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Vocabulary and usage notes for 2015

wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

2015 was a particularly rich year for me in terms of vocabulary. More days than not, I felt compelled to research or muse about at least one word I came across in a document I was translating or editing or a newspaper, book, report, or online bulletin. Although German is not one of my working languages, this year’s list contains a number of German words, undoubtedly a reflection of the leadership role that Germany assumed this year on issues such as refugee relief and climate change. In reviewing my notebooks, I was surprised to see how many economic terms and neologisms describing behavior disorders I had jotted down over the past twelve months. The following is a selection of words that were new to me, piqued my curiosity, or struck me as being particularly relevant last year. I hope that a few will be of interest to the subscribers to this blog and WordPress readers in general.

A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things.
Scott Momaday

mask chinaAirmageddon and airpocalypse cropped up repeatedly in newspapers this year. One article published by The Guardian on the dense smog registered this year in China contained the interesting observation that many of the residents in large Chinese cities “in denial” prefer to refer to the sooty air they are forced to breathe as haze (wumai) rather than pollution (wuran). For those interested in knowing what airmaggedon sounds like, DJ Brian Foo has created experimental, data-driven compositions using fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) readings taken in Beijing over a period of several years.

ASBO is short for “anti-social behavior order,” a civil order introduced in Great Britain during the Blair administration to limit and discourage acts of anti-social behavior that fall short of being criminal offenses but threaten social harmony. These run the gamut from littering, loitering, spitting, and not picking up after one’s dog to public drunkenness and illegal dumping. A CRASBO is a similar type of order issued in response to anti-social behavior related to a criminal act.

Captura de pantalla 2015-11-30 a las 18.50.40

When I see the Spanish word alunizaje I immediately think moon landing. Last September, however, I came across it in a context linked to a secondary, but very common, use of luna (moon) to describe everything from large panes of window glass, the windshields of vehicles, and full-length mirrors to tiny watch crystals and eyeglass lenses. The alunizaje referred to in the newspaper article I was reading is a particular form of breaking and entering that involves smashing the window of a bank or business, either by tossing a heavy object through it or by ramming it with a car. An alucinero is a thief specializing in this sort of breaking and entering.

I looked up bail-in while reading about the Greek financial crisis. According to several sources, the term was first used by The Economist to describe a situation in which a borrower’s creditors are assume some of the burden by means of partial write-offs.

BAT and BREF stand for best available techniques and best available techniques reference document respectively. BREFs contain specific information prepared by the European Environment Agency on industrial processes and their impact on the environment. The EEA’s mandate is to help EU institutions and the governments of EU member states make informed decisions, integrate environmental considerations into economic policy and move towards sustainability.

Bigorexia, formally known as muscle dysmorphia, is an anxiety order suffered by people who perceive themselves as being puny even though they are big and muscular. According to one source, about one out of ten men who work out in gyms have this condition, which can lead to the abuse of anabolic steroids and supplements.


BW-TV-setBinge-watching 
is the Collins Dictionary’s 2015 word of year. A World Wide Words post about the announcement notes that binge is a Midlands word for a nineteenth-century method of rendering casks and tubs watertight by soaking them in water. By extension, anyone who got sloshed was described as binging or going on a binge.

Alex Salmond sparked a controversy and my curiosity when he publicly suggested the late Labour MP Tony Benn must be “birling in his grave” in reaction to a pro-war speech delivered by his son in the British House of Commons. “Birling in one’s grave” turns out to be the Scottish equivalent to the more common evocation of someone spinning or turning in the same cramped quarters.

I was a bit surprised to see the Spanish word bracero in an English-language article posted on socialeurope.eu. However, a rapid Internet search confirmed the word is used in US English to describe “a Mexican laborer admitted legally into the US for a short period to perform seasonal, usually agricultural, labor.”

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
S. Eliot

OECD chartSome of the most fanciful-sounding terms I stumbled upon last year had to do with the strait-laced subject of economics. Cold compression is a term used in Germany to refer to bracket creep, a phenomenon that occurs when workers lose purchasing power as their salaries keep pace with inflation but tax brackets remain the same.


A commodity is said to be
in contango when the price of futures contracts for it is greater than the spot price —a negative scenario for long-term investors. According to Investopedia,The opposite of contango is known as normal backwardation. A market is in backwardation when the futures price is below the expected future spot price for a particular commodity. This is favorable for investors who have long positions since they want the futures price to rise.” Fascinated? ETF.com offers an online crib sheet about both concepts.

Then there is deflationary boom, a rare combination of rising economic activity and falling inflation, which according to some is theoretically not supposed to happen but may be the byproduct of advanced manufacturing technology and globalization.

Diflouromethylornithine (DFMO) is a word we may be hearing more about in the future. It is the name of a small-molecule drug now being investigated in clinical trials as a cancer treatment that scientists believe might be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease as well.

All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.              
Ernest Hemingway

Energiewende is a German word that was tossed about frequently this year in texts emphasizing Germany’s lead in the area of national transition to renewable energy.

Captura de pantalla 2015-12-10 a las 18.46.52eTwinning is an ICT-based initiative launched in 2005 to promote collaborations between schoolteachers and students throughout the European Union. As of the end of 2014, it had facilitated the development of more than 5,462 inter-school projects. It might have been conceived for kids, but I love its online language quiz designed to test students’ knowledge of EU languages. Question one is “What is the origin of the greeting ciao?” Think hard. You have three choices: 1) It is a derivative of Caius, a common Latin name; 2) It was the call shouted out by Venetian gondoliers to avoid collisions with other gondoliers when the Venetian canals were shrouded in fog; or 3) it came from the Venetian phrase “sciào vostro,” which literally translated means “I am your slave” or “at your service.” I managed to get that question right but failed to correctly locate the birthplace of Weiner Schnitzel.

