SHE LOOKED REAL SWELL.

Kim Fischer, a PR person at Temple University, has a puff piece on Lawrence Venuti, a translator and translation theorist and (not coincidentally) a Temple English professor, which irritates me with its breathless treatment of him as the Hot New Thing in translation:

A leading theorist in his field, Venuti is at the forefront of what might be called a translation renaissance. … The most prevalent translation strategy has been to adhere to the current standard dialect of the translating language, which is the most familiar and least noticeable to the reader. This kind of translation, according to Venuti, effaces the translator’s presence and erases cultural distinctions.
“Translation rewrites a foreign text in terms that are intelligible and interesting to readers in the receiving culture. Doing so is akin to committing an act of ethnocentric violence by uprooting the text from the language and culture that gave it life. Translating into current, standard English at once conceals that violence and homogenizes foreign cultures,” he said.

You know what? There are a million different ways to translate, and you can perfectly well do a good job at it in your own preferred way without giving in to the temptation to paint everyone who does it differently as a retrograde perpetrator of ethnocentric violence and eraser of cultural distinctions.
But never mind; a sidebar quotes Venuti’s translation of one of the poems from Edward Hopper, a collection by Catalan poet Ernest Farrés (and it also irritates me that both Fischer and Venuti keep calling Catalan a “minor language”), and I liked it well enough I don’t care about his excuses for translating it the way he likes or his blackguarding of people who do it differently.
[N.b.: the title of my post comes from the line "she looked real swell, sure enough"; you can read the rest of the translation at the first link.]


Thanks for the link, Annie!

Comments

  1. Neither the press release nor the cover shown there make it clear, but the book is bilingual, so you can read the original on the facing page using Amazon‘s preview.

  2. John Emerson says:

    The article is of the rare “It keeps getting worse” type. What I say below does not apply to the translation or the original poem.
    Doing so is akin to committing an act of ethnocentric violence by uprooting the text from the language and culture that gave it life.
    Historians have long asked themselves why Hitler’s failed to violently translate the corpus of Yiddish literature into German.
    “Browsing in a bookstore in Barcelona, I came across an intriguing project — who was this unknown poet tackling an American icon? Why Edward Hopper? Why in Catalan, a minor language?” said Venuti.
    Farres explains: “As an unknown poet writing in a minor language, I realized that it was expected that I would translate an equally-unknown author writing in an equally-minor language, perhaps one of the lesser Albanian or Sorbian poets. But my fifteen years studying critical theory had convinced me that I should not do so.”
    Later, as a doctoral candidate at Columbia, he decided that as an Italian American, he should learn Italian — the language he is now best known for translating — and he immediately began to translate.
    “I’d really would have been up shit creek if I had found out that I was an adopted child born of an Armenian father and a Swedish mother”, said Venuti. I wasn’t, but just to be sure I did some research and found that there were several obscure Swedish-Armenian poets to translate if need be.”

  3. komfo,amonan says:

    Later, as a doctoral candidate at Columbia, he decided that as an Italian American, he should learn Italian — the language he is now best known for translating — and he immediately began to translate.
    Now if I were an Italian-American, I would decide that I should learn Sicilian. <shrug />

  4. komfo,amonan says:

    Also? Only Famous Poets should tackle American Icons, and only in Major Languages.
    Given how vigorously the Catalans have fought for their language, Venuti’s dismissal is particularly disgraceful. One wonders if he bothered to learn it well enough to translate it. I hope Farrés speaks English.

  5. Here’s a hint: if you find yourself accusing translators, poets, authors or other creative types of perpetrating ‘acts of violence’, you are at very high risk of being a major douche. And/or Harold Bloom.

  6. Venuti says he studied Catalan for ten years, including some time there on a Fulbright in 1999. In for instance, this podcast and some similar written pieces on the web.
    No matter what his own theories may be, most of the historical works pulled together into the Translation Studies Reader that he edited are interesting.

  7. I was inspired by Venuti’s Translation Pacifist stance to perform some of my own de-violenced translation. Except when I read the article it seemed like the only thing that Venuti did that made his translation less violent was to include many elements of Edward Hopper’s own idiolect—an act which some might claim is actually entirely par for the course, the privileging of a blatantly Hopper-centric worldview, and roughly the equivalent of the murder of thousands of Catalan partisans, or the burning of several thousand authentic pieces of Catalan headgear; and at the very most 10, 20% less violent than the mainstream approach.
    Happily I’ve meditated on the lessons of the translational act and the textual rape inherent in cruelly ripping words and clauses out of their native soil and replacing them in the mechanized death camps of readable language. I believe I can fulfill Venuti’s vision of a world where all foreign art remains entirely free of the brutalistic impulse to be read by people with money and televisions.
    To that end I have worked on my own translation of the Basque poem, NIRE AITAREN ETXEA—its slave name is MY FATHER’S HOUSE; many questions are raised. Why write about houses, and in such an obviously made-up language? What does Gabriel Aresti know about my father? Does his adorable beret have a magic mirror in it that lets him spy on my father and describe his house?
    Ultimately, of course, the goal is to ‘enhance the differences’—the words, being spoken English, turn to ashes in my mouth, but like any vanguard artist I struggle for a day when the public will not be forced to enact my own barbarities—because every element of intelligibility is of course secretly an act of hegemony, a way for me to extend my ham-shaped American fist into the unspoiled crags of Euskal Herria and crush its rocks, so unlike the dull, chalky things in this place, into Mickey Mouse dolls. I am not Gabriel Aresti. The very assertion is baldly absurd! He must be much older than me! So why would I claim, as nearly every translator OUTSIDE OF Lawrence Venuti has for the last 3 millenia, that we are the same man, some kind of wandering wineskin-hoisting Timelord, who can live in two places and two times at once, and write two different poems in two entirely different languages, about the same family member, and his same house? Imperialism. That much is obvious.
    It is in this spirit that I present to you my own version of Gabriel Aresti’s 1963 Basque poem, NIRE AITAREN ETXEA, translated 2010 by Z. D. Smith into English:
    Nire aitaren etxea
    defendituko dut.
    Otsoen kontra,
    sikatearen kontra,
    lukurreriaren kontra,
    justiziaren kontra,
    defenditu
    eginen dut
    nire aitaren etxea.
    Galduko ditut
    aziendak,
    soloak,
    pinudiak;
    galduko ditut
    korrituak,
    errentak,
    interesak,
    baina nire aitaren etxea defendituko dut.
    Harmak kenduko dizkidate,
    eta eskuarekin defendituko dut
    nire aitaren etxea;
    eskuak ebakiko dizkidate,
    eta besoarekin defendituko dut
    nire aitaren etxea;
    besorik gabe,
    sorbaldik gabe,
    bularrik gabe
    utziko naute,
    eta arimarekin defendituko dut
    nire aitaren etxea.
    Ni hilen naiz,
    nire arima galduko da,
    nire askazia galduko da,
    baina nire aitaren etxeak
    iraunen du
    zutik.

  8. ‘A new movement in translation: one that doesn’t just translate the words by current dictionary definition!’ A pity indeed that Google Translate has been our only gateway heretofore to the literature of the world.

  9. Holy shit. I am being directly told that this man is a maverick and a groundbreaker because he DIDN’T write down ‘skin in the peak of life’ and move on to the next line. I retract my satire. It’s pleonastic.

  10. The poet’s own blog is a looking glass world, consisting (among others) of samples of translations of world poets into Catalan.

  11. I wish this (SLYT) were more than just a trailer. But do pay attention to 0:28-0:38.

  12. I’m fairly certain that if that play-thing were in English, it would be a throwaway joke in a somewhat on-the-nose satire of banally pretentious theater directors.

  13. Vance Maverick says:

    I encountered Venuti in the course of reading Jonathan Mayhew’s Lorca book. V does make heavy weather of fairly obvious considerations about translation. The one translation of his own I’ve looked into in any detail is of the Italian poet Antonia Pozzi. He changed her linebreaks consistently, throughout the book, evidently to affiliate her with Lorine Niedecker or other contemporaries in American poetry. By my lights, that’s doing violence to the text!

  14. Vance Maverick says:

    Also, it’s strange, of course, to find that figures from one’s own culture (like Hopper in this case) have meaning in other cultures, even perhaps a different meaning and a different value. But this strangeness should pass, like the amusement we Americans may at first feel when we see the word “Schmuck” on a store in Germany, or hear “bimbo” in Italy. Really, there’s no mystery; in fact it should be interesting and worthwhile to capture that different significance back in our own language.

  15. This is of course entirely unnecessary, but I’m compelled to mention that the English ‘schmuck’ is not related to the German Schmuck, but the Yiddish shmok. The Yiddish shmuk is related to the German Schmuck and has produced no issue in English.

  16. Vance Maverick says:

    Huh, I didn’t know that — I had thought in terms of the “family jewels”. Anyway, in the great Internet tradition, I can claim that this correction only reinforces my point. ;-) Word associations like this are something we need to get past in learning a language; similarly, the idea that we possess the meaning of figures or words from our own culture is something we need to get past in meeting other cultures.

  17. I don’t know if you’ve mentioned Tim Parks and his book Translating Style in the past, but he deals exactly with the question of translating quirky originals into a “standard” foreign language.
    From the blurb at his site:
    “One wet Thursday, as it were, many years ago, I decided to give a group of students a piece writing in Italian and English. They had to decide which language was the original, which the translation. It was an odd piece and they soon found the four or five places where the texts were different. They opted for the Italian, which seemed all proper and correct. The English was bizarre to say the least. It included the expression ‘he shut himself together.’ It was D.H. Lawrence.
    I was fascinated. Infallibly, by finding where translation differed from original, students whose English was far from perfect were able to identify those places where a writer diverged from standard usage. The reason is evident enough. While it’s fairly easy to translate content and standard mannerisms, when the meaning of a text lies in the distance between itself and what the reader expected, then it is difficult for translator to follow. Looking at all the ways a translation differs from its original, you can begin to get a good sense of how a writer worked and what his particular take on language and indeed life was. Because for each author who has anything interesting to say, the problems are always different. That’s what this book is about.”
    I guess Mr Parks wasn’t radical enough to start a “translation renaissance”.

  18. In fact, if there isn’t already a Broadway-style musical based on the works of Edward Hopper, called Hopper! then I’ll eat my hat.
    ALBERT: You and me, we been at this diner nearly every single night for years now. Yeah… we’re a real couple’a… Nighthawks.
    THE NIGHTHAWKS’ SONG
    Cmaj, Andante
    Every
    Evening
    Each lonely moody evening
    We’re at the counter dreaming
    Of automats and cars and dames in skirts!
    Eating
    Gloaming
    Our restless hearts a’roaming
    I just know that somewhere out there, there’s an abstracted female figure, and she’s sitting in a corner, on a chair without a shirt on—
    CHORUS

  19. Oh, of course there is. God damn it.
    Music Review | ‘Later the Same Evening’
    If Hopper’s Freeze-Frame Magic Sprang to Life
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/arts/music/16manh.html

  20. Wow. You folks have done such an excellent job of critiquing Venuti, you don’t need me. But… what always struck me weird about Venuti is this: if it’s wrong to tear out the local cultural/linguistic fabric of the original, why isn’t is AS WRONG to insert foreignizing elements that were NOT in the original to draw attention to the fact/act of translation? That’s what he advocates. If you are a reader and find some weird word, you can’t tell if it’s the translator inserting something or the author who used a strange word. He advocates inserting a meta-translational aspect. That is, the function of the translator is not just to translate, but to draw the reader’s attention to the act of translation and/or the cultural/social relationship between the country of the original text and the country of the translation. Yuck. Write an op ed piece instead.
    I also don’t buy the whole notion of imperialist violence, Americans roaming the world, stealing great works of literature and changing a coffee shop to a McDonalds and a falafel to a Big Mac. Yes, in different time periods and in different countries, the style of translation was to make the text more familiar to the foreign reader. Bully to him for noting and criticizing that. But honestly, turning translators into pawns of some grand cultural imperialist plot is ridiculous.
    Sorry. Will get off the soap box now.

  21. hear, hear, Mab, you put it (s)well.
    committing an act of ethnocentric violence
    if a modern Englishman translates Chaucer into modern English, as they do, who is the violence aimed at?

  22. I’d really would have been up shit creek
    Penguin canes Jake and Elwood when she hears the phrase, as Venuti is here, but what does the idiom mean exactly? I could never entirely understand. Where’s creek coming into this?

  23. The original expression was “up the creek”, “shit” was an added emphasis. I think it’s a metaphor for being separated from the smooth flow of a bigger body of water (i.e. a successful strategy).

  24. Sashura, “up a creek” is really only part of the expression. It’s “up a creek without a paddle“, meaning, literally, in a fast-moving body of water without the means to guide or control your little boat or fend yourself off rocks.
    If the creek is a “shit” creek, and your canoe gets turned over, where are you then? – is the idear of intensifying a difficult but likely consequence of not having the means to control your vessel. A vigorous vulgarization of Plato’s nautical analogy for ‘governing’ a state or soul.

  25. Ah, it’s one of my long-standing convictions that all modern ideas go back to Plato.
    thanks, boys.

  26. John Emerson says:

    With some echoes of Dante’s Inferno. I forget who was up to their neck in shit.
    As for violence, doing violence to the little fuckers is the fun part of translating. Doing justice to them is formally impossible, so you might as well have some fun.
    My bugaboo is people who insist that translations of rhymed poems must preserve the rhyme scheme. I’ve never seen that work. I probably own twenty godawful rhymed translations which aren’t even usable as cribs, because poets always end up introducing new things for the sake of rhyme.

  27. Not sure, but I think of “up shit creek without a paddle” as “in a bad place, and powerless to get out of it”. I see a slow-moving creek, perhaps a swampy backwater. I’d like to hurry out of here, but I’ve dropped the paddle in the water. Maybe I could jump out of the boat and look for it, but yuck, it’s all shitty out there.
    If I try thinking instead of a swift and dangerous river, then the “up” bothers me: in that kind of paddling you put the boat in the water somewhere upstream and go (yes, maintaining control by paddling) with the flow. Who says “I’m upthe river” when you did not travel upstream?
    The “up” in “up a creek” also hints at “up my/your ass”.
    I agree that the paddle is essential and when when omitted is meant to be understood.
    Literally, creek can refer to several kinds of waterway, from a mountain rill to a tidal inlet to a swampy backwater. There’s a lot of local variation, I think.

  28. “committing an act of ethnocentric violence
    if a modern Englishman translates Chaucer into modern English, as they do, who is the violence aimed at?”
    Yes, Sashura, I agree with you completely. Venuti seems to have taken the big developed US-little undeveloped country X and made that relationship the “standard” translation relationship. But what about when we are translating Balzac or Chekhov into English? If there is a cultural hierarchy at play — and I’m not convinced there is — then it is probably the reverse. Chekhov, Tolstoy, Balzac, Dante… they are gods to translators. There are good and bad translations of these authors, but insisting that there is ethnocentric violence being committed? Sheesh. Give me a break.

  29. You people have not disappointed me.

  30. I haven’t followed all the links, but I’d like to make two points about the blurb. First, Venuti himself might be a nice guy who has fallen victim to an over-zealous small-press PR department. We don’t know that he’s the one painting everyone else as culture-erasers, right?
    The second point is that there’s nothing new about this. I remember reading a translation of Aristophanes’ The Clouds in college that was full of slang expressions from the 60s, when it was done.
    More importantly, though, writers rarely write with a hypothetical audience of a translation of the work they’re writing, in a culture not their own, in mind. (Although the idea is deliciously Borgesian.) They write, consciously or not, with a native-language, native-culture audience in mind. Therefore, the translator should absorb the effect that that work has on that native audience (the translator hopefully being fluent enough to react the same way a native speaker would), and translate the work so that it produces the same effect on the audience of the translation.
    The problem is that the effect in not monolithic. It will never be exactly the same for each native reader, and this goes for the translator as well. All s/he can do is reproduce the effect s/he experienced from the book. This is one reason there can be many perfectly good translations of a book, which leads to the even more slyly Borgesian corollary that readers of translations have an advantage over readers of the original in that readers of translations can enjoy several versions of a work, whereas readers of the original can only enjoy one version – the original.
    This is one reason I enjoy reading translations of books I can read in the original. It’s like admiring the beauty of a beautiful woman’s daughter, if I may permit myself an outmoded simile.
    I’m digressing here, but actually, the best analogy for translation is transcribing a musical piece written for one instrument to another instrument. One of the most successful examples of this kind of translation is Albeniz’s piano pieces which are now a standard part of the guitar repertoire, and have practically supplanted the original.

  31. John Emerson says:

    Dudley Fitts specialized in slangy translations, though Ezra Pound drifted that way. It was weird how they failed to distinguish class dialect from slang.
    Most of the languages I’m more or less capable of translating from are the languages of once-imperial states. Italian never was imperial, I guess, so I will refrain from translation Italian, and Catalan, and Provencal. But I have to fake it in those languages anyway.
    French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese — I’ll translate those imperialist bastards until they scream.

  32. Whatever happened to footnotes? Not endnotes, footnotes on the same page that explain cultural details and give some flavor of the writer’s time. I’ve always liked footnotes. I don’t suppose that gives the PR department much to work with, though.

  33. JE: My bugaboo is people who insist that translations of rhymed poems must preserve the rhyme scheme. I’ve never seen that work.
    Have you seen Dr. N’s translation of Paul Valéry’s “L’Abeille”? I’m a believer.

  34. a blatantly Hopper-centric worldview
    Hey, I like it. Continuing this theme, if translation is an “act of violence” maybe we should have got Dennis Hopper to do a version of Edward Hopper instead.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Albeniz’s piano pieces which are now a standard part of the guitar repertoire, and have practically supplanted the original.
    The reason is that Albeniz’s piano pieces sound like reworkings of guitar pieces for performance on the piano. Albeniz, a pianist himself, composed at a time where the piano was the king of instruments and virtuoso pianists the cream of the crop of musicians, while the guitar was mostly a folk instrument. He and a few others (such as Granados) brought Spanish guitar music to the world’s attention by composing piano pieces in the style of Spanish guitar pieces. They probably heard the Spanish tunes as guitar pieces in their heads before adding the pianistic flourishes which would make them acceptable to current musical tastes. The revival of Spanish classical guitar came later, and with it the “retranslation” of those piano pieces for performance on one or two guitars.

  36. Berlioz is, if I recall correctly, the only major 19th-century composer to have learned music on the guitar rather than the piano, which is one reason his music sounds so different; it got him in trouble in school, because student composers submitted their compositions for judgment in piano reductions, which worked fine for most students, who’d composed them on the piano in the first place, but was hell on Berlioz, whose pieces, being conceived for full orchestra, sounded like crap on the piano.

