TRANSLATING CAPEK.

Andrew Malcovsky has started Fables and Understories, in which he’s translating Karel Čapek’s Bajky a podpovídky (1946), “a posthumous collection of the author’s short pieces.” He says:

Please feel free to get in touch with me—mercilessly (if politely!) targeting my weaknesses can only, in fact, make me stronger. I may have tossed some stuff up here without a third or fourth pass, and the more eyes the merrier!

So if you know Czech, help him out; if you don’t, just relax and enjoy the Čapek! (He’s the guy who wrote the play, R.U.R., in which the word robot was first used, though he didn’t invent it.)

Comments

  1. Now that’s just cool, respect to Andrew.
    A propos of ‘robot’: note this bit of historical revisionism: the author of this post asserts that the word “robot” had been used at least 300 years before RUR and insists that neither of the Čapeks invented “the form nor the semantic content” of this word. All of this based on his misreading of a few German sources (the earliest from 1626), among them an entry from 1886’s Brockhaus Conversations Lexikon. As pointed out by some better informed folk in the comments, the encyclopedia entry speaks of “Fronen” = “compulsory labor performed for a feudal lord” and not of people. Plus, there is a huge difference between “die Robote” and “der Robot”.
    Also, there is this historian dude who claims that Jozef Čapek got the inspiration from Slovak where “robiť” and its derivation “robota” is a native word, whereas the native Czech equivalent is “dělat”. He offers no evidence, however.

  2. Steiner’s chapter on Čapek in “Deserts of Bohemia” is terribly sad. Čapek was a close ally of Masaryk and did what he could to help Czechoslovakia survive a genuinely hopeless situation. He was a very reasonable, moderate man and was symoathetic to Deweyan pragmatism — rare in Europe. He died shortly after the Munich Pact.
    Besides “robot” (possibly) another neologism of Slovak origin is “dobro” — the resonator guitar often heard in folk or country music. Wiki:
    “Dobro” is both a contraction of “Dopyera brothers” and a word meaning “good” in their native Slovak language. An early company motto was “Dobro means good in any language”.

  3. Not actually a neologism, quite, I guess.

  4. Yay! Thanks for the mention. I had a bunch of the stuff done in various places, and thought it might work well as a blog when I was looking for New Year’s resolutions.
    A professor I had in Brno claimed both “pistol” and “dollar” were Czech words in English. Dollar seems like it needn’t have gone through Czech from [Joachims]thaler, though.

  5. I believe that the OED agrees about pistol. Also “howitzer” if I’m not mistaken. The Hussites left a bigger mark than people understand.

  6. Yup. The entry was just revised last December:
    < French pistole (1544), prob. < early modern German regional (Silesia) pisschulle, pischol, pischczal, bitschol, etc. (1421 as pisschulle; cf. German Pistole (a1607)) < Czech píšt’ala, píščala, spec. use of píst’ala whistle, pipe, flute (app. first applied during the Hussite wars to a weapon with a barrel and a clear-sounding shot; in modern Czech the word was reborrowed from French or German as pistole).

  7. Oh, and howitzer is from Czech houfnice ‘stone-sling, catapult.’

  8. Good ol’ General Žižka–I’d forgotten about ‘howitzer’.

  9. The Czechs peaked too early.

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