Fossick is a term used in Australia and New Zealand to refer to recreational sift mining. Speakers of Australian and New Zealand English use the word to express the idea of “rummaging” or “ferreting something out.”

Take note: girls who climb trees and play soccer are not tomboys; they are gender-nonconformist or gender expansive young people.

On the heels of the Oxford Dictionary’s choice of a pictograph (the “face with tears of joy” emoji) as its 2015 word of the year, the Oxford University Press declared a symbol (the hashtag) as its “children’s word” of the year. According Vineeta Gupta, head of children’s dictionaries at OUP, the humble hashtag, which was selected on the basis of an analysis of over 120,000 entries submitted to a young people’s short story competition, is being used by children for dramatic effect. Two examples: “She then picked it up and ran out of the cave… the cave exploded and she didn’t look back at it exploding, she just kept on walking forward # super cool.” And, “The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to get eaten (# frightened!!!).”

All words are pegs to hang ideas on.
Henry Ward Beecher


Captura de pantalla 2015-12-13 a las 10.20.36INDC
or intended nationally determined contributions are formal but voluntary pledges countries make to lower the CO2 emissions. The degree to which countries honor the pledges they made at the December 2015 Paris Climate Conference will determine whether or not global warming will remain below the +2o C threshold scientists have indicated we cannot surpass without triggering global climate catastrophe.

Intrapreneur, a portmanteau word created by adding the prefix intra (meaning within) and entrepreneur, describes an employee granted the freedom to take risks and act independently within a corporate framework.

Following an international tendency to stretch the limits of what can be considered a word, Je suis Charlie was runner-up on the Society for the German Language’s list of top words of 2015. Not surprisingly, Flütchlinge (refugees) took the top honors this year. Another complete sentence (Angela Merkel’s Wir shaffen das) placed tenth.

The word Kanzlerinnendämmerung rippled across the front page of European newspapers last fall in allusion to the possibility that German Chancellor Angel Merkel Merkel Obamamight have undermined her ten-year political mandate by allowing Syrian refugees to pour across the German border. However, that has yet to happen. In what could well be considered the quote of the year, she repeatedly assured her critics and the German public, “Wir schaffen das,” (we can do this). This month she was named Time magazine’s person of the year.

Kiezdeutsch is a non-standard form of German spoken in immigrant communities characterized by what is described in a fascinating Atlantic article on the subject as a resourceful, if grammatically incorrect, ironing out of “the kink in Standard German” that requires a speaker to say “tomorrow go I” instead of “tomorrow I go”.

KPI stands for key performance indicator. Although KPIs are used to measure all types of performance, it usually crops up in my work as a mechanism for measuring a company’s ecological footprint.

We have too many high sounding words and too few actions that correspond with them.
Abigail Adams

Laïcité and liberté d’expression (secularism and freedom of expression), the French Festival de Mot’s two top choices for word of the year, were chosen by on the basis of an international poll in which people from 118 countries participated.

dev goalsThe micro-levy is a bright new approach to funding social programs born of a conversation between U.N. Undersecretary General Philippe Douste-Blazy, Jacques Chirac and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about the growing gap between the rich and poor. The idea is incredibly simple: tag a small surcharge on certain routine transactions in countries that lack development funding and use the money to address that country’s health and social problems. The revenues from UNITAID, a program introduced in 2006 based on the micro-levy concept, are now being used to pay for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis treatment programs. Last September marked the debut of UNITLIFE, a similar mechanism the U.N. hopes will be applied to sales of oil, gas, gold, and other prime materials. According to Douste-Blazy, “Multiple African countries have already agreed to the initiative of using a small solidarity levy in extractive industries to combat chronic malnutrition. In the oil industry, for example, the sum collected would be a nominal $0.10 per barrel of oil. If expanded to eight African countries, the 10-cent oil levy would generate $100-200 million per year, and a worldwide roll-out would generate at least $1.64 billion a year.” If pledges are fulfilled, this could be a game changer.

MIT has recently announced that online students will now have the opportunity to earn an MIT micro-master’s degree certificate. Professor George Sieman, an early believer in open online education and the person who coined the term massive open online course or MOOC, applauded MIT’s move and described it a reflection of “an accessibility mind shift.”

Necropolitics, a term coined by Achille Mbembe to describe the political use of social, political, and physical terror, was used frequently by writers and thinkers embracing very different ideologies during 2015.

O2O, or “online to offline” is a marketing strategy that involves identifying potential clients online via email messages or Internet advertising and subsequently convincing them to visit bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. Customer incentives to go O2O include the possibility of picking up items purchased online at a local store rather than waiting for them to be shipped to a home address and/or returning items purchased online rather than sending them back via a courier or postal service.

When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.
Virginia Woolf, The Waves

I came across the word pancalism while reading Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. It is a term coined by James Mark Baldwin in a lengthy work on the nature and development of thought and meaning. Eco employed it to refer to a medieval belief that “the entire cosmos was inherently beautiful.”

Jakob_Seisenegger_Carlos V Kunsthistoriche Museum Vienna Tizian_Carlos V PradoWhile looking up information about Jacob Seisenegger’s and Titian’s full-length portraits of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, I discovered that the clinical term for what is popularly known as the Hapsburg Lip or Jaw is prognathism, a condition characterized by an severe underbite caused by a misalignment of the lower jaw. A comparison of these two nearly identical portraits of the emperor reveals that Titian tried a bit harder to dissimulate his subject’s prominent jawline.

