poem is easy for the translator who wants to do a good job, and anyone with half a brain should realize that the fact that a translated poem looks like it took no effort is as irrelevant as a great actor’s lack of sweating and grimacing. Ars est celare artem, and all that.

Comments

  1. You’re more charitable than I was — I assumed Chiasson was talking through his hat, and had no more Greek than Auden.

  2. Well, I left out the part where he discussed what Cavafy’s Greek was like, but I suppose he could have gotten that from secondary sources.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    A rough breathing? On New York? <headdesk>
    Actually, why didn’t they spell it outright with gamma instead of with a breathing? (And the choice of ypsilon is just… cute.)

  4. In classical Greek, there’s no such thing as a smooth breathing on an initial ypsilon. All words with intial ypsilon have a rough breathing, except the letter name itself
    I’d assume that the same thing is true of modern Greek, since the last person who pronounced the rough breathing probably died about the same time as Christ.
    So if Cavafy used a smooth breathing in Nea Yorki, he was making a point about more than just spelling, and so was his opponent.
    Of course that doesn’t justify ad hominem (ad homonem?) attacks.

  5. the last person who pronounced the rough breathing probably died about the same time as Christ.
    If only the NY Times had been around then, they could have done a touching feature on him or her.

  6. Make that “ad homonym attacks”.

  7. Greek breathes?
    There use to be a debate over whether Fred Astaire or Gene Kelley was the better dancer. I was told Kelley because he made it look effortless while Astaire made it look like he was doing something technically difficult.

  8. Stendhal has a neat gloss on ars est celare artem, particularly since this comes from the Ars Amatoria: Qui ne sait celer ne sait aimer. In German a pun is possible on breathings: ars est celare atem.

  9. mollymooly says:

    David Marjanović, your markup is hurting me.
    </headdesk>
    Aah, that’s better.
    Lagoudakis would have said Cavafy did it backwards and in high heels. And ars est celare arsem.

  10. bruessel says:

    Sorry, but as I am a huge fan of his, I have to be boring and nitpicking here: the right spelling is Gene Kelly.

  11. A J P Crown says:

    While I much prefer Fred Astaire, I really doubt that Auden knew NO Greek, that’s very unlikely. My Latin master when I was twelve had been a schoolfriend of Auden — I think they subsequently formed the Oxford University archeological society together — he knew Greek.

  12. Cavafy must really be something in the original – I am usually not a great friend of poetry, and I can read him only in translation, but even so I think his genius is obvious and mindblowing.

  13. mollymooly says:

    How about a thread on works that are better in translation? Starting with Google’s low-hanging fruit: Robert Colvile offers The Magic Roundabout, Asterix, and the King James Version, but the first doesn’t count. Paul Taylor’s subeditor suggests a kabuki version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which really doesn’t count. Others vote for Byron. I nominate the Irish National Anthem, whose original English text is virtually illegal in Ireland, and rightly so: it rhymes “Ireland” with “sireland”.

  14. A J P Crown says:

    Sure it counts, Molly. Just because he wrote a totally different text doesn’t mean its not better than the original.

  15. A J P Crown says:

    By the way, Robert Colvile’s photograph of Ted Hughes is a bit of a shock. He looks like a badger.

  16. mollymooly says:

    It may be better, but it’s not really a translation. Otherwise a lot of operas will get in. And why not Hitchcock, who translates pulp novels into grand cinema?

  17. A J P Crown says:

    Here’s a fun article about translation by Eliot Weinberger*.
    *In 2000, Weinberger was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle for his translations of Octavio Paz

  18. The best known 19th C Chinese translator of Dickens is said to have rewritten the novels to Chinese conventions. As I remember, he versions are still popular, and there are those who say he improved them. He may have been working within the Chinese story-telling traditions, which places no value either on unique originality or on exact reproduction of the model.
    On the one had, Dickens is an author whose improvement by a translator is easily imaginable. On the other, his middle-brow qualities would seem to make him an author who would go over in translation.
    Another such author is Mark Twain. Commenter Read here was saying elsewhere that Huckleberry Finn reminded her of her own childhood in Mongolia. I’ve also heard that from an Afghan, if I recall correctly. I think that there’s a cultural universal here: “unsupervised kids who don’t have to work”. Dickens is immortal too because of all the middlebrow cultural universals he uses.