  37. Marc, what a nice man you are! I don’t think we’re being too rough on Venuti. He might be a lovely person (perhaps his theoretical persona is a tiger, but he’s really a lamb), and certainly, as someone mentioned, his collection of essays on translation is excellent. But my copy of his Scandals of Translation is so marked with outraged margin notes I can hardly read it.
    What you want in a translation is not what he wants. For example, he writes: “translating should seek to invent a minor language that cuts across cultural divisions and hierachies. The goal is ultimately to alter reading patterns, compelling a not unpleasurable recognition of translation among constituencies who, while possessing different cultural values, noetheless share a long-standing unwillingness to recognize it.” He sticks a political agenda onto the act of translation that drives me nuts. Not to mention his assumption about readers of translations. I mean, hasn’t he just described you when you open Pamuk or Mahfouz in translation, unwilling to recognize your different cultural values? Don’t you just need them mashed in your face?
    I’m with Nij. There is a newish rhyming translation of Evgeny Onegin by Stanely Mitchell that knocks your socks off. (Of course, it only took him 20 years…)

  38. I know that my biggest beef with all these translations of Proust that people are always shoving in my face is that nobody has made the madeleine into a Samoa girl scout cookie.

  39. There are many more musical than I here, but I don’t think Wagner could play the piano, either.

  40. Berlioz is, if I recall correctly, the only major 19th-century composer to have learned music on the guitar rather than the piano, which is one reason his music sounds so different
    Yes, that’s right. Berlioz could play the guitar very well and the flute and the flageolet, but he was only a mediocre pianist. This meant his scores avoid the blended, “pianistic” orchestration typical of 19th century music. In Berlioz the orchestration is wonderfully transparent (listen to the “Queen Mab” scherzo for example).

  41. but I don’t think Wagner could play the piano, either
    Wagner could play the piano. He made a piano transcription of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony when he was a teenager. He just wasn’t a virtuoso like Liszt.

  42. John Emerson says:

    If we only had Edmund Wilson and Vlad Nabokov here to review Mitchell’s translation.

  43. John Emerson says:

    The violin virtuoso Paganini was also a guitar virtuoso and wrote for guitar. Heavy metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen studied Paganini, who was legendary for his virtuosity and flamboyance and is not highly regarded as composer per se. Like Robert Johnson, Paganini was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil.
    Erik Satie and Modeste Musorgsky both were excellent pianists, and Musorgsky was a great improviser. Their musical education was pretty sketchy (Musorgsky was almost entirely self-taught) and my theory is that some of their originality came from the fact that they wrote on the piano and didn’t try to figure out correct four-part voice leading.

  44. listen to the “Queen Mab” scherzo for example
    … and when you do, think of me, my subjects.

  45. I thought someone would have a more accurate picture of Wagner. I was remembering this imperfectly.

  46. a newish rhyming translation of Evgeny Onegin by Stanely Mitchell that knocks your socks off.
    At least someone is trying to do rhymes in the sea of vers libre – what a noble effort.
    Just yesterday I was fuming over the non-rhyming translations of 1950-60s poems in Daniel Weissbort’s anthology ‘Post-War Russian Poetry’(1975), because I know that in the 60′s literary soup they judged each other by the brilliance of ‘new rhymes’ which, in that generation, took semantic stress (latskany-zalaskany – lapels-overcanoodled, Praga-prakh – Prague-dust). I spent hours trying to rhyme in English two quatrains from a famous poem by Akhmadulina, before giving up (almost) on the pair fear-passion (strakh-strast’). Can anyone suggest a rhyme? A lot is still lost in translation. Flaubert, on reading Pushkin in a French translation, said to Turgenev: ‘He’s a bit flat, your genius’.

  47. fear / night / fervor / sight?

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Flaubert, on reading Pushkin in a French translation, said to Turgenev: ‘He’s a bit flat, your genius’.
    That is the reaction of a monolingual person who takes the translation for the original. But Flaubert cannot have said that, because he was not talking to Turgenev in English. The right English translation would be along the lines of “That genius of yours is a bit flat, isn’t he?” (at least if spoken by a British person).
    Some time ago there was a discussion here on Edgar Poe and his popularity in France. Someone mentioned Mallarmé’s translation of The Raven. In spite of Mallarmé’s own poetic virtuosity, his translation is “a bit flat” too, because it is fairly literal, and the rhythm, rhymes and assonances in the original cannot be reproduced in French without writing an altogether different poem.

  49. Frankly, I don’t think much of the translation, considering it as an English poem — I don’t read Catalan. Only a tin-ear would insert the very modern expression “down time” into a poem otherwise redolent of the first half of the twentieth. When you write period, write period.

  50. rhythm, rhymes and assonances in the original cannot be reproduced in French without writing an altogether different poem.
    oh, Marie-Lucie, thanks for reassuring me.
    I quoted Flaubert’s phrase as I remember it from Julian Barnes’s ‘Something to Declare’, but I’d love to see it in French too. Flaubert’s letters are considered to be chefs-d’œuvre in itself, aren’t they?

  51. John Emerson says:
  52. marie-lucie says:

    Presumably, for Venuti, translating a Catalan poem using (a few instances of) current colloquial English does not commit the crime of uprooting the text from the language and culture that gave it life, not does it at once conceal that violence and homogenize foreign cultures. With regard to this particular poem, I don’t see anything in it that gives away the fact that it was originally written in Catalan, or that the scene described takes place in Catalunya or Spain or another non-English-speaking country.
    What the use of obvious colloquialisms does is to guarantee that the translation will sound extremely dated after just a few years, as well as located (if I can use that term), since colloquialisms differ from country to country or even region much more than the written standard, and therefore it will be placed even more firmly within the language and culture of the translator rather than of the original poet.

  53. MMcM, thanks, I was thinking along the same lines. Here is the version I stopped at:
    What can I do, what can I do, don’t let your fears
    wake up you, helpless, in the night.
    That passion for betrayal, so mysterious,
    my friends, it’s clouding your eyes.
    Night and eyes end the line-breaks in Russian, but fears-mysterious not. However, ‘mysterious passion’ in the original is, like, a notion, a mode of behaviour, so shifting semantic stress from ‘passion’ in Russian to ‘mysterious’ in English seemed ok to me, achieving rhyming with ‘fears’.

  54. John Emerson says:

    My theory of translation is that you can translate the form or the content, but not both. A corollary is that you can’t really translate poems which depend a lot on difficult formal effects or on exquisite formal perfection. To translate form, you could only write a new poem in English using the form of the poem in the original. This has been abundantly done by sonneteers, for example.
    A corollary is that poems which can be translated are those which are interesting when paraphrased. A lot of exquisitely crafted poems are of no special interest in paraphrase; getting there is all the fun.
    Shakespeare’s plays are in blank verse in lines of equal length and are still interesting in paraphrase. Shakespeare translations had a very powerful effect both in Germany and in France during the 19th c.
    My objection to formal translations into English is that, even when the meaning is not changed, the hunt for rhymes usually ends up requiring word choices and inversions which grate on the ear, and whose motivation is all too obvious.
    Some of this is particular to English, which is, as they say, rhyme-poor (a fact alluded to, in effect, by Sashura above.) Thus a great original sonnet in English can seem like series of brilliant stunts, whereas in French of Spanish you can turn out sonnets with ease. (Bellay turned out relaxed, chatty sonnets one a day. I love them, but they don’t have the intensification effect you often get with English sonnets.)

  55. John Emerson says:

    Brecht’s English translations of his own German poems were strangely clumsy, but a German told a friend of mine that his German could be starngely clumsy too.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    JE, thank you for the link to Edna St Vincent Millay. A great piece. Beaudelaire undertaking to translate Longfellow seems surreal.

  57. the use of obvious colloquialisms does is to guarantee that the translation will sound extremely dated after just a few years,
    Marie-Lucie, I can’t agree more – what a shrewd observation – all of what you say. Except when it’s done deliberately – but then we come to the obvious question of when a translation stops being a translation, but becomes a poetic work in its own right.
    A friend sent me recently about a dozen Russian versions of Sonnet 66, which we both love, including one using the modern Russian phraseology (bandyugan – bandit, seksot – secret police agent, pakhan – mafia boss, shestisotki – Mercedes 600, bydlyak – low class thugs). It is, very obviously, a 66, but it is not, equally, a translation. So what is it?

  58. John Emerson says:

    The basic idea of Platonov’s “The Foundation Pit” is reminiscent of Kafka’s parable “The Pit of Babel”. It also reminds me, alas, of the site of the WTC, on which nothing has been built after seven years.

  59. Shakespeare translations had a very powerful effect both in Germany and in France during the 19th c.
    John, Voltaire introduced Shakespeare in France, C18 – and thus started his (Shakespeare’s) triumphant global march, because France was the dominant cultural power of the time.

  60. John Emerson says:

    Based on what I just read (one of several booksI’m reading about Nerval, Gautier, et al), Voltaire had a rather condescending attitude toward Shakespeare, and it was only after the Shakespeare cult got started in Germany that it caught on with the young romantics in France (who were often Anglophiles and Germanophiles.)
    Sashura, there’s a niche in American poetry for “imitations”, which are takeoffs of poems in other languages that don’t claim to be accurate translations.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: It is, very obviously, a 66, but it is not, equally, a translation. So what is it?
    Would it be right to call it an adaptation?
    This is done a lot in the theater, for instance when performing Shakespeare or Molière in modern dress, or, with translated works, replacing allusions that would be meaningless to the new audience with more appropriate cultural equivalents. A few years ago I saw an excellent exemple of this in a memorable amateur performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance: the man singing the role of the Major-General (who was himself a very high-ranking navy officer) had very cleverly adapted some of the verses of the famous solo to the current Canadian political scene and even added one verse of his own composition in the same vein.

  62. As your resident Venuti expert, here’s what he has to say about those colloquialisms and period-wrong phrases (in relation to similar usage in another translation): “the abrupt appearance of a contemporary expression in an archaic context breaks the realist illusion of the narrative, interrupting the reader’s participation in the character’s drama and calling attention to the moment in which the reading is being done. And when this moment is brought to mind, the reader comes to realize that the text is not Tarchetti’s Italian, but an English translation.”

  63. I believe Brahms didn’t play strings, so he relied heavily on Joachim to tell him whether what he wrote for the violin was playable or not.
    Apropos of nothing …

  64. imitation and adaptation are fine with me – I was thinking along the lines of paraphrase. Does it come through in English/French?

  65. John Emerson says:

    Brahms’ father was a doublebass player, and some of Brahms’s bass parts are supposedly fearsome.
    Katchaturian was originally a tuba player, but he did not work out his orchestral compositions on the tuba.

  66. Sashura, bless you for attempting that poem. I mostly agree with John Emerson, or perhaps it’s better to say that translating poetry frustrates me so much that I give up. It’s very rare that you can capture something of the form and let that form convey meaning. But sometimes it’s possible. And then even a prose translation can convey something. My brother doesn’t know Russian, but he loves Mandel’shtam. Of course, he misses a lot, but when he describes him, he’s clearly talking about Mandel’shtam. So something comes through.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Voltaire had a rather condescending attitude toward Shakespeare, and it was only after the Shakespeare cult got started in Germany that it caught on with the young romantics in France (who were often Anglophiles and Germanophiles.)
    Voltaire exemplified the typical 18th century French intellectual: extremely witty and rational but making light of emotion and passion (or hiding them very well behind the witty façade). What attracted the next generation of French writers to Shakespeare and the German romantics was that they had a much less restricted view of the subject matter of literature, and they overtly embraced emotion and passion. Shakespeare’s dramas were a revelation, since they showed a much more expansive view of life than the rigidly defined classical French tragedies on the supposed Greek model (Voltaire himself authored a few of those, which are almost totally forgotten now). No classical French playwright could have written Hamlet, Macbeth or King Lear.

  68. Voltaire had a rather condescending attitude toward Shakespeare
    John, that was later, 1760-70s, when Voltaire himself got alarmed with Shakespeare’s success in France. I swear on my Anglo-French bible by Robert and Isabelle Tombs.

  69. John Emerson says:

    What I’m finding is that a considerable proportion even of the French romantics and bohemians had a tendency toward ironic distancing. Gautier (originally a romantic), Nerval, Murger (the original bohemian), Musset. Not Hugo, I don’t think.

  70. Russian speakers would enjoy this scene (slide to 1:03 in the long Google video) from the 1966 comedy ‘Beware of cars’ (“Берегись автомобиля”). A police detective and a car thief, both passionate amateur actors, rehearse the famous duel scene from ‘Hamlet’. Laertes, the detective, seeks the moment of truth from Hamlet, the thief, telling him that he’d found the incriminating stub of a cigarette ‘Drug’ (Friend – a dog) in a stolen car. The director stops both, reminding them, unphasedly, that there were no cigarettes called ‘Drug’ in Shakespeare’s time.

  71. Voltaire… Shakespeare’s dramas were a revelation
    Marie-Lucie, thanks, I knew I could rely on you – the Saxons always forget that Russia was part of the Entente Cordiale.

  72. Your reprinting consitutes a multiple copyright infringement, violating the copyright of the poet, that of the magazines that printed the translation, and that of the translator.

  73. The question of categories isn’t very useful (translation? adaptation? imitation? etc.). Michael Hamburger’s translation of Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue” is brilliant, for example. It produces an effect that can’t be in the original. But what’s a translation when you don’t translate some of the lines?

  74. My apologies; I’ll remove the translation, which I admire, leaving only the strictures on your obiter dicta, which I deplore. Congratulations on the success of your legalistic démarche! (I could, of course, claim fair use, but since you’ve taken the trouble to visit my humble domain to make the request, I accede without further ado.)

  75. John Emerson says:

    Steve, click on “Venuti’s” link. I believe that the post might be a prank. The link goes to a different site which published Venuti’s whole translation in a piece on Farrés, but without crediting Venuti, and his comment here exactly duplicates his comment at the other site, where it is completely justifiable. You did credit Venuti here and even praised his translation.

  76. If you are a translator (who learned a language that you consider “minor” as an adult and started translating immediately because it can’t be so hard) and find some weird word, you can’t tell if it’s your imperfect knowledge of the language or the author who used a strange word. I’m sure that many mannerisms in translations are artifacts of the intent of conveying a perceived strangeness that has never been there in the original.
    Also, Farré writes plain 21c Catalan. He is certainly not trying to channel the language of Hopper or his time. To inject that is indeed to do violence to the text. Translator’s hubris. The translator should intend to disappear, not write his own metapoem on top. And how much chthonic peculiarity can you possibly read into a text with such a cosmopolitan frame of reference? Catalonia is one of the most globalized regions of Europe.

  77. Steve, click on “Venuti’s” link. I believe that the post might be a prank.
    D’oh! You’re right, of course, and that’s what I get for trusting people on the internet. But I think I’ll leave the poem out of the post anyway, since he seems to be touchy and it can easily be read by clicking the first link.

  78. John Emerson says:

    If anyone here needs help writing essays, I’m available for a small fee.

  79. “Flaubert, on reading Pushkin in a French translation, said to Turgenev: ‘He’s a bit flat, your genius’.”
    According to the web, Flaubert’s words were “Il est plat, votre poète.”
    http://www.answers.com/topic/russia-and-france
    Other sources claim he said this to Prosper Mérimée.

  80. Trond Engen says:

    I’m available for a small fee.
    Thanks, but I’ve already made an arrangement with an online service to write my comments.

  81. John Emerson says:

    Imported comments are still subject to a hefty tax. You’re better off with me than with some subcontinental dude.

  82. maybe we should have got Dennis Hopper
    The best Dennis Hopper line of all time is from the 1969 Easy Rider where Jack Nicholson says,
    “Venutians.”

  83. This is good news for my upcoming Dogen translation, tentatively titled “Save shit for after the gig, you dig?”

  84. Il est plat
    But that’s not the whole story, right? I haven’t read Trois stylistes, but my partial understanding is that the translation published in the République des lettres under Turgenev’s name was a collaboration of some sort with some combination of Flaubert and Mérimée (that somebody here is bound to know the details of).

  85. marie-lucie says:

    JE: a considerable proportion even of the French romantics and bohemians had a tendency toward ironic distancing.
    You can’t reverse centuries of conditioning just like that.
    Hugo consciously tried to imitate Shakespeare in his dramas. The first one, Hernani, caused an actual riot in the theater when first performed, between his enthusiastic bohemian admirers and his conservative opponents.

  86. John Emerson says:

    I’m just now reading Gautier et al about the Hernani era. Really that was the birth of the sort of bohemian-avant garde-countercultural thing that we’ve seen in waves ever since.
    The writers I’m most interested in are Hugo’s contemporaries (Gautier, Nerval, Murger) who weren’t able to maintain Hugo’s ardency.
    Hugo was amazing. By my count he outlived two whole generations of successors. He didn’t outlive Rimbaud, but he was still alive when Rimbaud quit writing.

  87. Whoa, lots of heels landing full on Venuti – let me sound a bit of mitigation.
    According to Venuti, no translation can provide its reader with an experience that equals that of its native reader.
    This truism sounds unobjectionable, although there’ll be infinite disagreement about “equals”.
    He believes that the translator must call attention to the strategies used for bringing the foreign text into a different culture.
    That the translator “must call attention” is, maybe, obnoxiously prescriptive, but that the translator will ‘use strategies to bring the text into a different culture’ sounds, again, like an inarguable truism or tautology – a definition of ‘translation’ that says ‘translation is translating a text from one culture to another’.
    mab, I don’t think Venuti is “sticking a political agenda onto the act of translation”, but rather seeing an intrinsically political act in his own way.
    Highlighting this process signals respect for the literary traditions, linguistic turns and the social moment that produced the original text, he said.
    Surely this “respect” is universal among translators who want actually to translate an “original text”, rather than to use ‘translation’ as a vehicle for writing what they want to say – even if many translators might doubt that “[h]ighlighting this process” would really “signal” such “respect”.
    (Homage to Sextus Propertius indicates a different kind of “respect”, namely, that the poet deeply doubts that the “literary traditions, linguistic turns and the social moment” connected directly to Propertius are translatable; hence: Homage.
    Also, there must be lots of poets, translators, and readers who doubt that such ‘traditions, turns, and moments’ actually do produce “texts”.)
    But still, what translator knowingly goes against “respect” for the language and world of an “original text” and writer of ‘texts’?

    Sure, Venuti expresses himself with self-importantly academic pomposity: when I devise a translation project, and so on. And insisting that translators have to foreground the political nature of translation, ahead of the myriad other aspects of it, sounds, to me, beleaguered. And language hat’s point (in the blogicle) – that every translator makes her or his way, depending on a zillion matters, so why should one say that all the others ought to hew to one’s own priorities, methods, perspective, and so on – well, that always deserves to be said.
    But Venuti seems to me to be pretty ordinary in his ‘foregrounding’ and academic strategerizing.
    The poem he’s written, or co-written, or translated from “the original text”, stands or falls as a poem and as a translation, regardless of his, and the reviewer’s, palaver about “process”, right?

  88. John Emerson says:

    But Venuti seems to me to be pretty ordinary in his ‘foregrounding’ and academic strategerizing.
    I think that that’s what we don’t like. It’s been filtered through a university PR department, so we’re not necessarily sure that it’s about Venuti at all, though those WERE direct quotes.
    We haven’t written much about the actual translation, but most of what’s been said has been positive.