Prosopography is the study of common characteristics and behavior patterns within a specific historical group. It is particularly useful to researchers attempting to learn more about pre-modern societies and other groups for whom there are few or no written records.

Quiddity is a term used in scholastic philosophy to describe the properties that a particular thing or person shares with others of its kind. Its diametric opposite is haecceity—the quality of “thisness” that, according to medieval scholastics, distinguished an individual from all others in its species or category.

BchBach’s Goldberg Variations contains what may be the most famous quodlibet in classical music history: the playful intertwining of two popular songs of the era “Ich bin so lang nicht bei dir gewest (I have not been with you for such a long time) and “Kraut und Ruben haben mich vertrieben” (Cabbage and turnips have driven me away). Apparently “Kraut and Ruben” means “confused jumble” in colloquial German. Quodlibet is Latin for “whatever you wish”. According to Wikipedia, this crowd-pleasing conceit was known as far back as the fifteenth century and in the Renaissance “the ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies . . . was considered the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.” A variation of the quodlibet known as ensalada was extremely popular in the sixteenth century Spain.

MDG-UNHCR-and-refugees--I-006The Fundación del Español Urgente (Fundeu) chose refugiado as its word of the year for 2015 in response to the ongoing debate regarding the terms refugee and immigrant. Fundeu was ahead of the curve when it declared escrache the Spanish word of the year in 2013. Shaming, its equivalent in English, did not appear on English lists until this year.

I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.
Emily Dickinson

Retruécano is a poetic synonym for the Spanish word quiasmo, a literary device known in English as chiasmus. Although not many English speakers are familiar with the term chiasmus, most know at least a few examples of chiastic structures by heart. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and “Foul is fair and fair is foul” in Macbeth are examples as are John F. Kennedy’s memorable exhortations “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate” and “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Although plotted out in reverse, both the thrust and chiastic structure of the three musketeers’ motto “Un pour tous, tous pour un” remained intact in the English translation “All for one, and one for all.”
Luckily for that translator, Dumas had not embedded his chiasmus in the elegant corset of a Petrarchan sonnet as writers during the Spanish Golden Age so often did. The rhyme structure of the Petrarchan sonnet, which follows an abba abba pattern in the first eight lines but shifts to a cde cde or cdc dcd scheme for the last six, is almost impossible to preserve intact in a translation from a Romance language into English. Sonnets a writer has adorned further with a chiasmus leave a translator with little room to maneuver. He or she must parse the poem line by line from a number of angles and make some very hard choices between style and meaning. Willis Barnstone went for meaning when he rendered the opening lines of Quevedo’s “Epístola satírica y censoria” ¿Siempre se ha de sentir lo que se dice? /¿Nunca se ha de decir lo que se siente? as Will one always regret what one says? / Or will no one every say what one feels? Alan S. sor juanaTrueblood, on the other hand, managed to retain a semblance of the rhyme in first four lines of the following sonnet penned by Sor Juana de la Cruz, translating En perseguirme, mundo, ¿qué interesas?/ ¿En que te ofendo, cuando solo intento / poner bellezas en mi entendimiento / y no mi entendimiento en la bellezas? as World, in hounding me, what do you gain? / How can it harm you if I choose, astutely, / rather to stock my mind with things of beauty, / than waste its stock on every beauty’s claim?

How did socialism find its way onto this list? Because it was one of a series of words ending with the suffix –ism, Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2015. Peter Sokolowski, M-W’s editor-at-large notes that online searches related to socialism rose 169% this year. As I was writing this entry, I received a Daily Writing Tips bulletin that traced the use of “ism” as a noun back to 1680, the year that a critic supposedly referred to Milton as “the great Hieroglyphick of Jesuitism, Puritanism, Quaquerism, and of all Isms from Schism.”

E_SDG_Icons-16SDG stands for sustainable development goal. Although launched with less fanfare than its earlier millennium development goals initiative, the United Nations has recently announced an ambitious new seventeen-point action plan it is hoped governments, businesses, and civic organizations will support and implement over the next fifteen years.

As an American colleague so aptly noted in a recent email, “We have met the enemy and they are us.” Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh has finally given his writers permission to use they as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she. Will other authorities follow suit? The fact is that it works in some cases and sounds just dreadful in others.

If the word doesn’t exist, invent it; but first be sure it doesn’t exist.
Charles Baudelaire

Ungoverned space is a controversial term used by certain US think tanks to describe geographic areas under little or no state control that could pose risks to global order and security if used as safe havens for terrorist groups. Needless to say, what qualifies (or not) as an ungoverned space or a terrorist group depends greatly on what side of a given political fence one is observing the world from.

Voluntourism didn’t come close to qualifying for word of the year, but it did make the Oxford Dictionary new word list released in June. The correct adjective form is voluntourism (as in voluntourism programs).

source- Washington State DOTWet drought is a new term being used to describe a severe shift in weather patterns in the State of Washington where runoff from seasonally melting snow pack has been replaced by rain. Moisture that should be falling in the form of snow and serving as a frozen mountain reservoir that gradually melts as the growing season progresses is now falling as rain that quickly disappears into Puget Sound. As the Natural Resources Defense Council explains, “The line between snow and rain is thin but absolute. We’re all about to find out how much difference a few degrees can make.”

Xe is a gender-neutral third-person singular subject pronoun proposed as an alternative to gendered pronouns he and she. Should it catch on, prepare yourself for the challenge of learning its declensions. As an object it should be styled xem, the possessive form is theoretically either xyr or xir and the reflective form xyrself or xirself. This blog provides a tip sheet for those who want to be ahead of the curve on this issue.