  19. The best known 19th C Chinese translator of Dickens is said to have rewritten the novels to Chinese conventions. As I remember, he versions are still popular, and there are those who say he improved them. He may have been working within the Chinese story-telling traditions, which places no value either on unique originality or on exact reproduction of the model.
    On the one had, Dickens is an author whose improvement by a translator is easily imaginable. On the other, his middle-brow qualities would seem to make him an author who would go over in translation.
    Another such author is Mark Twain. Commenter Read here was saying elsewhere that Huckleberry Finn reminded her of her own childhood in Mongolia. I’ve also heard that from an Afghan, if I recall correctly. I think that there’s a cultural universal here: “unsupervised kids who don’t have to work”. Dickens is immortal too because of all the middlebrow cultural universals he uses.

  20. Twain? Really? He had such an ear for dialect of a specific time and place that I would think his works, especially Huck Finn, would lose quite a bit in translation. Even early 21st century Americans seem to have trouble understanding the nuances of Twain’s idiolect.
    Russians have told me that Dreiser and Dos Pasos are both much better in Russian translation, which I can readily believe. Never checked for myself though. Some people also claim Poe is better in French.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Mollymooly: How about a thread on works that are better in translation? …., Asterix, and the King James Version …
    Astérix, better in translation? when it is full of puns and cultural references? perhaps it seems more readable in the translation since a person not very familiar with French language and culture would find the original hard to understand, and miss a lot of the puns and jokes (which need to be replaced by English equivalents in order to make sense, not translated literally). I wonder how “Astérix en Bretagne” (Asterix in Britain) would be in English, when much of the humour lies in the fact that the Britons not only have stereotypical customs and personality traits but speak French in literal translations of English sentences (this is explained by the fact that at the time of the Roman conquest the Britons and the Gauls spoke much the same language, but with a few differences – which was true in general about their Celtic speech).
    And the King James Version, which is a translation: how many people can read the original and be ina position to compare? or do you mean a translation from the KJV?
    The mention of Astérix reminds me of translations of Tintin. There is a web site about Tintin in English, which often totally misses the point that the works are translations. For instance, they call “Woah” the “signature” cry of Tintin’s dog (which does not sound dog-like), but in French the dog is just saying “Ouah” (= wah) like all French dogs, so this word is the equivalent of English “Arf”, not something peculiar to Tintin’s dog. And the Tintin translations I have seen have a stilted, upper-class British flavour: one example of this is the adaptation of the name of the dog from Milou, which like Tintin is a diminutive form of a boy’s name, to the bland and non-human Snowy.

  22. Some people also claim Poe is better in French

    That would be the French. Since he translated Poe’s poems, Mallarmé is very likely who they were talking about. Poe can’t be better in French, because he didn’t write in French.
    The topic of “Poe is better in French” is translations and translators, not Poe. Someone may think a translation into a given language of work X by writer Y is “better” than another such translation. But it makes no sense to say a translation is “better” than the original. If it were, then it would be a bad translation, because it would have failed to convey the inferior quality of the original.

  23. mollymooly says:

    Astérix, better in translation? when it is full of puns and cultural references?

    The English translators, Bell and Hockridge, were fastidious in replacing puns with puns. In many cases, the puns were completely different of course, so maybe for consistency I should exclude it on the Magic Roundabout rule. But I won’t.
    As to cultural references, most of Asterix’s adventures are in foreign lands, and the French and British stereotypes of Greece, Spain, etc. may be quite compatible. I imagine Asterix in Belgium and in Switzerland have a larger number of missed cultural references. There is an apology from Goscinny and Uderzo at the start of the English edition of Asterix and Britain for all the tea jokes, etc.

  24. The best known 19th C Chinese translator of Dickens is said to have rewritten the novels to Chinese conventions. As I remember, he versions are still popular, and there are those who say he improved them. He may have been working within the Chinese story-telling traditions
    You are probably thinking of Lin Shu 林紓, who (despite not speaking a word of English) wrote his early C20th translations of Dickens and other European writers in classical Chinese, thus explicitly rejecting the Chinese story-telling traditions that culminated in the great Ming and Qing dynasty vernacular novels such as Jin Ping Mei and Hong Lou Meng. Whilst there may be some people who think that Dickens rewritten in classical Chinese is an improvement (probably mostly Chinese readers who think that Dickens is a “classical” author who should therefore be rendered in a classical idiom), I personally think classical Chinese is a very poor choice of linguistic style for translating Dickens, as it is unable to reflect the style of language that Dickens actually used.