  89. I think that that’s what we don’t like.
    That’s a good point that I hadn’t thought of in going through the thread: Venuti isn’t unusually wicked, but stands in well as a blog-thread pinata for the exercise of grievance against various attitudinal and practical, um, issues in the translation racket.

  90. ø, your “slow-moving creek” is only a problem if it’s a shit creek – or pus or battery acid or bubblegum soda or whatever dangerous or vile liquid. But “shit” is a late addition to the phrase, right?
    “Up a creek” doesn’t refer to how you managed to get yourself lost in the woods – it just means that you’re remote, you’re way out in the woods and it’s a long way before the water will take you out of the wilderness. Need a paddle; got to steer and propel the canoe to get back to whatever conurbation where, for example, they make and rent canoes – I’m pretty sure that’s the phrase’s meaning.

  91. John Emerson says:

    Deadgod, we are all grumpy old men here, except for the ladies, whom I would not venture to objectify with such a phrase but who can volunteer one if they wish.

  92. deadgod, I think he does add a political agenda — I think he would argue that the act of translation is inherently political, ie, transposing from one culture to another. That may be true, but as a translator it’s almost irrelevant. Or, if I am bending over backwards to his point of view, I’d say thanks, got it, yes, I’m a middle-aged white American woman translating a fill-in-the-blank. By translating you move the work out of its ethnic-cultural-social-political setting. Is that doing violence to it? Well, I don’t like that phrase, but even if it’s true — what can a translator do — not translate? Another of his points: the marketplace demands assimilated translations. Well, in some cases yes. In some cases, no. We can rail against the marketplace; okay, done. We railed.
    But I don’t like foregrounding the translation, not as a general principle of translation, and not to serve what I perceive as the political agenda of reminding the reader than s/he is moving out of his/her cultural comfort zone a) because I don’t believe that is what the reader wants and b) because then the reader can’t tell what is the author’s language and what is the translator’s language. That is one of my big gripes against Pevear and Volkhonsky — you can’t tell what is Pevear dicking around and what is Gogol — and I don’t like it any better when it’s couched in translation theory. So many of Venuti’s examples are translations of Spanish literature, where he can sort of — only sort of, in my view — make the case that a dominant culture is assimilating a minor (in world politics) culture. But that doesn’t work with other translations from and to other languages.

  93. I don’t think Venuti is “sticking a political agenda onto the act of translation”, but rather seeing an intrinsically political act in his own way.
    Well, if you think translation is an “intrinsically political act,” you’re already on Venuti’s page. I vehemently deny that anything other than actual politics is an intrinsically political act. Many things can have political implications, of course, but translation is not usually one of them. To claim that it is, that it must be, is an act of (to use terms Venuti would doubtless appreciate) hegemonic appropriation that I reject utterly.

  94. Why is transposing from one culture to another political?

  95. Some boring old farty people think tennis and golf are political acts.
    Which of course they are.

  96. Why is transposing from one culture to another political?
    A domesticated form of the foreign text is brought into service of the existing (or intended) target culture. (Or something like that.)

  97. But “shit” is a late addition to the phrase, right?
    Apparently not. I think both forms appear at about the same time (WWI), suggesting that one is a euphemism for the other. But since HDAS still isn’t done, I’m not certain.

  98. John Emerson says:

    “Up a creek without a paddle” is a euphemism for “up shit creek”? Or the other way around?
    When I’m talking about an actual creek (around here a small river, maybe even one that goes dry at times) I’ll pronounce the word “crick”, the local pronunciation, but in “shit creek” I pronounce it “creek” to avoid the assonance.

  99. Like I said, I only have half the definitive data (Cs but no Ss). But I think the claim of, e.g., Hunt & Pringle is that the full phrase is, “Up Shit Creek without a paddle,” so that “a creek” is the euphemism and leaving out the paddle part a subsequent shorthand.

  100. That’s the Wobegon understanding of the phrase as well. “Up a crick” is the cleaned up version you can say to anyone. But I would say “creek” when talking about a small stream in ordinary conversation, even though the Nijmason ancestral farm had a “crick”.

  101. J.W. Brewer says:

    Backing up, I can see being irritated by the reference to Catalan as a “minor” language in the specific quote from Venuti (it shouldn’t be presumed minor in the very specific context of browsing in bookstores in Barcelona), but not overall. Isn’t it minor? Unless you have a list of “major” languages of what I would consider unwieldy length. Venuti’s remark would, I suppose, make some sense if you assumed that a poet who deliberately wrote in Catalan rather than Spanish would have a sufficiently nationalistic/particularistic/parochial outlook as to be unlikely to choose a defunct American painter as a theme. I don’t think I’d start with that assumption, but, perhaps mercifully, I have zero direct experience with Catalan nationalists.

  102. marie-lucie says:

    Translation as “hegemonic appropriation” (or similar politically correct language):
    I gather that Venuti only has in mind translation from various languages into English. But huge amounts of literature and other writings are translated from English into a variety of languages: Agatha Christie’s detective novels are supposed to have been translated into 56 languages. Were the translators “appropriating” her works? And what about translations which do not involve English at all, such as, say, Dostoyevsky into French or Italian, or Orhan Pamuk into Spanish or German or Finnish, or the Odyssey or the Epic of Gilgamesh into various modern languages? The Bible has been translated into literally hundreds of languages, and those translations did not all start from the well-known King James version, itself a revision of previous translations. New Biblical translations are appearing all the time, often retranslated into current standard forms of whatever languages they had first been translated into. This is not done in order to erase the distinctiveness of the Bible, but to enable readers to understand what it says (and more English speakers than an academic would think have great difficulty with the King James version (which, by the way, signals the additions the translators had to make where Hebrew did not need words).
    As for “hegemony”, it was probably lucky that the hegemonic medieval Arab culture in Spain had the human and material resources necessary to devote to translating Greek scientific texts into Arabic, thus saving them from oblivion and allowing them to be retranslated later into Western languages.

  103. Catalan nationalists
    I had heard that if you try to speak anything but Catalan in those areas no one will have anything to do with you. In Barcelona I tried in Spanish to get a cup of coffee with cream, but was met with stony silence. English, same thing. Finally I dug out my French vocabulary, which consists of “coffee with cream”, “ham sandwich”, and “I do not speak French”, and was very begrudgingly brought a cup of coffee. Unfortunately it was too early in the morning for a ham sandwich, so that was my entire breakfast. The seafood paella is to die for though, if you can get someone to serve you.

  104. J.W. Brewer says:

    marie-lucie, I thought the standard account was that the Arabic translations of Greek texts which came into Western Europe via Spain had not for the most part actually been translated in Spain, but rather earlier at the other end of the Mediterranean (where you’d expect persons bilingual in Greek and Arabic to be thicker on the ground). It’s also not clear to me how many, if any, of these works were truly lost in the original Greek, although of course Constantinople was a lot further away from Western Europe than Spain and Franco-Byzantine relations were rather strained during some of the relevant centuries. The Franks and other successors to the Western Empire have no one to blame but themselves for letting their intellectual class generally lose the ability to read Greek during the Dark Ages and not bothering to get it back until circa the 15th century. Although I guess you could turn that around and say that there was too high a rate of Greek literacy amongst the intelligentsia of the Western Empire, failing which more Greek texts would have already been extant in Latin translation prior to the Decline and Fall and could then have been preserved through the Dark Ages in that form.

  105. Well, language hat, I’d ask how something could have “political implications” without being “political” already. When I say “political”, I mean political in a pretty broad sense – perhaps so broad as easily to be dismissed.
    “Politics” is ‘the social struggle for power’ (as I use the word) – and any act of understanding is, rather than being merely a passive assumption of impress, an act of accumulating and expressing power. Now, that’s not to use “politics” or “power” in a way to license amoral bullying – but rather, to understand “power” in a mechanical way: two (or more) forces interact; that interaction is where “power” is happening. If that interaction is “social” – for example, a conversation, or the meeting of minds of one writer putting another writer’s story into the words of another language-, then it’s a political interaction.
    Have a look at mab’s example: Pevear/Volokhonsky’s Gogol. They say that what Gogol was saying is, for the most part, [this]. mab, and many people, think: no!, Gogol did not say [this], except in a unhelpfully small way. Gogol has his say: that’s “political”. P/V say that what Gogol was saying (mostly) means [this] in English: that’s “political”. mab says, ‘oh, come on, [this] is not what Gogol said or meant!’: that, too, is “political”.
    (It should be obvious that narrow ideas of “politics” – either of ‘nations’ competing for resources or of contests over clearly defined issues (like, say, the death penalty) – is not how ‘translating is intrinsically political’ makes any sense.)
    -
    As far as the political correctness of being ‘anti-PC’ goes: take this translation:
    le chat -> the cat
    One takes all the resonance of sound and sense that le chat has in French and says: to a useful extent, all of that meaning can be ‘moved across’ into these English words: “the cat”: that action is an “appropriation” – and an (inoffensively, unthreateningly, as far as I can tell) “political” act.
    (“Hegemony” is a different conversation than “appropriation”.)
    -
    I agree, mab, that the political aspect of translation often doesn’t need or reward foregrounding. But that argument (or infinity of arguments) is a matter of emphasis, and those arguments don’t gainsay the ubiquity of some “political” dimension in all translation, that is, in all wrenching (or slipping) of meaning out of one group of words and into another.

  106. I think J. W. is right, marie-lucie: al-Andalus was where Arabic translations were then translated into Latin, but those books had (mostly) made their ways into Arabic (from Greek) in, for two examples, Baghdad and Damascus.
    But your point is a good one: it’s “hegemonies” that enable the traffic of literature, technology, idears in general – as well as spreading the Good News of political-economic estrangement from the fruits of one’s labor and so on.

  107. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, you probably have more accurate information than I have on the specifics of medieval translations. But in Arab-dominated Spain there was the famous school of Toledo which specialized in translation, at a time when nothing of the kind existed anywhere else in Western Europe. Also, the unity of the Muslim world from the Middle East to Spain meant that Arabic-speaking scholars could and did travel from one end of it to the other, more successfully than Latin-trained scholars could cross the borders of constantly fighting nations. It doesn’t seem that the Franks were particularly interested in training intellectual elites, and intellectually gifted people tended to be absorbed by the Church, which had its own priorities.

  108. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod: the ubiquity of some “political” dimension in all translation, that is, in all wrenching (or slipping) of meaning out of one group of words and into another.
    This metaphor makes it sound as if the original group of words is stripped of its meaning, and therefore the speakers of the original language have lost something, to the benefit of speakers of the language of the translation. This reminds me of the saying that “a borrowed word is never returned”, as if the word was a concrete object which has to be in one place or another, and belong to one person or another. Nothing happens to the original language in the process of works being translated into one or more languages.

  109. That’d be a misunderstanding of “meaning”, marie-lucie – which I could have hindered by being wordier. Thanks for the invitation!
    It’s not that the ‘wrenching or slipping’ of “meaning” indicates a removal and consequent deprivation of it for those words ‘left behind’ – as though, as you suggest, those words were now empty (of, at least, that “meaning”). The meaning that’s ‘taken out’ is also ‘left behind’ – as a representation (usually) leaves behind the represented thing unmolested.
    But perhaps you can see, through this brief facet of “meaning”, how it is that translation is “political”, that is, a ‘social struggle for power’ – the “power” to decide what words mean.
    If I say, “For practical purposes, le chat is ‘the cat’.”, a battle-lusty French person might enthusiastically reply, “Not for Mallarme or Flaubert, it’s not!” (To which I might say, “What’s ‘practical’ about them?! I’m talking about Mary and John looking for their kitty!” – and so on.)
    marie-lucie, do you agree that the authority to decide what words mean is a “political” form of “power”?

  110. who was this unknown poet tackling an American icon? Why Edward Hopper? Why in Catalan, a minor language?
    There is something terribly smug and ethnocentric about this description. Perhaps he didn’t mean it that way. Perhaps he was talking with a target audience in mind — “who was this (to us) unknown poet tackling (what we regard as) an American icon? Why Edward Hopper? Why in Catalan, which (we would regard as) a minor language?” But the ethnocentric bias is already there, and it forms the basis for the politically justified act of violence of taking someone else’s work and adding your own contribution. This is done through an appeal to some kind of Brechtian “alienation” techniques — the idea being to deliberately prevent the reader from slipping comfortably into an uncritical “I’m reading this as though it were the original” mode by issuing constant reminders that “someone translated this”. By somehow claiming that he is empowering the original author, Venuti thus manages to authorise the translator to keep intruding. Something like that. At any rate, it seems to me that the only one is being empowered is the translator taking someone’s work in a minor language and putting it into a major language on his own terms.

  111. Since all human interactions are based on some kind of power relationship, and all human societies are ultimately based on power relations, of course everything can be boiled down to politics of some kind.
    But it is nonsense to take this truism and come up with a new theory of semantics as “the field of study devoted to finding who has the power to decide what things (such as Felix felix) should be called”. Which is what deadgod seems to be saying.

  112. of course
    Tidily swaggered, Bathrobe! – and, predictably, explicitly anticipated when “politics” was defined in terms “perhaps so broad as easily to be dismissed”.
    I’d hoped not to be ‘boiling down to’ so much as ‘identifying the kernel of’ “politics”, in the course of saying that using language (for example, when coming to understand some particular piece of a language) is always “political” – though, let me add more explicitly, not always in a way important or even useful to most ‘users’ of that piece of language.
    I wasn’t saying anything “new”, nor advancing a grand “theory” – though if I could do either well, it’d please me.
    I was saying – I think: simply – that, when a translator says that [this] text means {that} in some other language, the translator is making a “political” decision. If the text is about, say, justice, its “political” nature will have already been put at its fore by its original author. If the text is a poem about daisies, then the “political” nature of the text, of coming to understand it, of putting it into other words – all these “political” aspects of translating the poem might not bear much notice by and for most people interested in the poem.
    -
    The person, people, or group within a community who choose what words mean wield, when they make those choices, “political” power.
    Is this assertion really controversial??

  113. deadgod, I went to college from 1968 to 1972; I had enough politicization of everything imaginable to last me the rest of my life. I’m aware that translation, like sex, religion, wine, and anything else, can be analyzed as politics, and that some people take seemingly endless pleasure in doing so; I myself am not one of those people. If in some particular context it aids understanding to apply political analysis to translation, well and good; the fact that Russian writers were forced to confine their activities primarily to translation during the heyday of Stalinism might be such a context. The context at hand—some guy translating a Catalan poet and making a big deal out of his own use of words like “swell”—does not seem to me such a case, and the forcible importation of politics here, as in many similar cases, makes me yawn and/or wince, depending on my mood.

  114. Fair enough, language hat – though it’d be perfectly understandable if a maninfesto, or a fist-fight, broke out over a poorly judged “billow” or “tumesce” or, most felicitously, “fat cat”.

  115. J.W. Brewer says:

    What’s the basis for the contention that any power-wielding person or faction within a language community actually has the effective power to choose what words mean? Words mean what they are commonly understood to mean (in context – let’s not get into controversies about the extent to which semantics functions at the word level versus the level of phrases or larger units of discourse), and what they are commonly understood to mean arises out of the interaction of various fairly decentralized social processes (sometimes pushing in opposite directions) not necessarily amenable to pop-Marxist everything-is-political sloganeering. Speakers or writers who seek to unilaterally impose their preferred meanings on unwilling listeners or readers are not guaranteed to succeed. Unless of course those speakers/writers wield actual non-linguistic power to the extent that it is hazardous not to familiarize oneself with their subjectively-intended meanings and act accordingly. That seems unlikely to occur in the context of translating poetry from Catalan, at least in English-speaking countries, although it wouldn’t surprise me if Kim Jong-Il is among his numerous other accomplishments the world’s foremost Catalan-to-Korean translator.
    Now, the translator doesn’t have power to impose on his readers what his translation means, but he may have power to obscure or distort what the original means, if he has taken undue liberties. This is a problem with foreign-language-origin works either under copyright or so minor as not to have attracted multiple translators. It is perhaps prudent to assume you have not come anywhere close to understanding an author you have not read in the original unless there are multiple rival translations available in a language you do know and you have at least dipped into the range enough to get a sense of how much variation may be out there.

  116. JWB, well said. That is what I wanted to say when I swaggeringly tried to define deadgod’s “political semantics” but was too lazy to spell out in detail.

  117. what [words] are commonly understood to mean arises out of the interaction of fairly decentralized social processes
    Sure, the “social processes” of language usage are “fairly decentralized” when society is limited in meaning to ‘the group of individual speakers understood one at a time’. But that’s surely not to say that agents – individual language users – reflect critically on the meanings of the words in their own mouths as a matter of course.
    Indeed, it can be hard, in a “society”, to find anything but examples of groups composed of individuals mechanically reproducing a consensual perspective – often for the purpose of vitalizing and even enforcing a solidarity that would (ironically) strengthen those individuals’ sense of autonomy.
    Why, look at ‘us’! Imagine a thread attached to a blogicle about ‘Orwell and the Language of the Pentagon’ – how many of the virtual ‘us’ would be arguing that there’s no faction within the language community of the US that has much control at all over what words like ‘terror’ mean?
    -
    Words are given as having specific definitions, which ‘meanings’ are often uncritically taken up and routinely reproduced, a reality not amenable to the eristics of pop-neo-con “politics”-has-nothing-to-do-with-it sloganeering.

  118. John Emerson says:

    I’m pretty politicized, though I try to keep it down here, but I definitely believe in an economy and hierarchy of politicization and problematization. If you politicize everything and problematize everything, you end up fighting at great length about some chickenshit little aspect of whatever is in question while the main point escapes you. It’s part of that granularity thingie, if you set your magnification too high you catch every detail but only see the parts and not what you were looking for.

  119. deadgod, it is hard to know where to start in the face of such a preposterous hypothesis. If it were true, it would be impossible to read a book because not a single word or collocation would have any meaning. “Cat” would not mean “cat”, “terror” would not mean “terror”, nothing would mean anything at all, since they wouldn’t have been assigned a meaning by anyone.
    The word “terror” is definitely in the political domain, but however the Pentagon tries to represent its opponents, its usage of words like “terror” is still based on the accepted underlying meaning of “causing fear”, not (for instance) “black-and-white pussycat”. Of course people can creatively manipulate language to their own advantage, which may indeed bring about changes in the accepted meaning of words or accepted values. But to claim that the authority of giving le chat the meaning “Felix felix” rather than “safety-pin” or “halitosis” is a “political” form of “power” is utter nonsense. No language could function if the meaning of every word had to be confirmed with a politically powerful person before it was used.
    In fact, it would be impossible to communicate with the politically powerful person. Since “mean”, “today”, “cat”, “halitosis” and “something else” wouldn’t mean anything at all until they were defined by the politically powerful person, the speaker would have no hope of being understood if he/she asked the question “Does le chat mean ‘cat’ or ‘halitosis’ today, or something else again?”.

  120. Wow. Bathrobe, what “hypothesis” do you understand yourself to be arguing against?

  121. The hypothesis that ‘the authority to decide what words mean is a “political” form of “power”‘.
    Le chat was your own example.