A yardang is a formation created by wind erosion. The spectacular example below is in the Tassili n’Ajjer National Park in Algeria.

Tassili n'Ajjer National Park Algeria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words are like money; there is nothing so useless, unless when in actual use.
Samuel Butler

Zipf’s Law is named after George Zipf, a linguist who discerned a stable hierarchical pattern within natural language corpus in the 1940s that has since been applied to other concepts such as income and population distribution. In a nutshell, Zipf established that the most frequently occurring word within a corpus appears approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times the third most frequent word, and so on down the scale. Somewhat mysteriously, the same pattern emerges in rankings of things as diverse as television audience rankings and rankings of cities by population.

Style and usage notes for 2015

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by it.
Joseph Pulitzer

Bill Walsh, copy editor of The Washington Post and author of several books on style including the delightful Lapsing into a Comma, announced a few new style rules during 2015. Five years after the Associated Press and two years after the New York Times, Walsh has decided that no hyphen was needed in the word email.   It was one of several words he decided had started to look odd to readers. Another was “web site,” which almost everyone has converted, at least mentally, into the single word “website.” The name of Wal-mart Stores Inc. has been giving copy editors headaches since the company dropped the hyphen in its logo in 2008. Walsh recommends going with the more recognizable “Walmart” unless the context calls for the use of the company’s full legal name Wal-mart Stores Inc. His biggest decision, however, was to accept the use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun, which was the American Dialect Society’s word of the year for 2015. Chris Matiszczyk asserts that American acceptance of the singular they may bring American speech a bit closer to British practice. At least he will be able to say “Chelsea are a good team” with a bit bit more impunity in the company of American listeners. One of the changes Walsh has proposed will take me a bit longer to warm up to: “mic” for “mike” (as in microphone).

An increasing number of writers and editors stopped using the expression “illegal immigrant” this year. The Associated Press took the lead on this issue in 2013. “Undocumented” and “unauthorized” are two of the most widely used alternatives. The Guardian gives credit for opening a debate on this topic to Elie Weisel, who has publicly asserted, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal.” In October, Representative Joaquín Castro introduced the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression Act, which if passed, would “remove the term ‘illegal alien’ and replace it with ‘undocumented foreign national’ and keep executive branch agencies from using ‘alien’ or ‘illegal alien’ in signage and literature.”

Now for the fun part.

If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs.
John Clare

The following are some of the strangest and funniest editing errors reported on grammar and language sites or personally discovered elsewhere this year:

From Michael Quinian’s World Wide Words:

Crows are renowned for being clever, but this headline in the Los Angeles Times on 24 December startled Dean Riley: “Wild crows use tiny cameras to film themselves using tools.”

How one error  leads to another (detected on the Goodreads website):

June 17, 1878: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was published 137 years ago today. (What is perhaps the most widely read work of modern African literature was written in 1958.)

A concert listed on the amicidellamusicamilano website that must have been an extraordinary event:

An original programme by the histrionic Roman pianist and composer Alessandra Celletti dedicated to the new Italian pianist generation.

Remember to add those apostrophes . . . (spotted by an American Dialect Society member):

“Bernie has my vote and my daughters, too.”

A funny typo discovered on the website of an otherwise marvelous MOOC:

On the same day, Henry gave provisional licence to Sir Robert Chalons to dispose of a gold cup, two bowels and a basin of silver gilt given to him as security for a payment of £45 6s 10d, for the wages of his retinue of two men-at-arms and nine archers for the second quarter of the year.

William Germano noted in a September tweet that although printers of the first American edition of Frankenstein got the names Frankenstein and Prometheus right, they spelled the author’s name “Shelly” instead of “Shelley.”

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Vocabulary, terminology, acronyms, and usage: field notes for 2014 part II

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. Steven King

I

     This year I came across an illuminating post on the Oxford Dictionary blog about the extent to which intensifying adverbs can be legitimately used to pump up adjectives. We’re talking about the use of adverbs in expressions such as “utterly exhausted,” “completely wrong,” and “simply amazed.” According to the author of this post, this dilemma can usually be resolved by determining whether the adjective one is thinking of modifying is a gradable adjective (in other words, has comparative and superlative forms as is the case of hungry, fat, and cold) or an absolute adjective that does not have these forms (such as dead, ballistic, and spherical. After all, “you can’t be rather dead (you either are or you’re not), a batman-and-robin-adverbsmissile isn’t very ballistic, and a basketball isn’t less spherical than a tennis ball.” So far, so good. However, the writer goes on to admit that “sometimes the situation isn’t so cut and dried. There’s a set of adjectives (including perfect, infinite, and unique which fall into both categories, gradable and absolute. These words have a central or original meaning which represents a philosophically or mathematically absolute concept, but they’ve also developed new and less precise meanings”—some of which crept into the language more than a century ago. For instance, the Oxford English dictionary acknowledged that the word “unique” could mean “very remarkable, special, or unusual” as far back as the nineteenth century. In the light of that pedigree, copy editors should think twice before whipping out the red pencil when they are faced with a marketing text pointing out a product’s “truly unique features.”

     The Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua finally decided to include word intranet this year. Better late than never, I suppose.