  25. Actually, why didn’t they spell it outright with gamma instead of with a breathing? (And the choice of ypsilon is just… cute.)
    Maybe this is very naïve, but is it possible that they write it with Υ because it looks more like a Y, and ι, υ and η all have the same pronunciation in Modern Greek? Although the appearance shouldn’t matter I always find the Portuguese Nova Iorque looks very weird compared with the Spanish Nueva York

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Poe in French: Mallarmé translated (some of) the poems, and Baudelaire translated the prose works. Two of the top French poets! not everyone has had such luck.
    I think that Poe’s high reputation as a poet in France (a better reputation than in English) must be partly because his language is not too difficult to understand for someone whose English is limited, and the rhymes are quite obvious. It is interesting that he was translated by Mallarmé whose poetic style is notoriously difficult. But Mallarné’s translation (I am looking at Le Corbeau) is unable to give an idea of the rhythms and rhymes of the original poem: the translation is written as a “prose poem”, respecting the stanzas but not arranged in lines. It does NOT sound better in French: perhaps some English speakers who read the translation just think so precisely because they don’t quite understand everything in it. The challenge of reading a different language makes the text more interesting.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Mollymooly: The English translators, Bell and Hockridge, were fastidious in replacing puns with puns. In many cases, the puns were completely different of course
    I have not read the English translations, and I am sure that the translators must have done a good job, and indeed the puns often have to be completely replaced (thus introducing a different flavour), but to say that the translations are better than the originals would imply that the reader can truly understand the originals, and I am not sure that that is the case.
    As to cultural references, most of Asterix’s adventures are in foreign lands, and the French and British stereotypes of Greece, Spain, etc. may be quite compatible
    That is not what I mean by cultural references, I mean things that happen within the Gaulish village and the interactions between the inhabitants.
    There is an apology from Goscinny and Uderzo at the start of the English edition of Asterix and Britain for all the tea jokes, etc.
    Of course, those are quite obvious, but I wonder how the translators dealt with the English-with-French-words problem. I will have to look for the translation (I don’t usually read French works in English translation, or vice-versa).

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Rewriting rather than translating:
    Some time ago I asked about translations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Russian, as the reference I had said that the Russian translation (dating from the 70′s) of One hundred years of solitude was bowdlerized, omitting “obscene” words and also “purifying” the love affairs.
    My intention was to try to improve my limited Russian by reading something interesting for which I have the original and am very familiar with it, but I don’t want to find that entire sentences or paragraphs are missing or have been rewritten. I was referred to a web site where supposedly the original translation (before the editing) would be available, but it seemed to be the published translation. So I will ask again if anything else has come up.

  29. “Russians have told me that Dreiser and Dos Pasos are both much better in Russian translation, which I can readily believe. ”
    How would they know? I mean, how can a Russian ever really know how good he is or isn’t in Englsih to begin with? Where does this facile assumption come from that everyone can learn English perfectly as if it’s some kind of human natural speech everyone just has to relax to revert to?
    “I personally think classical Chinese is a very poor choice of linguistic style for translating Dickens, as it is unable to reflect the style of language that Dickens actually used.”
    In fact it’s a bizarre choice.
    That brings up another issue in this area. Someone translated the Bible into Classical Chinese, and apparently came up with somethig beautiful, that made it sound classical. But how accurate is the impression that is going to give a reader?

  30. mollymooly says:

    Some name translations for Asterix: the dog Idéfix becomes Dogmatix. The fishmonger Ordralfabetix becomes Unhygienix. Better, non?

  31. mollymooly says:

    I would call “Magic Roundabout” dub parody, not translation. Thank you Wikipedia for the term.

  32. As I remember in Asterix and the Britons (English language version), the Britons all speak in “uppah clars” accents, and say things like: “I say, old boy …”, so yes, it looks like a lot of the humour is lost there …
    I assume most people here are aware of Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin van Rooten – they don’t translate ‘em like that any more …

  33. Baudelaire translated Longfellow too. We rightly think of Longfellow as a rather mediocre sentimental poet, but he was also a virtuoso poetry machine who appropriated meters, themes, etc. from languages as distant as Finnish.
    Both Longfellow and Poe had mechanical theories of poetry as pure technique, as did Baudelaire in his prefaces, and from there it went to Pound, Eliot, and Williams (“a machine made of words”). It’s all crap, of course, though some of them did write some great poems).
    Longfellow as a linguist and polyglot translator was also the ancestor of Pound, Rexroth, Robert Bly, et al.

