Friday, March 2, 2012

Parvum Opus 394: Toujours Arriere

As you know, the French Language Academy tries to keep the French language under control, and somewhat stable. They want to avoid importing too many words from other languages (like “le jazz”). When entirely new terms enter the world, such as technical words, translation cannot always be direct. Probably most languages simply imported and adapted the terms from their home of origin, but the French like to frenchify them if possible.
            There are numerous French/English computer dictionaries online, but the flash card site lets you click through and make a little game of looking at the words.

·         They did borrow surf directly: surfer (the infinitive verb). To imitate the English history of this computer term, you’d have to know the French word for the ocean surf, then know or invent a verb for riding the waves on a board, then use that verb as a computer term. Maybe “surfing” was already been entrenched in the French language but it’s definitely Surfin’ USA.
·          I like navigateur (Web surfer) and it reminds me of the old Navigator search engine, which I liked for its neat little graphic.
·         Why does télécharger mean download? Of course to the English ear it sounds like you’re recharging something.
·         A scroll bar is une barre de defilement, which I can’t help reading as something like a chastity belt. I invented a fake translation for the family motto of the Douglas branch of my ancestry: Jamais arriere (Never behind), which I “translated” as “I may be an ass” because it applied more accurately to one or more of my relatives. (OK, and maybe me too.) Why this Scottish clan has a French motto I don’t know.

Improbable Research reported on a paper published by Hubert Devonish in Jamaican patois (and in English). Example paragraph:

“In plentii konchrii, di piipl-dem no taakin di seem langgwij an no fiil se dem iz seem neeshan. So, dem wa in chaaj a di setop in di konchrii doz chrai mek di piipl-dem get fiilinz fo neeshan.”

“In many countries, the populations do not speak the same language and, therefore, do not feel they belong in the same nation. In these circumstances, those who run the state apparatus often try to create a shared national consciousness.”

            As you see, the patois spelling indicates pronunciation (the grammar is different from standard English also).
            While we can understand it, this sample shows why standardized English spelling is important. Every once in a while there’s a flap about changing English spelling to a phonetic system. But whose English pronunciation are you going to attempt to reproduce? The Queen of England or Bostonian John Kennedy? A Southern belle or an Irishman?

Of course I care about correct pronunciation, but the rules don’t apply to people’s names, as Miss Manners knows:

Dear Miss Manners,
            I am a multilingual person who has lived in four continents, only recently back in the United States. In the U.S., I frequently meet first-generation Americans who mispronounce their own names.
            As someone who can speak the relevant languages and thus know how to say the names properly, do I refer to these persons as their names should be said? Or do I defer to the majority, and distort the names as they do?
            Does etiquette explain what is helpful and what is obnoxious in this instance?

            My answer, which agrees with Miss Manners’:  A name is personal. Pronounce it (and spell it) as you wish. People in other countries will pronounce English names as they wish, or as they can.

Here’s an old column from Dave Barry’s “Ask Mr. Language Person” that I don’t think I’ve linked yet.
                Re his discussion of Starbucks’ names for coffee sizes, read this story from Not Always Right and get back to me: How to Show-Up a Show-Off. Quote:

“She probably looked at you, assumed you were a man, and was therefore completely confused by your non-fat non-sugar orange mocha chip frappuccino order. Real men drink real coffee.”

            OK, I’m willing to concede that real men sometimes like sweet drinks, but wouldn’t it be a good idea for Starbucks to rename some of its drinks in the interest of preserving their dignity? Possible male drink:  non-fat could be stripped (sexy); non-sugar could be hard (as in hard cider, though it’s not alcoholic); orange could be sinensis (scientific); mocha chip could be cacao stone (scientific + tough); frappuccino could be whip (tough like Zorro). So:

            Give me a stripped, hard, sinensis, cacao stone whip.

Definitely more manly. Although nothing is more manly than a cuppa Joe. I’d like to see a coffee shop that just sells coffee. For a buck.
            Oh, and the sizes. As you know, a Starbucks small is Tall (uh-huh), medium is Grande (hmph), large is Venti (huh?). They have their reasons, but after years and years of going to Starbucks I still have to stop and think, just like I have to stop and think about the multiplication tables above the 6-times.

Heard in a commercial for stockings or something:  “They always make your legs look flattering.”
                My legs haven’t flattered me or even appeared to do so lately. Of course I don’t flatter them much either.
            Surely any ad has a script and a bit of lead time even if it’s a live production. Wouldn’t anyone write, or automatically say, “They always make your legs look good” or long or whatever? Or, “They always flatter your legs.” I’m hoping this is just a brief moment of synapse failure. Otherwise it’s a level of illiteracy too low to countenance in someone who makes a living writing or reading ads.

I see this kind of construction fairly often:

            Look at the above comments.

I can’t say absolutely that it is incorrect, but it definitely sounds wrong. gives various usages for “above” preposition, adverb but not adjective. If you say “Look at the comments above” is it an adjective, which ordinarily precedes the noun in English, or an adverb modifying “look”? It certainly is not a preposition in this case.
            It could be an elliptical adjective (“Look at the comments that are above”), but I’m voting for adverb, similar to “Look at the comments over there”.
            “Look at the comments above” sounds right. Same goes for “below”. Does anybody ever say or write, “Look at the below comments”?

·         In A Fisherman's Language is an autobiography by Captain James Arruda Henry, who didn’t learn to read until he was in his 90s. (Kindle only.)

·         Life Is So Good by George Dawson is another book by a man who didn’t learn to read till he was almost 100. (Kindle and print.)

I’ve been working all winter at putting my Kindle books (and other) into paperback format. So far:       

The Gritty Bits is a collection of my political commentary as the Cincinnati Independent Enquirer. A bit indigestible but cleansing. Articles.

The Wish Book is fantasy-suspense-romance featuring the old Sears Roebuck catalogues. Novella.

The Man from Scratch is a medical sci-fi crime thriller. Novel.

Parvum Opus I is a collection of the first year of Parvum Opus columns. Articles.

Audio Book on Amazon
When Sonny Gets Blue is the first volume of bluesman Sonny Robertson’s autobiography. Audio book.