     The Guardian ran an interesting article about the acronym ISIS this fall. According to the author, “A few years ago, American journalists started referring to the group that was calling itself ‘Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham’ as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), but this acronym has proved to be a poor choice; it suggests that the group’s focus is limited to Iraq and Syria.” The problem seems to stem from an incorrect translation of al-Sham, which the author states does not refer merely to Syria, but rather to the entire Daesh el ConfidencialLevant. The Associated Press subsequently adopted ISIL, replacing the final “S” with the letter “L” to reflect a more precise translation. Nevertheless, in June 2014 the terrorist group in question declared a caliphate and dropped both Iraq and Levant from its name, “making the newly coined ISIL almost instantly obsolete.” In reaction, many British journalists and a few of their American colleagues began to use the term “Islamic State” at the beginning of articles on the subject and employing the truncated acronym Captura de pantalla 2014-12-20 a la(s) 18.57.23“IS” throughout the rest of the text. If this were only a style issue, it would be bad enough. However, a raft of companies that had been using the acronym ISIS are finding themselves forced to either invent new names or commit brand suicide. Belgian chocolatier ISIS has reinvented itself as Libeert and an American company is strongly considering giving its “ISIS” NFC-based payment system a different name. Worst of all, ordinary women named Isis in honor of the Egyptian goddess have been subject to so much flak that one of them has launched a petition to pressure the media to come up with an alternative acronym. Perhaps following John Kerry’s lead, certain newspapers have switched to referring to this Islamic movement as Daesh, which Robert Fisk noted in an interesting article published on December 7 by The Independent, stands for the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”  This acronym is bound to give copy editors endless headaches in 2015.  

     In case this year’s wave of Internet abbreviations passed you by, ICYMI stands for “in case you missed it.”

J

     The lone entry in the “J” category this year is jargoneer (also known as jargonist according to the Collins Online Dictionary ). As the word suggests, a jargoneer is a user of jargon.

K

yum_kippers    In 2007 Lucy Knight wrote an article for The New Statesman about being a KIPPER (kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings). After several years of working as a freelance radio producer and writer in the UK, she moved to Lebanon, where she found a job as editor of Time Out Beirut. It seems that “kipper” has moved on as well. Although this acronym appeared on my 2013 list, I’ve included it again as it has taken on a new meaning. Nowadays, it is less frequently bandied about as an acronym for long-suffering parents and more frequently used as a moniker for members of the UK Independence Party.

L

            With technology advancing at a furious pace and the volume of content stored in the Internet growing exponentially, link rot is becoming a serious problem. People cruising the Internet for information in 2014 found their searches cut short by a record number of 404 Not Found replies.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

     In a March 5, 2013, “Grammar PSA” published on Galleycat.com, Jason Boog backtracked on a position he had taken in 2011 about the acceptability of using the word literally as an intensifier, admitting that it was creeping into respected dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and Oxford English, which had all acknowledged the informal use of the word for this purpose. That same day, Ann Glaviano reminded him in a tweet that literally had been “creeping since 1914” when James Joyce used it in the opening line of “The Dead.” He wasn’t the first distinguished author to take the leap. Fiona McPherson, senior editor of the OED (which supports the use of literally to express emphasis in sentences such as “we were literally killing ourselves laughing”) has been quoted by The Telegraph as saying that Mark Twain used it in this sense in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which contains the line “And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.” I recently received a bulletin from GrammarBook.com that not only lamented the use of literally as an intensifier and recommended alternatives such as “virtually, “really,” and actually,” but also cited Mark Twain’s remark “If you see an adverb, kill it” as justification. As this is a legacy site heroically maintained by grammarian Jane Straus’s husband Lester Kauffman since her death in 2011, I’m not sure if it was a repeat of an earlier bulletin written by Jane or a guest contribution, but I found it ironic that Twain would rail against adverbs in general when he had used one so effectively in his most famous and enduring piece of work.

M

 Captura de pantalla 2014-12-01 a la(s) 00.29.03    In 2012, Carlos Espinosa de los Monteros y Bernaldo de Quirós, the Fourth Marquis of Valtierra, was appointed the first high commissioner of Marca España, a Spanish government initiative designed to polish that country’s image as a national brand. The Permanent Observatory of the Image of Spain is one of its foremost policy instruments. As the English version of its website explains “A series of indicators help project Spain’s image to the world in a discriminated manner.” (I would like to assure you that I had nothing to do with the translation of this site.) Given the difficulty of putting positive spin on the Catalan bid for independence and the never-ending series of cases of corruption cases coming to light throughout Spain by means of an unfunded PR effort (Marca España has never had its own operating budget), it’s easy to see why it has never gained either respect or traction. In any case, the realization is slowly sinking in that PR is no substitute for maintaining a consistently solid reputation over time. In an interview published in El País on November 25, Javier Rodríguez Marcos posed a related question to this year’s Cervantes prizewinner Juan Goytisolo: “In Señas de identidad (published under the title Marks of Identity in English), the novel that you wrote about the Spanish transition of your childhood, you sought to expose the myths of Franco’s Spain. What do you consider to be the myths of today’s Spain?” Goytisolo replied, “The Marca España. Reducing Spain to a national brand and failing to acknowledge the brutal reality of the unemployment and marginalization that this society is suffering. The myth of Spain as a national brand must be dismantled. (. . .) If I were a cartoonist, I’d draw a cartoon of someone on the street stopping to tell an unemployed person who’s sitting on a public bench and asking passersby for handouts that Standard and Poors just raised Spain’s credit rating from A plus to A plus plus. That’s what they’re trying to sell us.”

      Merit goods are those goods or services above and beyond public goods that a given society decides all of its members should have access to regardless of their ability to pay for them. Governments underwrite all or some of the cost of these goods and services (which vary from one country to another) in order to ensure social harmony and avoid the under-consumption that would result if access and distribution were governed exclusively by market forces and the private sector. National defense, environmental protection, and scientific research are examples of public goods. Basic health care, basic education, unemployment insurance, safe drinking water and sanitation, on the other hand, are usually classified as merit goods.