  34. Baudelaire translated Longfellow too. We rightly think of Longfellow as a rather mediocre sentimental poet, but he was also a virtuoso poetry machine who appropriated meters, themes, etc. from languages as distant as Finnish.
    Both Longfellow and Poe had mechanical theories of poetry as pure technique, as did Baudelaire in his prefaces, and from there it went to Pound, Eliot, and Williams (“a machine made of words”). It’s all crap, of course, though some of them did write some great poems).
    Longfellow as a linguist and polyglot translator was also the ancestor of Pound, Rexroth, Robert Bly, et al.

  35. OK, so now on to the Longfellow revival. What should we call the new collection?
    Postmodern Longfellow –
    Longfellow the Ironist –
    The Hermetic Longfellow –
    Transgressive Longfellow?
    Work with me, folks.

  36. OK, so now on to the Longfellow revival. What should we call the new collection?
    Postmodern Longfellow –
    Longfellow the Ironist –
    The Hermetic Longfellow –
    Transgressive Longfellow?
    Work with me, folks.

  37. No one admired Dreiser’s English style, and it may be that the translator just couldn’t stand to duplicate it.

  38. No one admired Dreiser’s English style, and it may be that the translator just couldn’t stand to duplicate it.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Some name translations for Asterix: the dog Idéfix becomes Dogmatix. The fishmonger Ordralfabetix becomes Unhygienix. Better, non?
    Better indeed for English, where the originals would make no sense, so the translators were right to change the names and, in this case, include new puns. But Dogmatix would not be a pun in French, and Unhygienix does not have a one-word French equivalent. The names in the French original do not necessarily have a semantic relation to the characteristics of the individuals, as in Astérix and Obélix, and many others, Trying for such semantic relation might make for more puns but would also restrict the choices of names to more predictable ones, something which would not necessarily make the text “better”.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    As I remember in Asterix and the Britons (English language version), the Britons all speak in “uppah clars” accents, and say things like: “I say, old boy …”, so yes, it looks like a lot of the humour is lost there …
    I see that the English version has had to resort to near-phonetic spelling for the upper class accent, in order to suggest the difference, if not the foreignness. In the French original, the words spoken by the Britons are not written any differently, so there is no suggestion of a different pronunciation, it is all in the syntax and idioms: the Britons say “Je dis, vieux garçon …” and similarly with all their utterances. It’s a riot for a bilingual person to read the book.

  41. A J P Crown says:

    Eric Thompson’s intention was not parody of Serge Danot, Molly. Dub parody refers to parody of the original.
    I’m giving you a hard time because you are excluding The Magic Roundabout — though when I watch it now on YouTube I don’t think it withstood the past forty years as well as my memory of it. Too bad.

  42. (And the choice of ypsilon is just… cute.)
    Maybe this is very naïve, but is it possible that they write it with Υ because it looks more like a Y, and ι, υ and η all have the same pronunciation in Modern Greek?
    I’m pretty sure that’s what was meant by “cute.”

  43. Mollymooly: Better in translation? Shakespeare, of course; no Goethe or Schiller, but definitely the greatest of the second rank of German 19th-century Romantic poets. (The Klingons agree, but for a different reason — see Nick Nicholas’s edition of Hamlet: “taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS / quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’?”)
    Vanya: I remember someone animadverting on the French admiration for M. Poe, based on (among other misunderstandings) the notion that his ratiocination is French Reason. Unfortunately I have forgotten the who and where.
    Grumbly Stu: Transductor, treasoner. (“Translator, traitor”, the usual translation, is far too clever to be an example of itself.)
    John Emerson: “What writes worse than a Theodore Dreiser? Two Theodore Dreisers.” –Dorothy Parker. “Dreiser’s style was not his own.” –A friend of mine who admires him
    Marie-Lucie: Surely Astérix and Obélix are so named because of their relative sizes, not to mention the menhir/obelisk that O. carries about? I suppose they could have been called Asterisk and Obelisk in English, though not many people still remember that obelisk is the name of the character †, more often called the dagger.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Surely Astérix and Obélix are so named because of their relative sizes, not to mention the menhir/obelisk that O. carries about?
    Of course! I did not mean that all the names were arbitrary, but not everyone of the characters has a name which relates to their personality or situation in an obvious manner.
    I suppose they could have been called Asterisk and Obelisk in English,
    Yes, but why? there would be no point in using actual words, and if used as names, they would not sound Gaulish: the authors have adopted -ix as a suffix for all male names, (from the use of-rix, = Latin rex, for noble male names in Gaulish), so actual French words ending in -isque, -ique, or -i are all fair game for becoming “Gaulish names” (the actual words which are the basis for the names of A and O are astérisque and obélisque). (Among the Britons, who are supposed to speak a different dialect, the suffix is -ax instead of -ix, but the principle is the same, so the translators must have changed some of those names too).
    not many people still remember that obelisk is the name of the character †, more often called the dagger.
    That is quite new to me! I just know the word “dagger”.