  122. I have merely taken your statements to their most ridiculous extreme. JWB was spot on when he said “words mean what they are commonly understood to mean”. This is something that seems to have escaped you in your ascent into the ethereal heights of translation and political theory.

  123. That’s a good point, Emerson, and one close – or rather, usually too far – from my own heart.
    But in the case of “politics” and the translation of poetry – I mean generally; a lot more useful in the case of, say, Requiem or Mythistorima than of An Ordinary Evening in New Haven -, I do want to defend, not Venuti’s itself (about his trip, I know only this blogicle, thread, and links), but rather the general argument that the latter is done as modulated by the former.

  124. deadgod, I’ve told you before I’m a nuts-and-bolts guy. Attempts to interpret language or translation in terms of “politics” (in a broader sense) may have a certain validity in certain contexts, but to insist that translating le chat as “cat” is a political act is really going to extremes. I agree with JE that politicising and problematising everything is a pointless exercise.

  125. We haven’t written much about the actual translation
    Okay, I’ll bite.
    Skimming the poem quickly first, since I like to skim, I get snagged on the second verse, where it says

    she sat across the aisle, reading—
    poor kid—with such concentration
    that at dusk she completely missed
    the sun’s last rays…

    So the narrator pities someone for reading, and reading with concentration. I conclude the narrator is being set up as the villain here, since the poem must be written by academics, for academics. What possible kind of person would object to reading?
    Going back to the beginning of the poem, I see the whole thing is a description of someone female sitting on a train, but a narrow description, a description, not just by someone who doesn’t approve of reading, but by a male someone who reduces her to the lowest human denominator, only seeing her as a collection of potentially marketable female characteristics. He runs down a inventory of hair, breasts, and legs, coldly pigeonholing her in terms of her possible utility as a male appliance, “in good working order.”

    …hair
    more or less blonde,…

    The only thing important here is the hair color, categorizing her as “a blond”. But what of the hairstyle–fashionable? Does it reveal her social status or personality? Is she fastidious? Or unkempt in a way that indicates a fatiguing day? He is only capable of giving a Barbie doll description, and in the one-dimensional language of the sort of uneducated gangster who surreptitiously stares at women on trains, not recognizing that the reading material, the “stare-till-you’re-bored attitude”, the blocking out of unessential parts of the environment (“the sun’s last rays burning in the west stuck to the limitless vault of the sky”) in order to be alert to potential threats, is the instinctive female defense against him, the predatory male.
    The poem, taken at face value, is a description of a woman on a train, but ends up being an indictment of the person describing her. He’s not a lovable bumbler who just isn’t not much good with romance, he’s a voyeur, dismissive, one-dimensional, like Sam Spade or Mike Hammer but without the redeeming quirkiness or the underlying sadness.
    So that’s the poem. But the translation isn’t just about a poem, it’s a three way street between Venuti, Ernest Farrés, the Catalan poet who wrote the original translated poem, and also Edward Hopper, the artist who painted the picture of the woman on the train. It’s hard to judge how faithful Venuti’s translation is to the original poem, or in what ways it might digress and whether that might be objectionable, since the source doesn’t print the original poem in Catalan. Even if you don’t read Catalan, you might be able to tell something about meter or rhyme.
    But Edward Hopper’s images are all over the internet. From Venuti’s description, I thought at first the woman in the poem’s picture might be scantily clad or have an anatomy like a comic book character, like many of Hopper’s female figures. But no, the woman in the painting, Compartment C, Car 293 is chastely covered to the neck and to the wrist, and her figure is obscured. The most obvious thing about her is her relaxed attitude and the composure of the lower half of her face that is visible.
    So did the translation work for me? No, Hopper’s figures have a wistful quality, something about rural figures experiencing isolation in cities–there is a depth to the themes, while Venuti’s observer narrates like a punk from a grade B gangster flick, all surface superficiality.

  126. marie-lucie says:

    Thus far, the only exemple I can think of of someone consciously arrogating to himself the power of deciding the meaning of words is Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass.
    When a new edition of a dictionary appears, some definitions are rewritten, not because the editors have decided (or been ordered to decide) that the word will now mean X instead of Y, but because enough ordinary people are now commonly using the word to mean X (at least in some contexts), in addition to the bulk of the population still using it to mean Y.
    For instance, nobody on high decided that the word “cool” would no longer refer only to a temperature within a certain range but would also indicate approval among a certain segment of the population, which segment certainly did not wait for some politically powerful authority to tell them to use the word with its new meaning – in fact, being ordered to do so would have killed the incentive for this group to use the word. As another example, the use of “politically correct” vocabulary (a type of euphemism) was not dictated by a political authority but by groups of people consciously deciding of their own accord (not by being pushed from on high) not to use certain words and to replace them by others.

  127. Ok, I’ll try again, Bathrobe.
    “The authority to decide what words mean is a political form of power.” (The strong example of this (to me, the opposite of “preposterous”: true by definition) assertion would be something like “how groups define their ‘enemies’”.)
    -
    I mentioned translating le chat as ‘the cat’ in order to say that the English word is an “appropriation”, a taking-into-one’s-own-possession, which I did explicitly call an ‘inoffensive, unthreatening “political” act’.
    Calling something “political” doesn’t mean that there’s blood shed on some battlefield – it means, as I tried to define it, that an “interaction of forces” happened – which, I think, is always the case when a choice is made or appears to be made, as with translating one word with a single other from a range of choices.
    (The “political” dimension of language isn’t turned ‘on’ when blood is at stake and turned ‘off’ when it’s not; it’s there, in words, in their actuality, all the time, and more vividly, more inarguably present, when blood is at stake.)
    Why “appropriation” (which is a ‘power’ word)? The translator is changing what the French poet has said – not just the sound and (in remote ways) the dictionary sense of le chat, but its meaning-in-context in some particular poem: what it rhymes or nearly rhymes or ‘alliterates’ with in that poem, associations with chat specific to that poem/poet, associations of chat specific to French culture and the history of the French language, and so on.
    The translator changes the poem – changes how it works, what it can mean.
    Here’s another example, I think more obviously “political” than ‘the cat’: ‘lily blossom’. Is this phrase to be accepted by a French person as grasping the obvious meaning of fleur-de-lis?
    -
    It’s possible “to read” because words come to us already mostly defined for us, not because they’re not. But this intelligibility doesn’t mean that understanding simple, largely uncontested words isn’t “political” at all; it means that they’re “political” in tiny ways – language hat suggests: pointlessly tiny ways; a fair point, but no argument against the “political” aspect.
    The way that ‘terror‘ is so “political” when it’s used these days doesn’t indicate an addition of “politics” to a “politics”-neutral word — the politicization of ‘terror’ indicates a “political” dimension at work in all words, even innocuously chat-translating ‘cat’.
    -
    You might have missed my response to Brewer’s thesis, which thesis you’ve condensed to (Brewer’s own) words mean what they are commonly understood to mean. Let me rephrase:
    “What words are commonly understood to mean” doesn’t indicate what words mean ‘naturally’, but rather what meanings have been determined for them socially. Brewer is arguing for the existence of a contest-free vocabulary bank, from which words are taken out to be used “politically” or not. This, to me, is “preposterous”. “Common understanding”, understood uncritically, neglects ideology in the meanings of words, possibly unconsciously – but, however unconscious of that ineluctable inflection of meaning in words some language user might be, “common understandings” are absolutely “political” understandings.
    -
    If you turn down the scold volume, you might find the “heights” of the way I communicate less “ethereal” and more comfortably oxygenated than you claim, and the hyperbole of your straw men might bear closer relation to what I’ve actually said.

  128. What’s the basis for the contention that any power-wielding person or faction within a language community actually has the effective power to choose what words mean?
    No such absolute authority has been ‘contended’ for. The “contention” is that when words are chosen or understood, an interaction of forces, an accumulation and expression of “power”, has happened.
    You chose the word “contention”, rather than ‘assertion’, ‘claim’, or half a dozen other synonyms. You also chose to assume that “power” means something like ‘domination’ or ‘total control’ – which, I agree, almost never actually happens in or between groups of people (not discounting “groups” of two) -, rather than ‘interaction of forces’. Both choices were occasions of your social exertion of “power” – both choices were “political”. The mischaracterization of “power” (as I’ve provisionally defined and used the term) is, as I understand it, badly inaccurate with respect to what I’ve said.

  129. someone consciously arrogating to himself [or herself] the power of deciding the meaning of words
    marie-lucie, you’re ‘arrogant’ in that way every time you use words – everybody is! – and why not? The more deliberate someone is in choosing their words, the more ‘arrogant’, too – the more insistent that ‘this word does say what I mean; [for example] it does refer to this thing’.
    There’s been no argument that when one takes the responsibility for using some particular word, that use in fact stands, Humpty-Dumpty-like, absolutely. The argument is that using that word is a (frequently, but not always, tiny) “power” trip – in a word: “political”.
    Let me emphasize: I don’t think I’ve, and I definitely didn’t mean to have, used the word “power” in an ‘all-or-nothing’ way, but rather, to the contrary, to be an indication of the ‘interaction of forces‘, in which, despite the presence of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’, sometimes of ‘domination’, there’s no absolute dominion, but rather contest.
    The evolution of “cool” to mean ‘good’ is an excellent example of a “political” transformation in the meaning of word, isn’t it? – as you say, a transformation from ‘below’, but what’s not political about that?

  130. The authority to decide what words mean is a political form of power.
    That’s just silly. Bathrobe had it right the first time. You say “the cat” is “le chat” because that is what everyone agrees the words mean, not because someone wants to stick it to The Man. You can’t just decide a word is going to mean what you want it to mean. Nobody can.
    Except for the Illuminati.

  131. Since you’ve basically defined anything that a human being does in reacting with other human beings as “political”, then obviously every utterance, every word, every baby’s cry for its mother’s breast, is going to become a political issue. And every “choice” made by a human being, including the choice of words in translation, is going to become a political battleground. It’s fine if you want to interpret the world in this way, but carried to the extreme that you seem to be suggesting, this is likely to be more tiresome than illuminating.
    We all know that translation involves choices, and a choice always involves a judgement. Needless to say, there are potential political aspects in every act of translation. For example whether you translate Japanese ネズミ (nezumi) as “rat” or “mouse” will make a major difference to the meaning. You, deadgod, obviously regard this as a politically motivated choice, but it is just as likely that to be a result of a desire by the translator to represent the original author’s meaning as accurately as possible in a different medium, a result of habits of translation, or even just a plain mistaken perception on the part of the translator. There is a lot of room for error in translation that has nothing to do with “politics”.
    For instance, the “jay” (a species of bird) is officially known as 松鴉 sōngyā, but most translators of English literature habitually use the word 樫鳥 jiànniǎo. The reason has nothing to do with politics. It is simply because most English-Chinese dictionaries haven’t been revised from decade to decade and still give 樫鳥 (an old borrowing from Japanese) as the equivalent of “jay”. You might want to regard it as the politics of “laziness”, “inertia”, or “ignorance”, but as far as the translator is concerned, there is nothing political at all in the choice of this word. Translators are simply following the lead of the dictionary in translating the name of a bird they are not familiar with.

  132. The jay is “松鴉 sōngyā” in Chinese.

  133. Actually, the “jay” example is even worse than it looks, because when the term “jay” occurs in a North American context it doesn’t refer to the Eurasian jay. So translators are being doubly lazy when they refer to dictionaries and fail to follow up what kind of jay is being referred to. The politics of this, if you want to put it that way, is that translators of literature don’t give a damn about the natural world and are more focussed on churning out the translation of a “literary work”.

  134. deadgod, what I’m talking about is conveying marked and unmarked language in a translation. Here’s an example. In Russian someone says about a woman: Khorosha. Ochen’ dazhe. This is an unmarked phrase meaning: She’s good looking. In fact, really good looking. But the second sentence is literally “very even.” When P/V translated it, they wrote “Very even,” which is extremely marked (and totally incomprehensible). When the English-speaking reader sees that, s/he has no idea what it means. And they also don’t know if the Russian was marked. When a Russian reader sees that phrase, is s/he equally puzzled? Does it jump off the page at them?
    What Venuti does and advocates is inserting that kind of out of place phrase to draw attention to the act of translation. But how on earth does that help the reader read the book or poem? How does it help them get any sense of the text?
    This reminds me of a party I once had with a very interesting translator/translation theorist. I like a lot of what he writes, but that day he went into a rift that went something like this: The writer had his own idea of what his words meant; each reader interprets those words the way he or she understands them; therefore the text doesn’t exist. Silence descended. After a long beat, one of the translators said: “Then what the f*ck are we doing?”
    The theorist wasn’t wrong. And it’s important to remember that when you are translating. When you translate you struggle to inhabit the voice of the author. You read everything s/he wrote and try to understand his/her specific usage of words, the voice. But how does “the text doesn’t exist” help a translator or a reader?

  135. Khorosha. Ochen’ dazhe.
    Mab, you’re talking about literal translation – it’s nothing to do with ‘marking’, it’s just bad. The English phrase, obviously from a dialogue can be easily translated like this:
    ‘Looking good. Very much so.’
    To me, marking would be to choose, say,
    ‘Look swell. Blast.’
    Which you don’t really need to do.
    By the way ‘swell’ – isn’t it distinctly American?

  136. The adjective swell was active in both American and British at one time. It now sounds dated (that being the point), though perhaps not impossibly so in American. And perhaps in Hopper’s time (1931 by Venuti’s Hopper Lexicon), it would have been still current only in America.

  137. Doubling back a bit to this comment by J.W. Brewer:
    It’s also not clear to me how many, if any, of these works were truly lost in the original Greek, although of course Constantinople was a lot further away from Western Europe than Spain and Franco-Byzantine relations were rather strained during some of the relevant centuries. The Franks and other successors to the Western Empire have no one to blame but themselves for letting their intellectual class generally lose the ability to read Greek during the Dark Ages and not bothering to get it back until circa the 15th century.
    The Catalan Company played a rather disreputable role in hastening the decline of the Byzantine Empire, so maybe the Catalans are inadvertently responsible for the flood of Greek literature into Western Europe in the 15th century. According to the Wikipedia article:
    Until recently no Catalans were allowed on the Athos peninsula by the Athonite monks. However in the past few years and following the payment of reparations by the Catalan government this situation has changed.
    If that’s true then wow.

  138. MMcM, thanks – for swell

  139. “The authority to decide what words mean is a political form of power.” (The strong example of this (to me, the opposite of “preposterous”: true by definition) assertion would be something like “how groups define their ‘enemies’”.)
    I often find you hard to follow, and this is one of those times. You seem to be playing with language in a way you doubtless see as provocative or mind-expanding, but which does not actually address the issue at hand. We’re not talking about “how groups define their ‘enemies’”; we’re talking about definitions in the usual sense—you know, the things you look up in dictionaries. And as has been repeatedly said by several commenters, those definitions and meanings are not imposed by any powerful figure, they develop out of the day-to-day use of all members of the language community. You are clearly one of those people I mentioned whose joy it is to politicize absolutely everything, but I’m afraid you’re not going to convince anyone who isn’t already a believer.

  140. marie-lucie says:

    JCass, I had never heard of the Catalan Company. Quite a discovery! thank you.

  141. John Emerson says:

    The insistence that every verbal act is political is political itself, and amounts to a license for anyone to call anything else anyone says into question whenever they want to, and adds up to nothing but the paralysis of the centipede who’d forgetten what order to move his legs in.
    Everything involving two humans is political in the trivial sense, i.e. “part of the complex of relationships between human beings” (“man is a political animal”).
    But usually when someone talks this way, they mean “political” in a different sense — that everything can and should be politicized, that everything is a political issue. And you can only make an issue out of, or problematize, a few things. Otherwise what your doing becomes diffuse and boneless and flops around helplessly trying to do everything at once.
    So in the “political issue” sense of “political”, deciding what to problematize and what not is the basic question. You really need to target whatever you have politically decided are the main points.
    And the translator’s problematization of translation in the PR puff piece (and what is this kind of politics doing in institutional PR anyway?) struck me as too far in the direction of global politicization of everything, and thus of nothing.
    To put it metaphorically, whenever you pick something up you’re standing on some other thing that you can’t be picking up. You can’t stand on nothing and pick up everything.
    Awhile back I was reading Erasmus, who very bravely attacked the political lords of his time and the leaders of the Catholic Church all at once. He can be regarded as progressive for having done that, but on the other hand his attitudes toward class, gender, and religious orthodoxy are just a somewhat milder version of the conventional attitude of the time. Is it reasonable to call him to account for that? Certainly these attitudes were political, but his not making an issue of those attitudes strikes me as just the kind of prioritizing and economizing I was talking about. (This is not to say that he would have been a feminist egalitarian atheist if he’d thought about it; just that those issues were not coming up as issues.)

  142. Venuti’s Hopper Lexicon)
    conveying marked and unmarked language in a translation
    So the Catalan poet Farrés wrote “marked language” that is either slang, or out of date, or hard to understand, and Venuti substituted words from his “lexicon” for those words.
    From the lexicon:

    get v. “I am having a show of recent water colors done in new England at the Frank Rehn Gallery and hope you will get to see it.”

    Ignoring for the moment the idea that “get to” in English does not sound “marked” to me, surely the “marked language” in Catalan does have a meaning, whether it is archaic or is just meant to convey an emotion. Likewise the English words in the lexicon already have meanings. Even if some of the phrases are no longer in common usage, there is nothing there so outdated that no one can understand it, like, say, Shakespeare. It seems the English words have just been inserted without any regard for what information they convey, or what the original Catalan conveyed. Sort of a shortcut to translating around a word you don’t understand. I wonder if this would fly if there wasn’t a shortage of translators who understand Catalan.

  143. My main confusion with Venuti’s problematization of translation is that it seems a bit, well, obvious—anybody who’s ever translated from a language they were fluent in would naturally be aware of all the imperfect correspondences in meaning, and try to work out some middle-ground between the two—on the basis of sound, or original fundamental meaning (the translator has to suss this out, but ‘problematizing’ translation doesn’t mean the translator no longer has to think about what the original author probably meant), or their own interpretation, or a modernizing impulse, etc,. et cetera. Likewise, I would wager that nearly any reader sufficiently educated to be even interested in a book of Catalan poems also has learned by this point that a translation is an act of interpretation and mediation by the translator, and one’s reaction to it—especially the language—tends to be filtered through that awareness.
    So you have a translating culture perfectly aware of the fact that it is not possible to perform a seamless 1:1 semantic port from one language to another (how could they be unaware of this fact? they’re the ones struggling with it), and you’ve got a readership who at bare minimum is perfectly aware that what they’re experiencing is the work of two hands—and usually aware that it’s the work of two cultures, too. Some of these things even have a footnote or two. So what is the point of problematizing it for the reader? Why make such a big deal over the fact that you decided to translate ‘in the peak of life’ as ‘in the pink’, and why produce marked constructions? (It bears strong mentioning here that there is NOT a single marked construction in the sample poem; all of his trumpeted ‘non-standard English colloquialisms, slang and dialect’ are simply the adoption of tone that isn’t completely literary and formal—which has been basically the primary tool in the translator’s toolbox for a hundred years. You don’t need to devise an entire intellectual framework and to smugly compile a painstakingly researched ‘Hopper lexicon’ in order to justify using the phrase ‘poor kid’, unless you really do possess the belief that ‘unfortunate soul’ or whatever pick-the-first-word-in-each-dictionary-entry phrase is, is the proper default translation and to perform any further acts of literary creativity is to be avant-garde and challenging. Similarly, I cannot imagine ANY reader who would read ‘she looked real swell’ and find themselves suddenly jarred into a recognition of the essentially plastic, artificial nature of the translational act—rather than think to themselves, ‘Oh, this poem must be set in a time when the word ‘swell’ was current parlance.’)
    So the ‘problems’ of translation are distinctly unproblematic. Which leaves us to his insane overheated rhetoric about ethnocentric acts of violence. I think such unproblematic issues really do not bear the standard post-colonialist rhetoric here. You all may quarrel as much as you like about how much of human interaction can rightly be called ‘political’ but I think ‘violent’—ethnocentrically so or not—is a much sillier claim to make.