      Microplay is a word coined by The Guardian to describe a series of short videos that newspaper has produced in collaboration with the Royal Court Theatre. The project draws upon the aesthetics and sensibilities of theatre to explore “key areas of Guardian coverage” in a fresh new way. Tired of funny cat videos? Take a five-minute serious theater break.

    estorninos starlings murmuraciones Anyone who has ever seen a murmuration of starlings will remember the experience for the rest of his or her life. Late this fall, I had the great good fortune of witnessing this spectacle while out for a walk in Zaragoza’s Parque Grande José Antonio la Bordeta. Flocks of starlings converge and form “murmurations” during the fall and winter months before collectively choosing a place to roost for the night. What leaves one totally breathless is the aeronautical precision with which the birds carry out these operations. According to scientists who have studied the phenomenon, their incredible precision can be attributed to “the near-instantaneous signal processing [that] occurs when each starling simultaneously copies the movement of every other bird in the flock.” However, even the most advanced algorithmic models that researchers have come up fall short of explaining the lightning-fast communication mechanisms that allow the starlings to pull off these incredible maneuvers.

     As one of my most delightful clients is a Netherlands-based company, I didn’t twice before clicking on a link contained in a message I received this month about the Van Dale Dictionary’s picks for top words of the year in Dutch. One was moestuinsocialisme (vegetable garden socialism), a term that surfaced in response to a government minister’s comment that home gardening was one way by which hard-put senior citizens could make ends meet. Another word on the Van Dale list that I would have included in part I of this year’s field notes had I noticed it earlier was dagobertducktaks (literally “Scrooge McDuck tax”), a popular nickname for the 56% “level-four” income tax bracket for Dutch taxpayers who declare a yearly income higher than €56,531.

N

udacity-nanodegrees     Nanodegree was the last term to make it onto this year’s list. Companies in the tech sector such as AT&T are teaming up with Udacity to offer tailor-made intensive online courses that will ostensibly prepare candidates to compete for front-end web developer, full stack web developer, data analyst, and ¡iOS developer jobs. Udacity’s pay-as-you-go programs will cost approximately 200 USD a month. The company projects that students who devote between ten and twenty hours a week to their career path curriculum should be able to finish the entire course in anywhere between six and twelve months. Although AT&T has stated that it will offer paid internships to 100 of the top graduates from these programs, Udacity isn’t promising prospective students the moon until first round results are in. Columbia University professor Fiona M. Hollands observes in a related article in The New York Times that although the majority of people currently signing up for MOOCS are college-trained professionals taking advantage of a novel form of continuing education rather than “the needy of the world,” highly specific technical courses could provide young people who can’t afford a higher education with a great opportunity. “We still need rounded people, which you can’t get through mini-certificate courses,” she states. “But we also have an economy to run here.”

Nora Lancaster as Hermione

Nora Lancaster as Hermione

      Nayward and nayword both caught my eye as I followed Shakespeare and His World, a delightful online course offered by the University of Warwick through Future Learn. In The Winter’s Tale, it is used to express the opposite of “towards” in Hermione’s line to Leontes “And I’ll be sworn you would believe my saying, Howe’er you lean to th’ nayward.” Merriam-Webster deems nayword as obsolete and defines it as “the negative view”. Although it was a synonym for byword in Shakespeare’s time, he used it in the sense of password in a scene in The Merry Wives of Windsor in which Master Slender assures Anne Page “Ay, forsooth; I have spoke with her and we have a nayword how to know one another.” It strikes me as a shame that two such wonderfully melodic words have disappeared from the English vocabulary. When all is said and done, the “naywords” that Slender so blithely divulges to Ann Page (“mum” and “budget”) are no  sillier than the secret passwords we invent today.

     Non-refoulement may be an unfamiliar term to anyone who does not follow migration and immigration law. This principle, which was originally established in the 1995 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, concerns the conditions under which a refugee may be expelled from a host country. According to Article 33 of this convention, “no Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” The same article states that “The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.” As noted in a Wikipedia entry devoted to the subject, “Unlike political asylum, which applies to those who can prove a well-grounded fear of persecution based on membership in a social group or class of persons, non-refoulement refers to the generic repatriation of people, generally refugees into war zones and other disaster areas.” In Spanish, non-refoulement is generally translated as no devolución.  

O

   The use of orgasm as a verb in The Guardian caught my eye in early December. “My boyfriend rarely orgasms when we have sex” was the attention-getting title of one of series of articles that the newspaper recently ran on sexual healing. At first I was sure that the distraught reader making the statement had erred in using this word as a verb, but when I looked orgasm up in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, I stood corrected: such usage dates back to at least 1972.

open_carry

            After living for more than a decade in a country where average folks don’t tote guns, I had to look up the term open carry in order to really understand what the writer of a news article about a children’s book titled My Parents Open Carry was referring to. This link will tell you everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about the concept as well as the various differing definitions of “plain sight,” “loaded weapon,” and “preemption” in this context.

     The big news at this year’s annual meeting of the American Copy Editors Society was the decision of the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook to accept the use of over as a substitute for “more than” when dealing with numbers. Apart from prescriptivists, who took this relaxation of traditional rules as a sign of the decline and fall of English as we know it, most writers and editors seem to have welcomed the change.