  45. So many posts, and nobody has mentioned “What’s up, Tigerlily?” yet?

  46. Maybe this is very naïve, but is it possible that they write it with Υ because it looks more like a Y, and ι, υ and η all have the same pronunciation in Modern Greek?
    I’m pretty sure that’s what was meant by “cute.”
    Probably you’re right, but I confess that this interpretation didn’t occur to me. I realize that in American usage “cute” normally has a positive meaning when applied to a child or an object, but it often seems to have a negative meaning (essentially affected or pretentious) when applied to an adult or an adult’s action, and that was the meaning I was assuming. (The dictionary doesn’t recognize the word, but I’m sure I’ve heard “cutesy” for the negative meaning.)
    Incidentally, where did the diaeresis in naïve come from? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in my original comment. Not that I mind, but I regard naive as a thoroughly nativized word that doesn’t need a foreign look, any more than it needs separate masculine and feminine forms.

  47. I realize that in American usage “cute” normally has a positive meaning when applied to a child or an object, but it often seems to have a negative meaning (essentially affected or pretentious) when applied to an adult or an adult’s action
    I’m afraid that’s too much of an oversimplification to be useful; “cute” is one of those messy words that has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and (as a native speaker of American) I didn’t sense anything negative about its use here. I would interpret it here as “clever, in an utterly insignificant way.”
    where did the diaeresis in naïve come from?
    No idea—could your browser have underlined it in red and you accepted a change without paying attention? (I notice the version with the diaeresis is underlined in my browser window, and “naive” is suggested.)

  48. mollymooly says:

    So many posts, and nobody has mentioned “What’s up, Tigerlily?” yet?

    For a weak enough definition of “mention”, my previous Wikipedia link counts.

  49. ‘cute as a bug, meaning sharp-witted (acute), was a down South expression – possibly still is.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    In classical Greek, there’s no such thing as a smooth breathing on an initial ypsilon. All words with intial ypsilon have a rough breathing, except the letter name itself

    Oh, that’s where the name of the letter comes from! :-) I used to wonder…

    David Marjanović, your markup is hurting me.
    </headdesk>
    Aah, that’s better.

    No, it’s a punctual action, like <br> and >hr>, not a continuous one.

    I wonder how “Astérix en Bretagne” (Asterix in Britain) would be in English, when much of the humour lies in the fact that the Britons not only have stereotypical customs and personality traits but speak French in literal translations of English sentences

    I’ve read it in English. All that stuff is simply lost.
    I’ve also read it in German (and seen the movie in German), which gets most of it across, though it does lose things like “La Gauloise Amphore”.
    I haven’t noticed anything special about the German Tintin translations — except that Tintin & Milou become Tim & Struppi <headdesk>. But then, Mortadelo & Filemón became Clever & Smart… <sigh>

    I imagine Asterix in Belgium and in Switzerland have a larger number of missed cultural references.

    Yep. In German, the Belgians simply come across as randomly crazy for having kept déjeuner – dîner – souper instead of petit déjeuner – déjeuner – dîner. They are given a trace of a Dutch accent, though, and similar things of course happen to the Helvetians.

    Maybe this is very naïve, but is it possible that they write it with Υ because it looks more like a Y, and ι, υ and η all have the same pronunciation in Modern Greek?

    That obviously is it, but it’s rather weird pronunciation-wise, AFAIK.

    I’m pretty sure that’s what was meant by “cute.”

    Yes.

    Better in translation? Shakespeare, of course; no Goethe or Schiller, but definitely the greatest of the second rank of German 19th-century Romantic poets.