  144. I would like to clarify here that when I say that translation is unproblematic, I don’t mean that it’s EASY, or that there aren’t problems to its execution. There are many and they are very interesting. I just mean that it is not flawed or problematic as a practice, the implication there being that its purveyors are not aware of, and do not knowingly engage with, its problems every time they translate—many of these translators who have not even written a single academic tome on the many problems of translation. If translators and their readers were doing great ethnocentric cultural damage without knowing it, it might be a great thing to produce intentionally defective translations in order to highlight the field’s deficiencies and blind spots. But to say ‘translation is hard. Thus I’m gonna fuck with my reader’ and not even fuck with them in a very interesting or engaging way—bush league.

  145. Thus do I christen the man Venut’ The Snoot. Possible that ‘Snooty Venuti’ would be more faithful to the original material, but I wanted to highlight the problems of epithetation.

  146. Until recently no Catalans were allowed on the Athos peninsula by the Athonite monks. However in the past few years and following the payment of reparations by the Catalan government this situation has changed.
    Judging from Googling around, this is true. Apparently, back in 1993 a singer called Josep Tero was visiting Mount Athos when he let slip that he was a Catalan and the monks immediately threw him out of their monastery. He had to spend the night outside amid the “howling of wolves” (”entre els udols dels llops” – hope I’ve got that right). He decided to try to patch things up and persuaded the Generalitat of Catalonia to pay for the restoration of a tower in the Vatopedi monastery which had been badly damaged by the Catalan Company as part of the reprisals for the killing of their leader Roger de Flor in 1305. The restoration was completed in 2005.

  147. Two people meet on a street in London.
    “Which watch?”
    “Six clock.”
    “Such much?”
    “Whom how…”
    “MGIMO finish?”
    “Ask!”
    (an old Russian joke)

  148. John Emerson says:

    Slawkenbergius is feeling the power!

  149. And yeah, I’m with Z. D. Smith on this one.
    As for politicizing everything…is the obnoxious use of bold, italics, and quotation marks a political act? Something about destroying the tyranny of the unadorned line?

  150. (Oh, and I suppose the reference to MGIMO in that joke makes it political, given its reputation as a school for future VIPs of various kinds. And the violent appropriation of the English language turns it into a savage commentary on, uh, oligarchs buying football clubs or something.)

  151. mab, thanks for that explication – whether you marked “marking” correctly or not. You indicate your distaste for Venuti’s trip in a way that clearly shows why he antagonizes you so, which ought to be more important than simply declaring oneself “for” the pitchforks-and-tar.
    I agree with what you take from your anecdote: “silence”, followed by a Johnsonian ejaculation (“I refute it thus!”), other than which the response to a solipsistic nihilism of understanding is a Kantian treatise. I mean, the guy’s argument – tight as it might have been – can be countered rationally.
    (You don’t think that, because there’s an argument that “politics” is ubiquitous in language, therefore that position is committed to “the text doesn’t exist”???)
    I’d not known of the controversy surrounding P/V until recently – I’ve only been on the internet for a couple of years and change -. I don’t know Russian, so I have to translate the details of the linguistic contentions, as it were. But what strikes me about the anti-P/V side is the real vitriol – I mean personal hatred – that people vent against their translations, them, and the shit on the dirt on their ancestors’ graves. Yikes. I really loved reading ‘their’ War and Peace, and, while I’m eager to credit Tolstoy with being the novel-writing peer of Austen and Joyce, I find it hard to believe that P/V bungled the job to the point of not actually ‘translating’ the novel at all! But maybe they didn’t – as I say, I’m helplessly ignorant about Tolstoy’s Russian words themselves.
    -
    By the way, you have a neat pun in your post: he went into a rift. One meaning would be riff – ‘brief variation of a melody’, a musical metaphor. Or, he ‘plunged into a chasm‘ . . . of bad relativism (“relativism” with no content ‘to relate’ to any other content – this definition being a key to what’s intellectually wrong with solipsism).

  152. What if it’s the poet’s own doing?
    Willis Barnstone:

    Instead, I learned in London to read Rabindranath Tagore in his language and discovered that he was not an Edwardian-English misty poet, as he had translated himself to be, but a radically modern Indian poet, with mystical dimensions.

  153. the reference to MGIMO
    MGIMO being Moskovsky (Gosudarstvenny – State) Institut(e) (of) Mezhdunarodnykh (International) Otnoshenniy (Relations).
    Slawk, have you heard ‘visible-invisible’? (vidimo-nevidimo, meaning ‘loads’) or ‘keep your pocket wider’ (derzhi karman shiré – fat chance)?
    There is another famous one about a MGIMO graduate:
    Two diplomats emerge from loos at the UN headquarters. One washes his hands, the other simply adjusting his tie.
    - At Oxford, they taught us to wash hands after peeing.
    - At MGIMO, they taught us not to pee on our hands.
    I’d lived thirty years before I heard this one, very recently:
    (UN HQ, or House of Commons)
    An Oxford man emerges from the loo and washes his hands. Then a Cambridge man emerges from the loo – and only adjusts his tie.
    - At Oxford, they taught us to wash hands after peeing.
    - At Cambridge, they taught us not to pee on our hands.
    Venuti rules – violence, as you please?

  154. translate ‘in the peak of life’ as ‘in the pink’
    “In the pink” means healthy. And you can’t say “skin in the pink”; that makes no sense at all, at least in current usage. It is the person who is in the pink.
    the problems of epithetation
    I liked Venution from the Dennis Hopper film, but I guess no one else liked it.
    the standard post-colonialist rhetoric
    I’ve heard this set of buzz words before, is it maybe from Marx or Chomsky?

  155. carried to the extreme that you seem to be suggesting
    Bathrobe, several times on this thread, I’ve carefully qualified the wide range of utility in seeing the “politics” in some particular language usage.
    The ‘the cat’ / le chat example evolved somewhat out of the context I had first used it in – but ok, let’s try to talk about how translating that one word might be rationally considered “political” . . . which perception of “politics” I referred to in what language??:
    to a useful extent
    inoffensively, unthreateningly
    for practical purposes
    might not bear much notice
    doesn’t mean that there’s blood shed
    “political” in tiny ways
    no [...] absolute authority has been ‘contended’ for
    ['total control'] almost never actually happens in or between groups
    ‘no argument that use stands absolutely’
    [not] “power” in an all-or-nothing way
    no absolute dominion
    Do you see? I have not been “extreme”, where those hastening to mischaracterize an, after all, mild point, have.
    -
    I agree that “mistakes”, while not necessarily ‘innocent’, are “politically” obscure.
    However, each of these phrases: a desire by the translator to represent the original author’s meaning as accurately as possible and different habits of translation, admits to me of pretty obvious “political” dimension. And following the lead of a dictionary – or any ‘authority’ – is always “political”, no matter how practical this recourse has to be in the innocuous cases of felines, rodents, and birds. And, with innocuous, there I go again – qualifying my point.
    We might have to agree to disagree, but not, I hope, about whether I’m being “extreme”.

  156. I liked Venution from the Dennis Hopper film, but I guess no one else liked it.
    I liked it too but my memories of that film are rather hazy. I was thinking of Hopper in Blue Velvet. Frank Booth would do a really bang-up job of any act of violence, ethnocentric or otherwise.

  157. language hat, I’m not trying to be “provocative” or “mind-expanding”, but rather am “address[ing] the issue at hand” – namely, the claim that language usage is always “political” (because it always entails ‘relations of force’ between the users). (In fact, I don’t think that, taking “force” in a mechanical way, that parenthetical exegesis is really controversial.)
    That definitions and meanings [...] develop out of the day-to-day use of all members of the language community not only doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said about “politics” and “power”, but rather is a consequence of seeing the “political” dimension of language as being ubiquitous – albeit often at such a low level as to be unworthy of particular remark.
    I haven’t indicated that I ‘take joy in politicizing everything’. I have tried patiently to meet exaggerations with repetitions of qualification and gradation of perspective, but, clearly, I won’t convince any believers – a talent I’ve not been accused of.

  158. When I first saw this post, there were almost no comments. The first thing I did was get the text of the translation, the poem, and have a look at the painting. When I read the poem and the translation, thinking I ought to have something to say about it all, I was shocked to receive the impression that the American was the original, and the Catalan was the translation. I’ve read all the comments above. Probably I’d have to buy the book (oh, no!); but if the other poem/translation pairs produce the same impression, I’d say they’re bad translations, because they look like the translator said to himself “Oh, poems about Hopper paintings. Good idea. I can do it better because I have more appropriate resources in the American language than some poor Catalan born in 1967… ” I think maybe this is what some of you are saying. Has anyone asked Farrés what he thinks of it all? The translation, the theory of translation? Or is that not done?

  159. There are another two translations (without the originals) on Farrés’s own blog http://ernestfarres.blogspot.com/search/label/Lawrence%20Venuti

  160. Sashura, “swell”, meaning ‘good’, was mocked for being “’50s” in the ’70s (and maybe earlier). This usage has long gone been (generally) replaced by ‘cool’.
    “Swell” still vigorously has, in many contexts, its literal meaning: ‘for a volume to become larger, more or less evenly at its surface, as material is put into it’.
    But it does retain – at least for me – an old-fashioned use, as I punned on it above: “fat cat”. It’s a Gatsby word: a “swell” is a rich person – could be ‘old money’, could be nouveau – whose ‘stuffed’ with privilege. As in: “If you go to the opera, look out at the first intermission: it’s a track meet in the aisles and out the lobby when the swells sprint for their limos.”

  161. John Emerson says:

    albeit often at such a low level as to be unworthy of particular remark.
    As I have said, for me this is the nub of the question, and with all due respect, you might think of raising your threshold.
    One of my reasons for reacting so strongly against the blurb is that the politics Venuti was referring to is transparently, though not explicitly or confessedly, academic politics, and is pretty much just one of the kind of dog and pony shows that academics stage to stance themselves against their competitors and get a leg up against them. It’s not like he was committing himself to Catalan liberation or anything.

  162. American was the original, and the Catalan was the translation
    Orwell, Hemingway, Camus and Ehrenburg looked up at Catalunya for inspiration. Why should one minor translator upset you?

  163. raising [my] threshold
    Well, Emerson, I was talking about a general case which is often irrelevant, but still true (in my view) specifically.
    I never conflated the ubiquity of “politics” in language with a nihilistic “licensing” of some “questioning” and “problematizing” out of existence of the ability of words to work. With similar due respect, not seeing the latter perspective in my arguments supporting the former would also be a worthy threshold target.

  164. John Emerson says:

    Nah, Deadgod, I’m getting tired of this.

  165. Harvard v. Yale.
    thanks, MMcM, I laughen my pants off. I bet there are similar ones with Waseda vs Todai, Vitvatersrand vs Cape Town or Sydney vs Melbourne. The difference about MIMO, though, is that there is a cross-border, nationalistic element.

  166. swell
    deadgood, thanks,
    I thought it was slightly dated, the translation reminded me of Louis Armstrong’s famous ‘You lookin’ swell, Dolly’.

  167. One of my reasons for reacting so strongly against the blurb is that the politics Venuti was referring to is transparently, though not explicitly or confessedly, academic politics, and is pretty much just one of the kind of dog and pony shows that academics stage to stance themselves against their competitors and get a leg up against them.
    Well said. Literary theorists are at the back of a very long queue when I’m looking for cogent insights into politics.

  168. For anyone who still has the energy to look at original texts, here’s the only Ernest Farrés I could find in Catalan:
    ~”Morning Sun 1953″, Venutian translation | original Farrés text in Catalan | image
    ~Essay by Ernest Farrés on the Barcelona poet Jordi Valls (He might edit this website, if so, and if my Catalan google-fu is on target, he’s defined violence, and written something against it.)
    ~~~~~~~
    Here are more links to Lawrence Venuti translations/adaptations of Ernest Farrés
    Sun in an Empty Room, 1963 | image
    Summer in the City, 1949 | image
    Summer Evening, 1947 | image
    Self-Portrait, 1925-1930 | image
    Hotel Room, 1931, from a review | image

  169. I was able to see the second poem in the original following MMcM’s tip using Amazon “search inside” for “Zeus i M” – not to hard to guess it was translated from the same words in Catalan. So I’ve seen Stairway 1949 in the original, too. I haven’t extensively examined Ernest Farrés’s blog…there might be more available. Sashura: I wasn’t actually “upset” – but slightly creeped out. Just a disagreeable sensation.

  170. I bet there are similar ones with Waseda vs Todai
    This struck me as somewhat incongruous. State and private universities are not normally regarded as being in the same league in Japan. Waseda vs Keiō, maybe (two private universities), or Tōdai vs Kyōdai (Tokyo Uni vs Kyoto Uni, two state universities). But not, I would think, Waseda vs Tōdai.

  171. Like JE, I’m tired of the argument about the “politics” of words. At the risk of pissing everyone off:
    The translation of ‘jay’ as 樫鳥 that I referred to above is replete with politics, but not the “academic-style” politics that deadgod is referring to. This example is from Gone With The Wind, of which I have a number of translations (collecting translations is an unfortunate hobby of mine). The passage refers to jays and mockingbirds quarrelling in the garden. Presumably the ‘jays’ are Blue Jays, which have the range and characteristics required for the story and its setting.
    The politics:
    1. Because it is a popular book in China, every publisher wants its own edition, for economic, not cultural reasons. Since publishing is an exploitative industry, publishers generally stand to gain more than authors and translators, which means that translations are often treated as a hack job, not a labour of love. Sometimes someone else’s translation is ripped off in its entirety, with a few changes in wording here and there. In a situation like this, it would not be surprising if translators got lazy about checking things up, taking short cuts like comparing their version with someone else’s as they went along. Words like ‘jay’ are the first to be sacrificed — as long as the reader knows it’s a kind of bird, who cares what it’s called? (For this reason, possessing multiple Chinese translations of a work of literature will not necessarily allow you to appreciate the original any better. Multiple poor translations are just as likely to introduce mistakes and red herrings as they are to illuminate your understanding.)
    2. In my experience (as I’ve pointed out in relation to ferret-badgers), most Chinese with any kind of literary bent are pretty much out of touch with things like the natural sciences. They are more likely to know thousands of chengyu than names of birds and animals. So Mitchell’s presumably accurate portrayal of aggressive jays quarrelling with mockingbirds is largely lost on Chinese translators, who are more intent on reproducing Mitchell’s story in pretty words than they are on introducing her observations of American nature. It’s just two types of foreign bird quarrelling on the lawn, who cares what they are called?
    3. Bird naming is a highly political arena, even in English. The borrowing of 樫鳥 from Japanese took place against a complex backdrop of Sino-Japanese relations (stretching over more than a millennium of contact, but in this case relating specifically to the turn of the 20th century). Since then the official naming has tried to purge much of the Japanese element (again a political issue), in many cases with spectacular lack of success. But 樫鳥 is clearly a Japanese borrowing since the character 樫 doesn’t even occur in Chinese. It’s through laziness and inertia that this old borrowing has hung on in dictionaries while bird naming in Chinese has moved on dramatically.
    As you can see, there is PLENTY of politics involved — just not the highly qualified, heavily-nuanced, hedged-in “politics of power” that deadgod claims is a constant undercurrent in defining the “meaning” of words. I agree with JE that deadgod’s ideas on the politicisation of words really do miss a bigger picture that has nothing to do with some infinitesimal political element in translating le chat as “cat” (rather than a colloquial word like “moggy”).
    I will desist at this point for fear of boring the pants off everyone.

  172. You’re not boring me, I assure you.

  173. John Emerson says:

    I will desist at this point for fear of boring the pants off everyone.
    Hat takes his pants off sometime for no special reason. Just ignore him when he does that.
    It’s through laziness and inertia that this old borrowing has hung on in dictionaries while bird naming in Chinese has moved on dramatically.
    In Taiwan when I was there (1983) they would pirate mainland books without necessarily correcting the tell-tale mainland details, for example the pinyin transcriptions. (The mainlanders did publish traditional-script books for outreach to Overseas Chinese, and these were pirated in Taiwan, though never imported). But my Matthews’ Chinese – English dictionary did have a few whited-out definitions relevant to changes in Kuomintang political line since 1920 or so.
    On hack translations, I have a Chinese translation of an American soft-porn romance which I’ve been meaning to investigate. What I remember from glancing through it is that the steamy parts were translated into language much more flowery than the English.

  174. Postscript: I actually found the sentence I was referring to on the Internet. From Chapter 5 of Gone With the Wind:
    “The mockingbirds and the jays, engaged in their old feud for possession of the magnolia tree beneath her window, were bickering, the jays strident, acrimonious, the mockers sweet voiced and plaintive.”

  175. “academic-style” politics
    What Emerson divined (transparently, though not explicitly or confessedly – neat academic literary criticism and academic politics, that) from the blurb, namely, “academic politics”, was simply not what I meant, nor what a reasonable reading of what I said would glean, when I tried to indicate that, and in what way, “politics” is implicit in language.

    Bathrobe, the PLENTY of politics you see in Chinese bird-translation – [b]ird naming is a highly political arena – is exactly an example parallel to the “political element in translating le chat as ‘cat’” that I too-laboriously disclosed. Surely jays are not more intrinsically politicizable animals than cats?
    Thanks for the “-nuanced”.

  176. The so-called “common names” of birds are not common names at all, which is why they are political.
    Official bird names in English were long divided between the hegemon of the 19th century (the UK) and that of the 20th (the US). The British names still held a strong position until just a few years ago (this kind of naming tends to be conservative), but recently the weight has swung fairly decisively to the side of the 20th century hegemon. The whole thing is a palpable power contest.
    Compare Indonesian and Malaysian, supposedly pretty much the same language, where the official names are radically different. Again this is completely political, based on the existence of two nation states with two separate establishments. For the moment, at least, there seems to be no movement to unify the two.
    This is a little different from the translation of a common, everyday word like “cat”.