    In November, Irish editor Stan Carey posted a well-researched article on the MacMillan Dictionary blog about the much-maligned word overall in which he defended its judicious use as “both as an adjective meaning ‘considering something as a whole, rather than its details or different aspects of it’ (the overall result), and as an adverb—usually a sentence adverb—meaning ‘when everything is considered, counted, or included (They were pleased overall).” I’m a faithful follower of Carey’s own blog, Sentence First, and I recommend it highly to anyone interested in English language and usage.

overshare 1     Chambers English Dictionary, which bills itself as “the dictionary of choice for crossword solvers, Scrabble © fans and wordgame enthusiasts,” has chosen overshare as its word of the year. To overshare is “to be unacceptably forthcoming with information about one’s personal life.”

     In my more wistful moments this year, I longed for some authority to revive the long-lost English word overmorrow. It would be so nice to have an alternative to “the day after tomorrow” when translating pasada mañana. Unfortunately, the 1913 edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary was the last to recognize this useful word.

P

      How pernicious is the passive voice in writing? The only bit of negative feedback I received during 2014 was a request from one client to convert a few sentences from passive to active voice (which I did right away). I would say that about five percent of the queries I send to authors every year are about the possibility of improving a sentence by rephrasing it in the active voice. UCLA Physics Professor Bob Cousins has compiled a primer for his students that looks at the passive/active dilemma from almost every possible angle. He even offers unwary academic writers a five-point “self-protection” plan that starts with what he refers to as “the cut-it-off-at-the-pass technique”: “As soon as you pick the subject of a sentence, supply it with a verb that makes it do something. Never mind about the rest of the sentence; first get the verb. If you don’t write it in the passive voice, you won’t have to change it.” According to him, the passive voice should only be used as a last resort, but he does supply a long list of situations in which the passive voice actually works the best. The author of a post on the Poynter News University website passive voicerather unkindly refers to the passive voice as “the vampire voice,” claiming that the “passive voice can drain a headline’s energy because it requires more time to process and understand. The brain automatically flips passive construction into the structure it is hard-wired to process: subject-verb-object.” The writer of the post backs up this assertion with the following very cogent reasoning: “Passive voice runs the risk of sending a subtle message of importance or prominence unsupported by the facts. For example, one study found that men who read passive-voiced stories about violence against women – e.g., “a woman was raped yesterday” – tend to assign less responsibility to the rapist.” However, not every sentence calls for a focus on the perpetrator of an act (who, in any case, may not be identifiable). What is more, in April 2014, researchers at Cornell University’s Neurosyntax Imaging Laboratory published the findings of an interesting study that refutes the Poynter U claim. According to a Cornell University News Bureau press release (republished in full on Dennis Baron’s The Web of Language website) the findings of this new study show that “the human brain is 031104_cartoon400hardwired to prefer the passive voice,” and has “a definite predilection for passive constructions.” Cornell researchers Elaine Bao Weiss and W. Strang-Ng were surprised by the outcome of their study. Bao Weiss muses that, “Generations of writers have been advised to prefer the active to the passive, but that’s not how the brain works.” She thinks that these findings might explain “why writers have to be told over and over to prefer the active” and wryly notes that “even experts like Strunk and White and George Orwell use the passive voice when telling writers to use the active,” providing this example from page 24 of Strunk and White’s classic Elements of Style: “Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made more lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice.” Although the Cornell press release reported that many of the attendees of this year’s conference of the American Copy Editors Society were skeptical about these findings, it also noted that others such as E. W. Gilman, a member of MIT’s biolexicology group, “was cautiously optimistic.” According to this researcher, “These findings reinforce recent evidence from palaeohistory and go a long way to explaining some aspects of human behavior that have previously been resistant to analysis. If these data on passive preferentiality can be borne out, then I think we have some important clues into the connections between language and mind.”

     A recent article in the online Columbia Journalism Review contained a link to a very full stopsinteresting Poynter.org article about patchwriting. If you write but are not familiar with this term, please keep reading. The Poynter piece focuses on the work of Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University who has carried out an in-depth study on plagiarism. Poynter article author Kelly McBride reports Howard as saying that “patchwriting is often a failed attempt at paraphrasing. Rather than copying a statement word for word the writer is rearranging phrases and changing tenses, but relying too heavily on the vocabulary and syntax of the source material. It’s a form of intellectual dishonesty that indicates that the writer is not actually thinking for herself” (or himself as the case may be). Do I ever come across sections of patchwriting in documents I’m translating and copyediting? Yes, and when I do, I query the author and ask how he or she would like to handle the matter. McBride’s short analysis of what an editor’s superiors at Columbia University’s Columbia Spectator deemed to be too similar to material previously published in the New Yorker illustrates how fine the line between picking up a few ideas from another writer and actually stealing his or her words really is.

     I’m happy to say that The Guardian has made an about-face regarding its treatment of proper nouns. The newspaper’s style guide now includes the entry: “In the case of proper nouns, we now follow the spelling used in the relevant local variety of English (normally British, American or Australian). Examples: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, Labor Day, One World Trade Center, Australian Labor party.” Guardian editors used to localize spelling of certain proper names for its British readership (styling, for example, the above-mentioned Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as Centres of Disease Control and Prevention while leaving the spelling of others such as “Pearl Harbor” and the film title “The Color Purple” unaltered). The daily’s announcement of the change states that it was “driven by the growing realisation that it can appear insulting or demeaning to Guardian readers outside the UK to see their government bodies rendered in lowercase when we do not do the same for British ones.” As the world’s third most read digital daily, The Guardian is a key reference for terminology and style.