    Yes, the Schlegel-Tieck translation turned him into a German Classic*. Sein oder nicht sein, das ist hier die Frage – note the insertion of a syllable to fit the meter.
    * “Classic” doesn’t quite mean the same in German tradition as elsewhere. Goethe is a Classic.

    The Klingons agree, but for a different reason

    They most vehemently disagree! They say Shakespeare can only be appreciated in the original Klingon.
    ====================
    Erm. Ehem. There is no point in pondering what exactly it means that I said “cute”. I’m not a native speaker! I didn’t think a lot about precisely what I wanted to say, but the primary sense, comparable to “lovely” and ” :-} “, is enough.
    On another note, I’m rather shocked that our esteemed host uses a spellchecker. That Firefox has one inbuilt, and switched on by default, is one of the reasons why I don’t use it.

  51. I find that odd, though to each his own. I am an extremely good speller and editor, but to err is human, and I have occasionally been saved from my clumsy fingers when Firefox helpfully underlined a typo in red. If it’s not helpful, I just ignore it.

  52. A J P Crown says:

    What’s wrong with Language using a spellchecker? He can discard advice he doesn’t like. He isn’t bound by it, hasn’t gone over to the other side.

  53. A J P Crown says:

    I guess he can defend hisself.

  54. There is no point in pondering what exactly it means that I said “cute”.
    Although I still haven’t had time to google the Greek breathing thing and I have no idea why a Greek letter would want to breathe, I didn’t interpret it as something negative, but rather something having to do with appearance, that someone used the letter because they liked the way it looked. But maybe it’s negative after all since it seems like a frivolous and not a scholarly reason.
    I’m rather shocked that our esteemed host uses a spellchecker.
    I’m rather shocked that owners of Harley Davidson motorcycles do not drive them thousands of miles through the heat and rain to summer rallies, but rather put them inside trailers and drive with air-conditioning to the location where the rally will be held. Then, after putting the wear and tear of the mileage on the workhorse vehicle, they “off-load” the expensive bike and put just a few gentle miles on it, driving it around the mountains for pleasure.
    If nobody got that, it was supposed to be a metaphor. spellchekcers are still a lot of work

  55. oops, spellcheckers are still a lot of work when their are homonyms and because they don’t catch it it when you type the same word twice.

  56. mollymooly says:

    ‘cute as a bug, meaning sharp-witted (acute), was a down South expression – possibly still is.

    There’s also the Irish “cute hoor” for “cunning rogue”, typically applied to Fianna Fáil politicians. You don’t need an apostrophe: “cute” in all senses was originally short for “acute”. The current usual sense doesn’t even merit a separate number in the OED; presumably this is one of those bits unrevised since 1890-something:
    1. Acute, clever, keen-witted, sharp, shrewd.
    2. (orig. U.S. colloq. and Schoolboy slang.) Used of things in same way as CUNNING. Now in general colloq. use, applied to people as well as things, with the sense ‘attractive, pretty, charming’; also, ‘attractive in a mannered way’.

  57. mollymooly says:

    I use the Firefox spellchecker and my pet peeves are:
    1. the UK English dictionary underlines many solid compounds, suggesting hyphenated alternatives. This misrepresents UK spelling. Where US spelling plumps for the solid form and regards the hyphens as obsolete/wrong, the UK does not take the opposite view, but rather gives the writer a free choice. (By “the UK”, I mean “I”; by “the writer”, I mean “me”.)
    2. Directly under the popup menu of suggested corrections is the “add to dictionary” option. I have, through slips of the mouse, inadvertently added several misspellings to my dictionary. You have to manually edit the dictionary file to undo this.

  58. You have to manually edit the dictionary file to undo this.
    How do you do that? I have not managed to make such an error yet, but I am sure I will.

  59. mollymooly says:

    Here’s the dope. As much fun as a paper cut.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Well, it’s got to be a culture shock, then. While by no means logical, the German orthography is regular enough that it’s more or less reasonable to expect educated people to know it perfectly. (Astonishingly few people can cope with the comma rules, but that’s not something a spellchecker can do anything about.) I’m also a touch-typist and look at the screen while I type; typos do occasionally get through, but simply not enough to care about.
    What’s more, I’ve seen lots of instances of the Cupertino Effect and similar problems. And all the red squiggles are just ugly. :-)

  61. I used to find spellcheckers annoying, of course, but then I encountered the unfathomable horrors of the T9 predictive text-messaging system and the red squiggles have barely registered as an irritation since.