  177. I was able to see the second poem in the original
    I tried translating the first poem (Self-Portrait, 1925-1930), then peeked at Venuti’s version. I didn’t notice him using anything from the “lexicon” in it, but he did add three minor phrases that weren’t in the original. I didn’t find his English to be very smooth either, but I suppose that’s what you get from a word by word translation–I’m spoiled by Dr.N’s translations that preserve the meter and go right to the heart of the meaning without every word being in place. Slawk’s translations are like that too, spare wordage and crystal clear meanings, but I don’t remember what he does with meter.
    academic politics
    I’ve heard of the kind of faculty meetings where someone always shows up with a Chomsky quote in their pocket, and the internal politics are more vicious than can be imagined, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of place I’d like to work. I prefer my politics unadulterated, from the poli sci department or from the street. It’s easier to understand and a lot more fun.
    I will desist at this point for fear of boring the pants off everyone.
    Don’t stop on my account. The linguists of course will eat that up with a spoon, and the ones who don’t like it are probably more interesting without their pants anyway. My ears always perk up at the hint of any gossip about Waseda.

  178. Oops. Sorry about riff/rift. (head down in abject embarassment) That’s what happens when you don’t speak your native language very often. You think it will never happen to you, but then it does.
    deadgod, by getting sidetracked by “is there anything political going on” takes us far from what Venuti proposes. I quote again: “the abrupt appearance of a contemporary expression in an archaic context breaks the realist illusion of the narrative, interrupting the reader’s participation in the character’s drama and calling attention to the moment in which the reading is being done. And when this moment is brought to mind, the reader comes to realize that the text is not Tarchetti’s Italian, but an English translation.”
    In addition to my complaint that the reader then can’t tell what is the author’s and what is the translator’s language, the big question is: Is this what the reader wants? Or needs? Or when you are reading a translation, do you get caught in a “realist illusion”? And if you do (although I’m not sure exactly what this realist illusion is), is that bad? Why? Because you forget for a moment that the work was originally written in Turkish or Arabic? It seems to me that when I’m reading Pamuk, I’m pretty aware that he is a Turkish writer and I’m reading a translation. I don’t buy this theoretical framework for the process of translation or reading a translation.
    On P/V: the vitriole, at least on my part, is in reaction to theirs. They have criticized every translator of Russian into English, living or dead; sneered at their inability to understand the Russian soul; claimed that they for the first time in the history of the world, have succeeded — while at the same time cribbing (it would appear) from the very translations they scorn. If you make those claims, you’re going to be held to your own standards.

  179. mab, no abjection! I wasn’t correcting your typing – it’s a cool pun. If it was an accident, take credit for being the hand rolling the dice. Besides, it’s the internet – everyone fat-fingers the keyboard in the moment at some moment.
    Your re-made point about Venuti’s “foregrounding” is fine. I think, as one strategy among many, forcing the reader to cope with constantly being reminded that ‘it’s a translation, homie!’ could be interesting. For example, keeping to the meaning of the verse, but roughing up the expressions, of a love lyric, so the reader is confronted rather than seduced by the poetry – well, maybe that’d be entertainingly clever.
    But, as I suggested in my first post here, if the translator has to make translating itself practically the theme of some particular translation, your rhetorical (?) “why?” is really going to be the crux of whether you get much from reading the translation.
    P/V sound like trollanslators. For me, as a reader of Englished Russian, I just want to read good books, you know?, without thinking about weirdly figmentary virtual personalities behind the transl. by curtain. If their “Chekhov”, say, is less ‘like’ Chekhov and less of a pleasure to read – well, those perspectives I’d want to hear before I put a month into the plays and stories (again).

  180. Hmmm, mab, your comments caused me to look around the Internet for articles on P/V, and there is some interesting stuff. Most are virtually panegyrics, but there was at least one called Defending Pevear and Volokhonsky (New York Times). Their method of translation is an interesting collaboration between Russian and English native speakers, a method I have my doubts about (unless it’s done extremely well) because it could be easy for things to fall through the cracks at the interface between the imperfect speaker of English and the poor speaker of Russian. (I’ve seen the results of speeches translated into English by a non-native speaker and polished by a native English speaker. The results make excellent reading — but they’re not always the same as what the original meant!)

  181. But my dear deadgod, if you “just want to read good books, you know?, without thinking about weirdly figmentary virtual personalities behind the transl. by curtain” why are you more or less defending Venuti’s approach? That is going to get you the guy behind the curtain peeking out at you.
    Bathrobe: I’m actually a fan of some variety of the tandem method in translating literary works. After all, that’s the way Constance Garnett did it:) I would at least want a native speaker with excellent English to check my translation. The trick, as you say, is that both people have to have fluency in both languages and literary traditions.

  182. But my dear deadgod, if you “just want to read good books, you know?, without thinking about weirdly figmentary virtual personalities behind the transl. by curtain” why are you more or less defending Venuti’s approach?
    My thought exactly.

  183. What Emerson divined (transparently, though not explicitly or confessedly – neat academic literary criticism and academic politics, that) from the blurb, namely, “academic politics”, was simply not what I meant, nor what a reasonable reading of what I said would glean….
    I was writing about the blurb, which is what this thread (including your voluminous polemic) is keyed on. Introducing your own quite different ideas in this particular thread might not have been, in retrospect, the best plan.
    I have a virulent dislike of internal academic politics, most academic attempts to do left politics in the workplace, and about 80-90% of what is called “critical theory”. This is grounded in my objections to the tight disciplinary and methodological disciplines imposed on the American University after WWII, which I do not think can be bent to any good purpose (as critical theorists try to do). A partial but not brief explanation is at my URL.
    A particular defect of academic attempts to do politics is exactly that politicization of everything indiscriminately which I objected to in your presentation. The faculty debates seem to gravitate to the nits, for example long arguments over “Latino” v. “Hispanic” v. “Mexican American” v. “Chicano”.

  184. That is going to get you the guy behind the curtain peeking out at you.
    I thought Venuti’s thing was to strip away the stuff added by culture — from having American iconic paintings from the 30′s and 40′s described in Catalan, and then retranslated by an American from a different era — and go straight for the language of the painter in his own era.
    I don’t think it works, first because he doesn’t have a grasp of the usage of that time, and second because the painter was all about the wistfulness of country people in the anonymity of the big city. The language ends up being calloused and urban like a gangster flick rather than reflective and small town like vintage Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys.

  185. I thought Venuti’s thing was to strip away the stuff added by culture…
    I may be doing an injustice to his approach, but, it’s like this: translation is a lie (it’s not the original); translation uproots a work and puts it in a new context (the violence stuff); people want the lie of the translation (the political stuff about being uncomfortable being out of cultural comfort zone); THEREFORE translations should include foreignisms, anachrinisms, etc. — ie things added to the original from the target language culture — in order to shock and remind the reader that s/he is reading a translation, that it’s a lie, that violence has been done to the original, etc etc etc.

  186. The word “violence” is just too highly colored and hyperbolic to describe what’s going on, especially considering that a lot of translation is from imperial languages to subjugated languages (e.g. German to Czech, or English to Spanish in some contexts) and a lot of other translation is neutral and horizontal (French to Spanish perhaps, or Italian to Spanish). It’s as if any act at all, anything other than sitting with your hands folded on your lap, is “violent”. You end up asking yourself where you get the right to breathe the innocent and oppressed air.
    There are specific cases where cultural domination is in play, but I don’t really think that’s true in this case. The Catalan beef would be against Spanish — I may be wrong, but I don’t think that they have any special anti-English feeling.
    Most authors are happy to be translated into English, to the point of doing it themselves or soliciting translators.

  187. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that they have any special anti-English feeling
    The only thing I can think of is some of them are still het up about the War of the Spanish Succession. They supported the Austrian candidate Archduke Charles against the Bourbon Philip V and rebelled against Madrid in 1705 with British military backing. In 1713, Britain got tired of the war and signed the Treaty of Utrecht recognising Philip and leaving the Catalans in the lurch. Catalonia lost a lot of its autonomy in the aftermath. What bearing this would have on the translation of Edward Hopper into English by an American 300 years later, I don’t know. Trevor from the blog Kalebeul used to comment here and he was an expert on all sorts of “Catalunacy” (some of them claim Don Quixote was originally written in Catalan and Cervantes was a mere plagiarist translator).

  188. Venuti’s ideas remind me of some long-dead school of translation (I forget names and dates, and I don’t even know if any actual translations eventuated) that defended the right to translate English soul into French as seûl ‘alone’ as entirely appropriate. “The sound must seem an echo to the sense”, or nonsense apparently.
    John E.: Does German count as a subjugated language in (imperial) modern Hungary?
    JCass: Pretty much the same thing happened a century later during the Napoleonic Wars, which Catalonia saw as its opportunity to get out from under Spanish rule, only to be let down by the British something awful. The Aubrey-Maturin novels, written by an Englishman posing as an Irishman, are among other things an extended riff (and rift) on this theme of perfidious Albion.

  189. more or less defending Venuti’s position
    mab, here’s some of what I actually wrote in my first post, in response to the presentation we’ve been linked to (not a “blurb” – apologies for perpetuating inaccurately polemical terminology without scare-quotes):
    a bit of mitigation
    truism sounds unobjectionable
    obnoxiously prescriptive
    sounds [...] like an inarguable truism or tautology
    might doubt that “[h]ighlighting this process” would really “signal” such “respect”
    expresses himself with self-importantly academic pomposity
    ‘insisting on foregrounding the political nature of translation [in every particular translation] sounds beleaguered’
    why should [Venuti] say that all translation ought to hew to [his] methods
    That’s not ‘defense’, mab! – but rather an attempt to see Venuti (in this case) as something more complicated than four legs good; two legs bad.
    -
    I did defend “seeing [language usage as] intrinsically political”. (Emerson’s “polemic” is, characteristically, not accurate.) I still think it’s true – and doesn’t at all contradict “just want[ing] to read good books” without always dealing with programmatically intrusive translators – which ‘intrusion’ was what you’ve brought to the fore in attacking Venuti’s theoretical position.

  190. John C: I’ve pretty much shot my wad on that particular topic. It’s your call. In Hungary Romanian and Slovak would still be subject languages.
    Deadgod, my inaccurate polemic wasn’t directed at you. Insofar as I understand your position I probably disagree with it, but a lot has been said about politics and languages by Venuti and others, here and elsewhere, and I’m talking about part of that. I think that I’ve made my own position and the reasons for it clear, and I don’t see that anyone has given me a reason to change my mind.

  191. politicization of everything indiscriminately
    I didn’t “politicize” anything – I hypothesized, and defended, that ‘”politics” is ubiquitous in language use’, that is, “politics” is ‘there’ already.
    I was not “indiscriminate” – I insisted, again and again and again, that subjecting “innocuous” translations of words, like le chat to ‘the cat’, to “political” over-analysis would, probably, be more trouble than it’d be worth – though ‘the jay’ has been proven to be an exception to the ‘innocuous’-small-animal rule.
    -
    virulent dislike of internal academic politics
    [laugh]
    Em, you’ve demonstrated that you’re a diligent and even gleeful “politician” on this very thread.

  192. People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?

  193. marie-lucie says:

    mab: I may be doing an injustice to his [Venuti's] approach, but, it’s like this: translation is a lie (it’s not the original); translation uproots a work and puts it in a new context (the violence stuff); people want the lie of the translation (the political stuff about being uncomfortable being out of cultural comfort zone); THEREFORE translations should include foreignisms, anachrinisms, etc. — ie things added to the original from the target language culture — in order to shock and remind the reader that s/he is reading a translation, that it’s a lie, that violence has been done to the original, etc etc etc.
    Excellent summary.
    I wonder if Venuti would agree that this is the way films should be translated? If the people you see and hear on the screen (and sometimes identify with so much as to lose consciousness of yourself) should speak a mangled form of your own language in order for you, the viewer, to be reminded that “this is a film from country X, not from your own language and culture”? so that if the film is from China, for instance, the actors should be saying “long time no see”, etc? But films are never translated in that way: if we see people acting normally within their own culture, we expect them to speak naturally between themselves, just as we would (which means to speak in a way that does not separate us from them through language, therefore to speak as we would in the same circumstances), not to speak in their own home like foreigners in our own country, strangers to our own culture.

  194. deadgod, I’m plain old confused. Right now I don’t have the energy to go back and read these hundreds of posts from the beginning to figure out where we agree and where we don’t.
    Lest I come off too hard-headed or unfair to Venuti: His edition of translation texts is excellent. Super-puper (as we say, if you can believe it, in Russia). In fact – supersky. Nor do I object to many of his points about what goes on in the translation marketplace or even the process of translation. I do, however, object strongly to his terminology and to his THEREFORE suggestions. Ditto on my translator friend who insisted that “the text doesn’t exist.” He’s right. Only I’ve got a five-page document to translate right now, and, you know, even if “the text doesn’t exist,” the client does and she wants something on paper. Like tomorrow.
    BTW, there is very little translation theory that actually helps translators translate better. Isn’t that weird? And there is also very little about “what happens when you translate” that is helpful practically. Is that true of other theoretical works in other areas as well?

  195. I have no involvement in internal academic politics and never have. I’m not apolitical at all.
    I’ll bow out, but I’ll close by saying that if your posts were a tenth as long I’d appreciate them ten times more, and that it’s tedious to fight every argument to the bitter end. (I’m referring especially to the evolution-historical linguistics argument with Marie-Lucie, in which you seemed bent on getting her to confess that she was wrong). You make a lot of good points, but separating the wheat from the chaff can be tiresome. Most of us come here for fun; there’s really nothing serious at stake.

  196. here for fun
    Cool; me, too. If it’s “fun” wildly, determinedly, to misconstrue a mildly phrased position, I’m entertained to rephrase that position.
    Misconstruction like:
    seemed bent on
    Both inaccurately, if gallantly, one-sided, and hypocritical – indeed, a good place for bowing out all around.

  197. if we see people acting normally within their own culture, we expect them to speak naturally between themselves
    This is what we expect. But I do remember that in dubbed foreign movies in Japan there are certain quaint “conventions” that are different from ordinary speech. For instance:
    * Dubbed movies frequently use the archaic (or faux-archaic) imperative form -tamae. In Japanese movies these forms are only likely to be found in samurai flicks and their ilk.
    * Foreigners in dubbed Japanese have a habit of using the vocative. E.g. Chigau yo, John! “That’s not true, John!” This is completely unnatural in normal Japanese speech.
    Indeed, my feeling is that the Japanese turn many of our assumptions about translation on their head. Where we insist on a “dynamic equivalent” of the original, including the use of the natural idiom of the target language and not some kind “translationese”, Japanese are quite happy to use an unnatural or stilted or foreign form if they feel that would render the “flavour” of the original or the original setting. (Don’t ask me to give examples; it’s just an impression I got.)

  198. marie-lucie says:

    Venuti should get together with Japanese theorists, then.

  199. marie-lucie says:

    A small amount of “exoticism” is OK, especially if it does not interfere with the general flow of speech and with understanding, although it is indeed odd that translating American or British films entails expressions from samurai-type, historical movies.
    * Foreigners in dubbed Japanese have a habit of using the vocative. E.g. Chigau yo, John! “That’s not true, John!” This is completely unnatural in normal Japanese speech.
    In addition to the “exoticism”, “John” cannot be left out, because the actor’s lips are seen to be moving and there has to be some speech going on at the same time as those lip movements.
    When I was young, many of the movies available were “Franco-Italian coproductions”, especially with stories taking place in Ancient Rome or Greece. These movies were shot in Italy with Italian actors, and Italian words take a little longer to say than their French cognates because of the final vowels of Italian, which have been lost in French, so with each utterance the actors’ lips kept moving beyond the words we heard, giving us the impression that the sound track was just a little off.

  200. In the Japanese case, what is involved is a peculiar kind of style associated with the dubbing of foreign films. The -tamae form would sound ludicrous if used in everyday conversation but is felt to be entirely natural, perhaps even expected, in certain roles (always a male, authoritative figure) in dubbed movies.

  201. State and private universities are not normally regarded as being in the same league in Japan. Waseda vs Keiō
    yes, in Rugby it’s Waseda vs Keio or Meiji, but, far as I remember, Waseda and Todai are two top farms for top nomenklatura in Japan.

  202. Put it this way, they wouldn’t be regarded as “competing institutions” in a joke of that sort. Just the wrong combination.

  203. Waseda and Todai are two top farms for top nomenklatura in Japan
    Russians go there, rather than Russia? For that matter I don’t understand why Americans would go there, unless their parents were expats. And rugby! Japan has such British influence? I have heard Waseda has a relationship with Harvard; Waseda students have an option of spending a year there.

  204. THEREFORE translations should include foreignisms, anachrinisms, etc. — ie things added to the original from the target language culture — in order to shock and remind the reader that s/he is reading a translation,
    I think Mab has pretty much nailed it, but there are still some loose ends. Venuti’s “lexicon” isn’t in the target language, it’s from outdated slang in the target culture, but used in original ways that may or not be recognized as being from that era. It’s ironic that someone with that viewpoint of “cultural violence” is using the theory to translate someone who sees cultures and artists as resonating with each other (“the same moon rises over the whole world”), and in the cases indistinguishable.
    Maybe the most interesting part of Venuti’s translation is that he was able to frame the process in a way that was able to inspire more than 200 comments on this thread.

  205. Many Japanese feel it’s somehow unnatural for a white foreigner to speak perfect Japanese – so it’s not surprising to me that they would dub foreign films in a slightly stilted way. Do you know if Chinese and Korean films are dubbed into Japanese with the same stilted conventions?
    And of course in the 1960s/70s in the US kung-fu movies and Japanese monster movies and TV shows were also dubbed into English in oddly stilted ways. Now I wonder – was that just budget constraints or was it some unconscious thought that “Asians talking English” was weird at a time when one rarely met Asian-Americans with fluent English? Whether or not that was the intent of the people who dubbed those movies, I think my generation did develop some weird preconceptions that Asians couldn’t really speak English naturally from our exposure to Ultraman, Godzilla, Bruce Lee, etc.

  206. I know that Japanese have a special way for women to talk (someone I heard about became fluent through his girlfriend, but talked like a girl.)
    Perhaps they have a foreigner Japanese so that foreigners can communicate with Japanese without seeming to violate their foreigner status.
    I’m reminded of the terrible Haines in Ulysses, who was determined to learn Irish (which none of his Irish friends knew), but temperamentally was unendurably British.

  207. marie-lucie says:

    I could understand that a single foreign character in a Japanese movie would speak Japanese differently from the japanese (this is what generally happens in real life), but it seems to me that a movie set entirely in Japan with Japanese characters doing normal Japanese things should be translated in a fairly neutral English, French or other language spoken where the movie is to be shown. But a problem arises when the characters, or some of them, speak in a way that is marked – using rural accents and expressions or criminal slang, for instance, or even just having a different regional accent. These things are very difficult to translate, since they are not neutral for the audience, who will be aware that real Japanese do not speak that way because in the audience’s culture only certain types of people within the culture use the marked form of speech.
    I once saw an American movie (about some crooked cops in New York) dubbed into French. The cops spoke “Parisian French”, meaning not a standard or neutral variety but the “low-class” one I commented on not too long ago. This was OK for a movie shown in France, as many Parisian cops would indeed speak that way, but for showing in Canada this would have been quite inappropriate, since many people in the audience would be familiar with American slang and find it ludicrous to find NY cops speaking like Parisians. For this reason, I am told that American movies are actually dubbed in two French versions. (I think the same thing would have to happen for Portuguese versions in Portugal and Brazil, of for French or other European movies dubbed into English for the British and the American markets).