  62. That brings up another issue in this area. Someone translated the Bible into Classical Chinese, and apparently came up with somethig beautiful, that made it sound classical. But how accurate is the impression that is going to give a reader?

    In fact, the versions that were translated into Classical Chinese didn’t last, and now mostly unknown to believers or non-believers.
    The only common version of Bible among Chinese Protestant Christians is the vernacular Chinese Union Version, well known for its half-way house written style (1) and syntactic errors (2) in the text. However, because it is so influential, subsequent translations picked upon such translationese.
    The latest translation attempt by a non-believer Feng Xiang seemed to try to redress these “problems”, he has worked on the Books of Moses (Pentateuch/Torah) and the Books of Wisdom. They seemed to attract great acclaim.
    (1) As Andrew West said, Ming-and-Qing story-telling tradition is towards colloquialism, the stories written then still retained certain classicisms. Besides, CUV was mainly translated by missionaries with texts further edited by some Chinese. apparently the editors didn’t want to make it too colloquial to preserve some classical feel of classics.
    (2) Basically, some verbal agreement errors, like having shi (是) without de (的) in stative sentences.

  63. Bible translation has to be the toughest jobs in the world, when you consider that 1.) many passages are difficult-to-impossible to translate, 2.) there are enormous numbers of texts and commentaries going back anywhere from 1800 (?) years ago to 2400 (?) years ago, 3.) the commentary traditions are in many different languages, including but not limited to the primary languages, 4.) besides the difficult passages, the commentary traditions make many easy passages difficult by tendentious interpretations. and 5.) last but least, many of the present representative of the commentary traditions are capable murderous insanity.

  64. Bible translation has to be the toughest jobs in the world, when you consider that 1.) many passages are difficult-to-impossible to translate, 2.) there are enormous numbers of texts and commentaries going back anywhere from 1800 (?) years ago to 2400 (?) years ago, 3.) the commentary traditions are in many different languages, including but not limited to the primary languages, 4.) besides the difficult passages, the commentary traditions make many easy passages difficult by tendentious interpretations. and 5.) last but least, many of the present representative of the commentary traditions are capable murderous insanity.

  65. How weird for me to be posting in a forum that mentions my translation of Hamlet into Klingon — and not discuss my translation of Hamlet into Klingon…
    I’ve said “Cavafy reads better in English” myself. What’s lost in the Englishing of Cavafy — *especially* the most popular Keeley & Sherard version — is the fact that Cavafy manipulates diglossia quite self-consciously. Sometimes, it’s highly effective — the Demotic thud of “As if we should talk of Lacedaemonians now!”, the subdued “except for me” in the poem about the Christian at the pagan party. Sometimes, it is distracting; and it comes across as more distracting given the poisoning of the well that came with the politicisation of Greek diglossia (which Cavafy, in Alexandria, was quite on the outer of).
    Keeley & Sherard drop all that, and give you a Cavafy where you’re not either elevated or distracted by the diglossic play: it’s all just streetsmart General American. It reads *smoother* than the original. Is that always a bad thing? You know, not always (says the guy who translated Hamlet into Klingon).
    The attempts to duplicate the diglossic play in translation though are doomed to fail, because English register is not Greek diglossia: not the same kinds of choices, not the same political or cultural loading. The first translation into English (Mavrogordato?) is just incoherent for that reason. And it’s been well over fifteen years, but I don’t recall Cavafy’s own attempts in translating his verse being crowned with glory either…

  66. And as to the smooth breathing on York: Cavafy did do that, and he routinely used ἡ where Modern Greek had long accepted oἱ for the feminine plural article. (They’re both i, and Modern Greek conflated the feminine plural with the masculine plural. Cavafy chose to conflate it with the feminine singular instead.) Cavafy was of course well-read enough to know better—his table talk includes ruminations on contemporary grammars of Greek. He was simply being self-consciously eccentric in his spelling of Greek, just as he was eclectic in his use of diglossia.
    I didn’t remember that his orthographic quirks led to his outing though…

  67. Excellent comments, Nick, and I wish I had the ability to discuss your translation of Hamlet into Klingon! You are of course right that attempts to duplicate the diglossic play in translation are doomed to fail; all one can do is adjust speech levels in English to try to achieve some sort of vaguely parallel effect.

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