  208. I’ve read that Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese are so divergent that they’re treated as two different languages for teaching purposes. Each is a national language so neither can be subordinated.
    M-L, what do you call the elite way of speaking French. If heard it called Parisian, in the sense of not provincial, but what would it be called.
    I believe that a similar situation holds in China, where the elite dialect is derived from the Beijing dialect, but there’s also a low-class urban Beijing dialect for the common folk.
    The question of “elite dialect” in China is highly complex and I’d love to hear someone try to explain it. I believe that the debate approaches nynorsk / bokmal intensity, or more really because China is more ideologized.

  209. I’ve read that Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese are so divergent that they’re treated as two different languages for teaching purposes. Each is a national language so neither can be subordinated.
    This is generally true for Spanish as well – a lot of learning materials distinguish between “Latin American Spanish” and “European” (but which Latin American? That’s where it gets confusing – apparently Mexican from what I can tell, never Argentinian).

  210. In Douglas Hofstadter’s discussion in his book Le Ton Beau de Marot (in English, despite the title and its pun) of the translation into Chinese of his earlier book Gödel, Escher, Bach, there is a discussion of this point: the Chinese translators had literally translated “To speak of the devil is to make him appear”, despite this not being idiomatic Chinese. When Hofstadter suggested that this be replaced with the corresponding Chinese idiom 說曹操,曹操到 ‘speak of Cáo Cāo and Cáo Cāo arrives’, the translators found the idea of the narrator/Hofstadter (an American) using a Chinese idiom very outlandish — but eventually they adopted the “dynamic translation” style completely.
    As a result, the subtitle of the Chinese version is not a translation of “An Eternal Golden Braid”, Hofstadter’s original subtitle, but rather Jí Yì Bì (集异璧) ‘collection of exotic jade’, reflecting the common abbreviation GEB for the original work.

  211. Japanese have a special way for women to talk
    The Lady Murisaki’s Tale of Genji was said to have gone unrecognized for a long time since it was written in women’s language and therefore low status. I don’t know of any other women’s languages, but some Jordanian women like to pronounce some words differently, softer. My tutor’s sister said something like mai or mah instead of maya مائي for water.

  212. apparently Mexican from what I can tell
    We were taught a sort of generic Spanish. I always thought it was closer to Mexican than to anything else, but my students tell me it’s not Mexican. There are some words that change from country to country, like words for trucks and cars, and we were taught words that could be understood anywhere. For instance we were taught “almuerzo” for lunch, although the Mexicans here say “lonch”. I get occasional students from El Salvador, Costa Rica, and others, one even from Spain, and they all seem to understand me about the same. I’m not sure what the difference from castillian Spanish is, the only one I know about is in Spain they pronounce z as th, but Chileans do that too.

  213. French or other European movies dubbed into English for the British and the American markets
    Do they exist any more? I haven’t seen a movie dubbed into English for… well, decades probably.

  214. Do they exist any more?
    Well, other than anime you mean? Das Boot was ,what, 30 years ago now? I think the Russian horror/fantasy film “Night watch” (Ночной дозор)from 2004 was dubbed in English for US theatrical release, but I’ve only seen the Russian version.

  215. The Lady Murisaki’s Tale of Genji was said to have gone unrecognized for a long time since it was written in women’s language and therefore low status.
    No, this is not the case. It was not written in “women’s language” but in court Japanese of the Heian period, a very complex literary language. You may be thinking of the fact that it was written in kana rather than the kanji used by men trying to show off their Chinese chops. It was certainly not unrecognized; there were so many manuscripts around that (according to the Wikipedia article you link to): “In the 13th century, two major attempts by Minamoto no Chikayuki and Fujiwara Teika were made to edit and revise the differing manuscripts.” There were also commentaries from early on. It has always been regarded as a great work of literature.

  216. But a problem arises when the characters, or some of them, speak in a way that is marked – using rural accents and expressions or criminal slang, for instance, or even just having a different regional accent.
    Since I no longer live in Japan I don’t have access to any examples, but in anime and related genres, at least, there are stereotyped accents to choose from — arrogant males, evil males, supercilious females, cute females, country bumpkins, etc. In translating Harry Potter, the Japanese translator uses different speaking styles for Dumbledore, Voldemort, etc., from the repertoire available. I have no idea how the movies would be dubbed, though, or whether they were even dubbed. (If I remember rightly, theatre releases are not usually dubbed, but when they appear on television they are. Since Harry Potter is a “children’s movie”, however, it was quite likely dubbed for the theatre release. Perhaps Matt or someone living in Japan have better information and could comment more cogently than I can).

  217. American movies have one kind of stereotyped template for tough gangsters, and a different, contrasting template for effeminate crime lords like Dr. Evil or some of the James bond villains.

  218. I must have seen it in German, I’m sure it wasn’t dubbed.

  219. Tale of Genji
    Maybe that’s what I remember. It would have been in the notes for World Library edition of the Waley translation.

  220. > buy ambien
    That was a stunning and culturally sensitive translation of the Finnish epic, The Kalevala.

  221. marie-lucie says:

    Portuguese and Spanish: I think I have heard or read that the differences between the Portuguese varieties spoken in Portugal and Brazil are much greater than between the European and Latin American varieties of Spanish. It seems that written Spanish is very similar in all the countries, but that there are different written as well as spoken standard varieties in Portuguese. For Spanish I think that the differences are more in everyday vocabulary, especially slang, in addition for vocabulary for local plants, foods, etc which is understandably different. .

  222. marie-lucie says:

    JE: M-L, what do you call the elite way of speaking French. If heard it called Parisian, in the sense of not provincial, but what would it be called.
    People from the provinces, especially in the South, might not be aware of the varieties of speech in the North and within Paris, and call anyone without a Southern accent (deriving from the Occitan substrate) “Parisien”.
    I may be behind the times, because I don’t live there, but when I was young there was an upper-class accent which was also mocked, “l’accent du seizième”, the 16th arrondissement (district) in the Western part of Paris being considered the poshest (but the inhabitants were often dismissed as money-hungry social climbers). It is interesting that this area and the one speaking low-class “Parisian” (in the Northeastern part) were both on the Right Bank, the business area. People living on the Left Bank, regardless of class, considered themselves more intellectual and sophisticated than those of the Right Bank, and of course preferred their own way of speaking. But there have been many changes in the language, especially in Parisian speech, within my lifetime – my own speech must now be very old-fashioned.

  223. M-l, is the left-bank accent that you mention really classless? That’s a big contrast with London, I’d say.

  224. One thing that I do know about the official Chinese dialect of today is that it’s not the elite Beijing dialect that was favored until 1912. But how the new standard (putonghua) was set, what it is, and the degree to which it was accepted, I don’t know.

  225. AJP Cow nr 6
    Does nr 6 stand for number6? We would abbreviate this no. 6. Also, to fall asleep we count sheep.

  226. Isn’t putonghua basically the middle class dialect of Beijing? I prefer the “guoyu” of Taiwan personally – but I have no idea to what extent that was the pre-1949 standard, or who’s standard it was. And “Guoyu” is also different from the pre 1912 elite standard.

  227. I thought you abbreviated it to #6. If not, that symbol is a waste of space on my keyboard. I’ve only left it there in case an American needed to use it in an emergency.

  228. I thought you abbreviated it to #6. If not, that symbol is a waste of space on my keyboard. I’ve only left it there in case an American needed to use it in an emergency.

  229. And we don’t use lbs, we use kilos.

  230. We still need the pound sign for pounds, as in 6# of beef. You could probably use it for tic tac toe as well if you played with the font a little.

  231. We still need the pound sign for pounds, as in 6# of beef.
    I have never in my life seen this.

  232. I have, I think engineers use it: ft# for foot-pounds. Nij, what would you ever need 6# of beef for? To drop on somebody?

  233. You could probably use it for tic tac toe
    AJP, I think Nijma was referring to noughts and crosses.

  234. I have never in my life seen this.
    Since Hat always describes pronunciation of words the same way I pronounce them, and since I don’t “hear any accent” in his voice (there is a recording out there somewhere), also I think he mentioned the location of the Hattson home base being some 400 miles from my corner of Wobegon, it always throws me for a loop when his experience of some facet of English is different from mine.
    Exhibit A: the Nijmason traditional recipe for baked sweet potato and apple eaten at Christmas and Thanksgiving, written out for me by a home ec major c. 1980. Also, [wiki for pound sign]
    what would you ever need 6# of beef for?
    You’re the one with the nr 6 cow, teh Nijmasons only cook 1# of ground beef at a time.

  235. In the US the telephone key # is called “pound”, but who ever uses it for pounds? I mean, other than a home ec major.
    That WiPe article is a mess. My favorite sentence, after a hasty perusal, was the following, related to the similarity between # and a musical symbol:
    Since most fonts do not contain the sharp sign, many works use the number sign as an acceptably erroneous orthographic error.
    The article says that the symbol evolved from a handwritten version of the abbreviation “lb”.
    I wonder if # for number evolved independently.

  236. In Australia, # is the “hash key”.

  237. And why do we call it (#) “hash” now? I don’t see an etymology on that extremely long, dull Wikipedia page. My guess is it’s just a short form of “crosshatch” which is mentioned once.
    Funny, Mr Hat, I certainly learnt it in school and I remember grocery store print ads & also price cards stuck into cuts of meat, &c. using # to mean “per pound”. But that’ll have been a long time ago. That would have been in Seattle, if we want to get regional.
    I wonder where and how I learnt to call it hash? Not being in an “other English-speaking country”.

  238. And we don’t use lbs, we use kilos.
    France is the birthplace of the metric system, but I often amuse myself by asking butchers for a pound (livre) of mince – they always oblige. The pound lives.

  239. D. Gown: AJP, I think Nijma was referring to noughts and crosses.
    This may have been discussed already, elsewhere, but The Hindu has an explanation of the difference between nought and naught. Only nought means “zero”, but both nought and naught mean “nothing”. Did you get that, Ø?

  240. Huh, you learn something every day. I wonder how I managed to miss the # = lb. thing?

  241. Then there’s “aught”.
    Primarily it means “anything”, but –
    according to AHD, it can also mean “cipher; zero” and (archaically) “nothing”, and
    according to Century Dictionary it is also “an obsolete or dialectical form of “eight”.

  242. ‘eight’ “.

  243. “The pound lives.”
    The pound is well established in the metric system, it is equal to 500 grams or half a kilogram. It is not used in official texts, but in Germany for instance, lots of people still ask for “ein halbes Pfund Butter”.

  244. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: France is the birthplace of the metric system, but I often amuse myself by asking butchers for a pound (livre) of mince – they always oblige.
    You may be amused, but the butchers or other food sellers don’t see anything strange about your request: as bruessel indicates for Germans, the old word une livre is the usual word for half a kilo, the closest metrical equivalent (as well as for referring to the British “pound” currency). The butchers in question would be more surprised if you asked for un demi-kilo.

  245. I see, so it’s like 1500 m = metric mile?
    and pfund must be the origin for Russian фунт (funt)?

  246. Well, technically the origin is Middle High German phunt (the Russian word goes back to the 14th century), but in essence, yes.

  247. The butchers in question would be more surprised if you asked for un demi-kilo.
    I didn’t know that. I wonder if it’s true in Norway? I’ll try it.

  248. phunt
    and I’ve long tried to establish what the English (American?) word is for the pre-supermarket paper cone packaging for weighed dry goods/sweets/berries/roast sunflower seed we called “фунтик” (funtik) in Russian? If my memory doesn’t fail, me we used to buy roasted chestnuts in NY’s Central Park in paper cones too.

  249. the old word une livre is the usual word for half a kilo, the closest metrical equivalent
    Just as the word “ton” or “tonne” has gone metric, denoting 1000kg.
    And “hundredweight”, which used to (usually) mean 112 pounds, along with various other words that used to mean something like one hundred of some kind of pound, has now come to mean 50kg. However, one of these words means 100kg in Austria vs 50kg in Germany. Or maybe the other way around.

  250. Yep. A Zentner is 50kg in Germany, but 100kg in Austria and Switzerland. In Germany, 100kg are a Doppelzentner. I’ve only ever seen those units used for crop yields, which are still customarily given in (Doppel-)Zentner pro Hektar.

  251. the English (American?) word is for the pre-supermarket paper cone
    I won’t swear that the manufacturers don’t have a special name, but I’m thinking we really do just say “paper cone”.

  252. That’s what I’ve always said.

  253. So what is this, some human need to give national names to international weights & measures?

  254. So what is this, some human need to give national names to international weights & measures?

  255. marie-lucie says:

    In France the 50 kg measure is called le quintal, which was just a little short of 50kg originally.
    See Wikipedia:
    The quintal or centner, from Latin centenarius (“hundredlike”), is a historical unit of mass in many countries which is usually defined as 100 base units of either pounds or kilograms. If based on the pound, it is equivalent to the Imperial hundredweight.
    (A later paragraph deals with the various equivalents in different countries).

  256. Trond Engen says:

    I wonder if it’s true in Norway? I’ll try it.
    It wouldn’t work with the usual bunch of shop assistants, but maybe in some specialist shops. I remember my grandmother buying something in pund, or rather et halvt pund of something, in one of those small cornershops that still existed in Oslo in the early seventies, and explaining to me that a pund was half a kilo. It must have been coffee.
    Some other metrified units:
    mil: 10 km (the old mil was some 11 km)
    tomme: 25 mm (used for nails, timber and timber walls)
    favn: 2,4 m³ (for firewood – the old fathom of firewood was 6′x6′x2′, 1 square fathom of piled alneved “ell-wood”)

  257. marie-lucie says:

    TE: tomme: 25 mm: does or did “tomme” mean ‘thumb’? This is the length of an inch, in French un pouce meaning literally ‘a thumb’ (similarly in Spanish una pulgada, where the root pulg- is from the Latin word meaning ‘thumb’).
    “fathom” for firewood? usually a “fathom” is a measure of depth of water (the distance from hand to hand when the arms are spread outward – for measuring a rope holding an anchor at the bottom of the water). I have never heard of woodpiles being measured in this way, but perhaps it is a Scandinavian custom?

  258. English Wikipedia has Norwegian units of measurement.

  259. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, MMcM, I see that the Norwegian tomme is indeed “thumb”, and the fathom is actually used for firewood. There is also the alen, glossed as “forearm”, which might better be translated as “cubit’ although “cubit” seems to have varied quite a lot in ancient times).
    Under cubit in Wiki there is an interesting picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s man within a circle, overprinted with the measures (feet, etc) derived from body measurements. The caption below cites the “ell” and some equivalents. Among those, “French ell” is an error: the word should be “aune” (a fem. word).

  260. explaining to me that a pund was half a kilo
    …except that a pound is 2.2 kilos. No wonder they were willing to sell one kilo as a half pound.

  261. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma, the pund, livre, libra, etc in metric-using countries is half a kilo. The pound as defined in non-metric English-speaking countries (meaning pretty much the US) is less than half a kilo. The kilo is 2.2 of those pounds.

  262. Ah yes, it’s all coming back to me. When I arrived in Jordan I weighed 100 kg, when I returned I weighed 69 kilos. Still, you can’t deal in pure halves, there are fractions involved. The half kilo would be like a baker’s dozen.

  263. And in China, the catty or 斤 jìn (市斤 shì-jìn where the traditional unit needs to be specified) is also half a kilo (斤 jìn, or 公斤 gōng-jìn where the metric unit needs to be specified).
    My weight in kilos is about 70 kilos (公斤) but most Chinese people would express it as 140 斤 jìn.

  264. Thanks for that Wikipedia page, MMcM.

  265. “Still, you can’t deal in pure halves, there are fractions involved. The half kilo would be like a baker’s dozen.”
    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your reasoning here. 1 kilo = 1000 grams, 1/2 kilo = 500 grams = 1 pound in metric-using countries.

  266. Maybe Nijma doesn’t think that pure halves are fractions.
    In any case it is clear that she is quite attached to the units of her childhood.
    Nij, let’s start a new American metric system, in which a pound is what it’s supposed to be and the gram is scaled down to be 1/500 of a pound.

  267. marie-lucie says:

    A half-kilo is indeed more than 110 % of an Anglo-American pound. But Europeans are not thinking in terms of those foreign or archaic pounds, only in “metric pounds”, so there is no problem with difficult fractions within the metric system.

  268. 1 kg = 2.2lbs, .5 kg = 1.1 lbs
    The half kilo seems to be the more useful weight. In the suq, نص كيلو nos kilu.

  269. foreign or archaic pounds
    In the London dojo, for sparring they talk about how many stone they weigh. 1 stone = 12 American foreign archaic pounds, yes?
    The butcher at my local supermarket just weighed out .915 [childhood] lbs. of talapia for me on their [foreign archaic] scale.

  270. 1 stone = 12 American foreign archaic pounds, yes?
    No, 14.
    Your butcher/fishmonger is irritatingly half-modern: neither fish nor fowl nor whatever. That .915 lb should have been 14.6 oz.
    I just learned that the Dutch metric ounce is 100g while the Chinese metric oz is 50g. The Dutch are way off. The archaic Nijma ounce is only about 28g.

  271. And if I may be so bold, that’s tilapia.

  272. has anyone heard of the ghâk measure?
    the old Russian joke goes like this:
    a traveller asks the passing peasant,
    - How far to the village?
    - About seven vyorsts and a ghak.
    - Oh, good, how big is the ghak?
    - It’s about the same.
    (ghak=little bit)
    And also, to add to the measure debate, while pints (roughly 1/2 litre) are still used for beer in England, the bucket (vedro, roughly 12 rpt 12 litres) has returned to measure vodka in Russia.

  273. I mentioned in a post the other day that American structural engineers have developed their own subversively-metric unit, called the kip. One kip is 1000 lbs. So you can end up with a force of 0.731k being the answer to an equation and it actually means something, namely 731 lbs.
    (Then if you wish, you simply divide by 14 and get it in stones, or by 112 and get it in cwt.)

  274. Trond Engen says:

    seven vyorsts and a ghak
    I’ve seen this as verst in Norwegian translations. In Doktor Zhivago, or Anna Karenina, or maybe both, it came with a footnote explaining that it’s 1067 m. I’ve always imagined that it’s still being used colloquially for km.

  275. marie-lucie says:

    In French translations too, the Russian landscape is measured in verstes. It is not used just in French translations from Russian: Jules Verne’s novel Michel Strogoff, which is written in French but takes place in Russia and Siberia (the hero is a courier who travels from Moscow to Irkoutsk), also uses verstes. I had no idea that the word should be pronounced “vyorst”.

  276. The “metric pound” is an informal weight. The avoirdupois pound, the one used in the U.S., is defined internationally and its relationship with the kilogram is also internationally recognized. In case everyone hasn’t figured it out, Ø is joking; this same pound is used by deli and butcher counters in Boston too.

  277. Nijma, everybody knows that you are joking when you say that I am joking. I would never joke about weights and measures.
    I was tempted to surreptitiously alter some WiPe articles to bolster my case, but I don’t think I need to.
    I imagine that this why you call the metric pound an “informal weight”:
    In many countries upon the introduction of a metric system, the pound (or its translation) became an informal term for 500 grams (half a kilogram, similar to the metric pint, being half a litre), often following an official redefinition of an existing unit during the 19th century.

  278. Remember Carlyle, putting English in Robespierre‘s mouth, with an idiom to the foot of the letter.

  279. empty: often following an official redefinition of an existing unit during the 19th century
    This is somewhat cryptic, but seems to refer to the process of converting from various nonstandard local European measures to the metric system. If you read the descriptions for various countries, in several places the pound was briefly defined officially as half a kilogram, probably to the dismay of metric system proponents. For instance, France:

    The livre usuelle was defined as 500 grams, by the decree of 28 March 1812. It was abolished as a unit of mass effective 1 January 1840 by a decree of 4 July 1837,[13] but is still used informally.

    but anyone who is really that interested doesn’t need to have whole sections of wiki pasted here; they can read it for themselves.
    And this “metric pound’ has never, ever, ever been used in the U.S.
    BTW, I was in the Boston area last summer and bought groceries. The pound system used there is the same as here, the international avoirdupois pound of 0.45359237 kilogram used by the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations, and not “half a kilo”.

  280. The thing about the way Japanese translate foreigner-speech is that it’s kind of accurate in a way: they’re used to literal renderings of Western languages (in translations of novels, in newspaper articles, etc.) which use locutions that are simply alien to Japanese speech patterns. In other words, not only are the languages different, but the things you say are different.
    Direct questions are just one example. These are fairly rude in Japanese, and are often rephrased as “I wonder if…” もう終わったかな – mou owatta ka na – ‘I wonder if you’re done…’ = ‘Are you done?’
    But the Japanese are aware that that’s the way Japanese people say it, and that in Western languages direct questions aren’t necessarily rude. So the translator is in a bind. If you translate the question so that it’s natural as Japanese, the viewer is going to know that there’s something wrong, that it’s too Japanese, because they know that Westerners don’t go to the same circumlocutive lengths the Japanese do. In other words, they’re aware that their culture is riddled with social rules that are in general much more attenuated in Western societies.
    And this is why you get the -tamae forms, although it merits pointing out that those forms aren’t totally absent from modern Japanese speech. Bosses sometimes use it with underlings. It’s not totally unheard of. The same way -kun is used for women in official/work environments.
    The other thing is that the gap between the written and spoken language in Japan isn’t huge just because the written language from around 1300 remained in use as the literary norm until the late 19th century, but because the Japanese tend to idealize communication in general, so they put words and phrases into the mouths of characters in books and movies that would sound unnatural in real life. This is one reason Kurosawa is so popular in the west but not so much in Japan – he used very realistic dialogue in his movies, which strikes most Japanese as not movie-like enough. This also accounts for the ludicrous things you hear in the soap operas. Although, to be honest, once you get used to it, it’s just another aspect of the Japanese language.

  281. -kun is used for women in official/work environments
    also used among classmates and Members of Parliament – boys club.
    On the other end, shop assistants address clients with exalted -sama, not -san, and use -gozaimasu forms, sometimes accentuating the ‘u’ at the end, a figure of special politeness.

  282. I had no idea that the word should be pronounced “vyorst”.
    It’s a bit difficult here, because of the e/ё variation. In singular it is верста (verstA) with e, in plural it is вЁрсты (vyorsty). Except that with cardinals, when Genitive has to be used, from 1 to 4 it goes to ‘e’ and then from 5 to 20 it changes to ё again: пять вёрст (pyat’ vyorst). Then again (and with each new decimal) it is ‘e’ from 1 to 4 and ё from 5 to X0 – 24 versty, but 25 vyorst. There are more variations in declensions. And with ordinals it is always versta (in this case it stays in Nominative). And then, how do you deal with the -a feminine ending? In plural Genitive it goes to -y from 2 to 4 (verstY) and disappears from 5 to 20 (vyorst)
    So, using ‘verst’ is perhaps translator’s best choice as it renders the word’s semantic root.
    A 1791 English map of the Russian Empire spells it Wersts.

  283. Nijma, it’s a lot like the Olympics isn’t it? All about local pride, yet at the same time all about international cooperation?
    I have never denied that Boston still uses the same fine old pound that you use in Chicago. I wouldn’t change a digit of that 0.45359237 kg.
    McM, thanks for that link. It confirms my faith in the City of Boston. Even more than the vague references to the Bible and the founding fathers, I enjoyed the suggestion that it is to the credit of the city’s Inspectional Services Department that the public has forgotten what caveat emptor means. I’m sure they had better uses for its money than to run a thing like this by the Editory Services Department, though they could have at least checked it for spelling.

  284. By the way, of all the quaint old pounds that I’ve heard of, only one is bigger than the metric pound. That’s the Scottish Trone pound, which weighed in at a whopping somewhere between 600 and 800 grams! Makes me proud to be about .25000000 Scottish.

  285. BTW, I was in the Boston area last summer and bought groceries. The pound system used there is the same as here, the international avoirdupois pound of 0.45359237 kilogram used by the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations, and not “half a kilo”.
    I can never tell whether you’re serious or not. In case you missed it, nobody has said or suggested that the “half a kilo” sense is used in the U.S.

  286. I can still go into the market in Terrassa (where I lived for at least a decade and know at least half the stallholders [and they know my daughter] – insert Monty Python skit about “oh isn’t {s/}he the clever one…&c.”]) and order “una llura” – gosh, I’m not sure I’ve ever written it before and it looks funny – and expect 420 grams of whatever I want. And it works.
    I’m not sure how this relates to everybody else’s experience. But there are still Catalan recipes that demand “una llura” of fish, or meat, or… I’ve scarcely tried this in local Lleida markets since we’ve moved. My accent is wrong? Not suitable to being accepted for archaic shopping terms?

  287. marie-lucie says:

    The Catalan word is lliura.

  288. Oh, thank you (face/palm, blush) – I did type that and then I couldn’t defend it. How stupid I feel.
    Merci.

  289. nobody has said or suggested that the “half a kilo” sense is used in the U.S.
    But the system of weights that we Americans currently use here every day has been referred to upthread as
    “those foreign or archaic pounds” (okay, various types of pounds are archaic in Europe, but not here)
    “the units of her childhood” (no, the pound is in use here currently)
    “The archaic Nijma ounce is only about 28g” (the contemporary ounce is 28.3495231 grams)
    “I imagine that this why you call the metric pound an ‘informal weight’” (implying that it is not actually an informal weight but that I’m just calling it that capriciously)
    No one who lives in the U.S and has studied the metric system since elementary school is going to believe that anything but the avoirdupois pound is used here. On the other hand, someone who lives in Europe and knows the pound only as the half kilo you can ask for informally in the market might misunderstand completely.
    I can never tell whether you’re serious or not.
    I may have been joking when I compared clicking the Amazon link in the sidebar to buying an alcoholic a drink. Or not. (Hmm, I wonder if you can click your own link and have your own purchases count.)

  290. Nijma,
    1. For what it’s worth, I seriously maintain that if you walk into a grocery in a metric (but non-Commonwealth) country and ask for a pound of nuts and they give you 500 kg it will be because that’s how the word “pound” is uniformly used in that country these days — maybe not legally, but uniformly. The extra 46.3 grams won’t be a special gift to you, or the equivalent of a thirteenth doughnut.
    2. You and I have every right to be emotionally attached to the units of our childhood and their names, and we can be glad that they are still in use.
    3. I might have been joking when I said that I wasn’t joking when I said that I wasn’t joking, or whatever it was.

  291. ask for a pound of nuts and they give you 500 kg
    That’s half a tonne. I’m not sure 46.3 grams would make much of a difference, but who knows?
    In a Commonwealth but metric country, “pounds” (livres) are still very commonly used, but for official reasons the “semi-kilo” is often used as well.

  292. marie-lucie says:

    Catanea, don’t worry. That sort of error is quite frequent with a word that one does not have much occasion to write, or even to read in its whole form.

  293. The extra 46.3 grams
    Um, wouldn’t that be 46.4 gm? To be precise, 46.407665868094305?
    As far as being “emotionally attached to the units of our childhood” — speak for yourself, Kimosabe. Which would you rather weigh, a hundred kilos or whatever that is in English?

  294. Yeah, I knew it was a little less than forty-six and a half. I was doing it in my head.
    Which would you rather weigh, a hundred kilos or whatever that is in English? I’m fine either weigh, I think — if I understand the question, which I’m not sure I do. This is intransitive “weigh”, I’m guessing? I’m sure I don’t understand the point of the question.

  295. .25000000 Scottish
    Is that in kilos or in lbs?

  296. marie-lucie says:

    Someone concerned about their weight would probably prefer to be weighed in kilos rather than pounds, as the number would be much less and thereby give an illusion of lesser weight. Unless, of course, they thought themselves too thin. 100 kilos is 220 pounds.

  297. (On second thought, Scots is the preferred word, isn’t it?)
    It’s a dimensionless quantity. But I could reckon my weight in tron stone. Century Dictionary via Wordnik has:
    Tron weight a standard of weight formerly in use in Scotland, for weighing wool, cheese, butter, and other home productions. The tron pound ranged, in different counties, from 21 to 28 ounces avoirdupois. The later tron stone contained 16 tron pounds of 1.3747 pounds avoirdupois each.
    That’s very nearly 10 kg.

  298. I much prefer all weights in kilos.
    The later tron stone contained 16 tron pounds
    I bet that’s a mistake that comes from nobody using stones any longer. I bet there are only 14 trøndisk pounds in a tron stone. In avoirdupois, there are 16oz in a lb, but 14lbs in a stone.
    Scots is the preferred word, isn’t it?
    As far as I know Scots & Scottish are equally acceptable. Some very silly Englishmen (yes) write “Scotch”, as if they don’t know the difference; but of course we all know, nudge, nudge, this is a sly reference to Dr Johnson, who used to make Scottish jokes at Boswell’s expense. The most recent example I’ve found of using “Scotch” like this is Hugh Trevor-Roper’s otherwise quite interesting essay in The Invention Of Tradition (E.Hobsbawm, Ed.), where he does it throughout, thereby making nobody look quite so stupid as he does himself.

  299. This WiPe article states, with the authority of the OED behind it, that the number of pounds in a stone has varied greatly according to place, time, and commodity, at least from 7 to 24.

  300. In a weird and inconclusive article obviously written by young people they invoke the OED & the 1772 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to imply that there’s always been a hazy relation between lbs and stone; whereas anyone of my generation who grew up in Britain will tell you that there are 14 lbs in a stone as sure as there are 16oz in a pound.

  301. J. W. Brewer says:

    I’ve always assumed without proof that the phrase “98 lb. weakling” used that rather peculiar number because it was equivalent to the Britishism “seven stone weakling.” Wikipedia advises that Charles Atlas actually used the prime “97 lb. weakling” in advertising, although the 98 lb. variant is certainly in wide circulation and is alluded to in, e.g., the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  302. AJP, when a WiPe article is weird and inconclusive it is not necessarily the fault of the writers. I fear, or rather (strange to say) I hope, that the topic before us is inherently weird and inconclusive.

  303. I used stone colloquially growing up, but we were never taught imperial weights in school, so for a long time my strategy for remembering how many pounds in a stone was being aware that it was either 14 or 16, and hoping there would an estadounidense around whom I could ask how many ounces were in a pound, so eliminating one of them. I can remember which is which now, but only because both sixteen and ounce have /s/.
    I will give my mass (I have a physicist friend who, correctly enough, gets annoyed that the world uses ‘weight’ in this meaning all the time) in kilos and my height in centimetres these days, but I still need to convert on a regular basis, because patients feel under no obligation to drag the country forward into the 19th century in this.

  304. I still talk about weight. I’m not going into outer space on a regular basis these days and it seems somehow unnecessary to make the weight-mass distinction. The people writing the stones article were in a tizz about what the correct SI equivalent would be, not realising that nobody in their right mind would ever have used stones in a physics department; stones were for things like potatoes, British & Commonwealth physicists used grams even in the 1920s & ’30s when I was a lad.
    It’s not necessarily the writers, but in this case I assure you that it is their fault. Read their neurotic discussion if you’re in doubt (and interested).
    Dr Keyhole, you’re right not to ask patients about their mass, it makes them sound very massive or that you’re inquiring into their churchgoing habits.

  305. Trond Engen says:

    Doctors should ask about the mass so that they can say it when the patients are dying.

  306. Trond Engen says:

    Or they could perform it. It’s a dramatic situation.

  307. marie-lucie says:

    I wrote earlier about the Canadian school reader which rewrote “She weighed 200 pounds” as “She had a mass of 96 kilogrammes” (that was the description of the heroine of a true story, not a part of a math or science problem).
    Human measurements: in France, a person’s height is measured in meters, so a person measures, for instance, 1m,75, not 175 cm. A centimetre is much too small a unit to be suitable for the height of a person above the age of two or three. It seems even more ridiculous to me to see a waist or chest measured in millimetres! The unit is too small to suit even the measurements of a baby. It is as if one measured a body using the eighth of an inch as the unit, instead of the inch.

  308. Architects in Europe typically dimension drawings in millimetres. So I would write that height as 1750mm even though for many purposes it is, as you say, absurdly overprecise.

  309. Architects in Europe typically dimension drawings in millimetres. So I would write that height as 1750mm even though for many purposes it is, as you say, absurdly overprecise.

  310. In Italy, though, the unofficial libra is only 300g, presumably reflecting the troy pound (< Troyes). Officially the troy pound is 373.24172g, and is divided into 12 (not 16) troy ounces, which are still used by jewelers to weigh gold and silver, of 31.103477g (compared to a mere 28.349523g in a standard avoirdupois ounce). So a variant of the old chestnut, “Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” is correctly answered “A pound of feathers”.
    Pounds and inches and their relatives are the same throughout Anglophonia, but Imperial gallons are 20 fluid ounces rather than 16 as U.S. ones are. To make matters worse, the fluid ounce in question is slightly larger in the U.S., being 29.57353 ml rather than 28.413062 ml. Similarly, the hundredweight in the U.S. remains 100 pounds rather than having been rounded up to 112 pounds to make it exactly 8 stone, stone not being used in the U.S.
    (All these numbers are approximate, and are due to the excellent program “units”, though Google will do well enough too.)
    Scots as an adjective is now obsolete except in fixed combinations such as Scots law and pound Scots (an old currency unit equal to 1/- or 5p sterling). As a noun it means the Scots language, a Germanic language spoken in Scotland by 30-40% of the population, or else is the plural of Scot, the personal noun. Scotch applies only to a few foodstuffs such as whiskey and eggs and to the Scotch mist, an intense localized rainstorm. Scottish is the only regularly used adjective. But none of this was true in Dr. Johnson’s day: Boswell, a Boswell of Auchinleck (/ˈæflɛk/) and most certainly a Scot of the Scots, freely used Scotch and Scotchman when people today would say Scottish and Scot.

  311. Imperial gallons are 20 fluid ounces rather than 16 as U.S. ones are.
    Pints, rather. Eight pints to the gallon — in both cases, as luck would have it.
    AJP, yes, the children who wrote that article were sadly lacking in common sense. But I think they were right about the profusion of different stones.
    I’m not going into outer space on a regular basis these days
    But you must have spent many earth-years doing so in the past. This sounds like serious twin-paradox stuff:
    in the 1920s & ’30s when I was a lad.

  312. That (“stone”) is an extremely poorly written and poorly documented wiki, and now I’m sorry I read the discussion.
    I can vouch for AJP’s British usage of “stone” for people talking about their body weight.
    I will give my mass (I have a physicist friend who, correctly enough, gets annoyed that the world uses ‘weight’ in this meaning all the time) in kilos
    The pound is a unit of weight, not of mass. Grams are a unit of mass. Of course the pounds are legally tied to the kilograms, so I’m not sure where that leaves us. I believe the kilogram is a unit of weight as well, but maybe someone who studied chemistry in the U.K. can clarify that.

  313. Hey, I’ve got it! Maybe the ton and the gram and the kilogram are units of weight while the tonne and the gramme and the kilogramme are units of mass.
    (That’s a joke.)

  314. A centimetre is much too small a unit to be suitable for the height of a person above the age of two or three.
    m-l: My height in cm is roughly the same as my weight/mass in pounds. Does the pound also strike you as being not a suitable unit for measuring adult humans?

  315. Actually, I believe the pound is a unit of mass these days; that’s how it manages to be defined as .45359237 kilograms. There’s also a pound that’s a unit of force, defined as 4.44822162 newtons. You can qualify which one is meant when there’s a chance of confusion and it makes a difference, which is approximately never.

  316. marie-lucie says:

    m-l: My height in cm is roughly the same as my weight/mass in pounds. Does the pound also strike you as being not a suitable unit for measuring adult humans?
    The pound, no, because I am used to it (and it is not that far from a kilo). But measuring a person’s weight in ounces or divisions of an ounce would be a bit much. If you weigh 175 lbs, that would be 2800 oz. A 7-pound newborn would weigh 112 oz.
    (The pound must have seemed too small at one time, since the old way of weighing a human was in stones not pounds. That would have been before people became obsessed with their weight, when they were not concerned with such precision about themselves).

  317. Useful rules of thumb for Americans:
    Meters to yards, add 10%.
    Liters to U.S. quarts, add 10%.
    Kilos to pounds, double them and add 10%.
    Kilometers to miles, divide by eight and multiply by five (if you’re good at mental arithmetic).
    Celsius to Fahrenheit temperature changes, subtract 10% and double them. Allowing for the different zero points is too hard to do mentally (at least for me).
    Thanks for the correction, Empty. Pints it is, and yes, all the volumetric units above the pint have the same proportions in U.S. and Imperial measure, so a quart is 2 pints, a gallon 8. Similarly, a ton is always 20 hundredweight, whether a hundredweight is 100 lb or 112 lb (as explained above), but there are special terms: 2000 lb is a short ton, 2240 lb is a long ton, neatly bracketing the metric ton at 2200 lb. The latter is sometimes (foolishly) called a tonne, which of course is pronounced the same as ton. In any case, it’s a whole lot.

  318. I hate to do this when discussion is still going on, but I’m going to close this thread, at least temporarily; I don’t know why the spammers have focused on it, but I’m getting tired of clearing out dozens of spam comments each time I visit. I’ll try to remember to reopen it in a couple of days in the hope they will have wandered off elsewhere, but if anyone has a comment they have to get off their chests, drop me a line and I’ll reopen it.

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