     When I saw that the Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua had decided to add the word precuela (a Spanish loan word inspired by prequel) this year, I had a strong urge to sit down and have a good cry, but there it is, hot on the heels of secuela, which originally only referred to the consequences or after effect of something in Spanish but has recently also been accepted as the equivalent of the English word sequel.

Pablo Iglesias

Pablo Iglesias

   The year 2014 marked the meteoric rise of Podemos, a new leftwing party modeled on the Greek Syriza party that is challenging the political status quo in Spain. Its media-savvy founder Pablo Iglesias Turrión, whose rallying cry is “Heaven is not taken by consensus; it is taken by assault,” has captured the imagination of large numbers of middle and working class Spaniards tired of being on the short end of the economic stick and has put the country’s mainstream social and industrial elite on the defensive. Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe labels parties such as Syriza and Podemos “shadow Eurosceptics,” noting their plans run counter to the requisites of membership in the Eurozone. However, to judge from its most recently released economic platform, Podemos appears to have at least temporarily abandoned its assault on heaven in favor of an alignment with other, more moderate, leftist political movements.

      Pharmacovigilance was another word that came up in my work this year. Defined by the World Health Organization as “the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects or any other drug-related problem,” pharmacovigilance is a complicated field with its own very specific vocabulary.

PB     According to the Stockholm Resilence Centre, “in 2009 a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists identified and quantified a set a of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.” Five years on, we are now well on our way to surpassing some of them and endangering humanity’s survival on this planet going forward. The SRC has teamed up with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network to offer an ongoing series of free online courses that provide a good basic understanding of the situation and the solutions currently under development.

     Postliminary came up during an American Dialect Society list serve conversation. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or involving postliminium.” According to Captura de pantalla 2014-12-20 a la(s) 23.24.12Wikipedia, “The principle of postliminium, as a part of public international law, is a specific version of the maxim ex injuria jus non oritur, providing for the invalidity of all illegitimate acts that an occupant may have performed on a given territory after its recapture by the legitimate sovereign.”  The Free Dictionary notes that the word hails back to Roman times, when it signified “the return to his own country, and his former privileges, of a person who had gone to sojourn in a foreign country, or had been banished, or taken by an enemy. George Long provided an interesting etymology of postliminium in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, published in 1875, citing the explanation handed down to Cicero from Scaevola that the word was a composite of post and limen: “what has been lost by us from its own limen, and then has afterwards (post) returned to the same limen, seems to have returned by Postliminium.” Long extrapolated from this theory that “the limen was the boundary or limit within which the thing was under the authority of Rome and an object of Roman law.” As postliminary is the antonym of preliminary, one can also use this word as a high-toned substitute for subsequent: “something done or carried on after something else or as a conclusion (M-W).”

The self, the edge of the self, and the edge of the world: The poetry of Mark Strand

Today I read the news that Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets, passed away last Saturday in his daughter’s home in Brooklyn, New York. He was eighty years old. The poet had lived in Madrid from 2011 until the spring of this year.

I don’t remember precisely when it was that I read Strand’s poem “Keeping Things Whole” for the first time, but I have carried it around in my head like a mental talisman ever since.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am an absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Before turning to poetry, Strand studied painting at Yale University under Josef Albers and was an accomplished artist in his own right. During his career as a writer he also produced short stories, children’s books, several respected works of art criticism, and translations of the poetry of Rafael Alberti and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

mark-strandWhile researching for this post, I came across an interview with Strand on the More Intelligent Life website that contained the following exchange about looking at art through the mind’s eye:

Interviewer: I was intrigued by the way you said that a lot of what you see in a painting comes from what you picture when you turn around. I’d never thought of using my minds eye (literally) to decide what I felt was important in a piece of work.

 Strand: After I’ve looked at a painting and I turn around, I try to remember what I have seen. I try to think about what the experience of looking at it was. It really is not so much the physical properties of the painting that I retain, but the experience of looking at it that I try to hold onto.

 I found the “hold onto” in Strand’s reply touching. After all, this is the poet that wrote: “I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets / I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road . . .” All the same, it squares with the exploration of the boundaries of one’s existence he seemed to be referring to when, during an interview with Wallace Shawn, he described his “poetic territory” as “the self, the edge of the self, and the edge of the world.”

About halfway through that same interview (for The Paris Review), Shawn asked Strand if translating the poetry of others had been a valuable experience in terms of his own work. The poet’s reply touched on some of the points that mark the difference between translation, in which one grapples with something that already exists, and writing something completely new into existence:

Translating is almost like a game. It is a serious game, because, finally, it’s your reading of another poet’s work. But you develop a sense of syntactical possibility—you make choices, you have to say to yourself, when you’re translating, Should I do it this way, or should I do it that way? When you’re writing your own work, you’re not asking yourself those questions. Maybe at some much later stage in the writing of a poem, you may say to yourself, objectively, I need a two-syllable word here, with the accent on the first syllable. The line should end here, instead of there. There should be a slant rhyme, some assonance, or something here . . . But when you’re writing, at the beginning, when you’re writing, you’re not asking yourself those questions. When you’re translating, you always are.

New York Times obituary

El País obituary

Vocabulary, terminology, acronyms, and usage: field notes for 2014 part I

Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.

—T. S. Eliot, Quartet I, Burnt Norton, 1935

I like good strong words that mean something. 

Louis May Alcott

     Creating and distributing word of the year lists has become somewhat of a cottage industry. As a translator and copy editor, I’m eager to keep up with shifts in usage and I Captura de pantalla 2014-10-04 a la(s) 23.12.38appreciate knowing the point at which certain words have gained enough popularity and/or relevance to be included in the dictionaries I work with. However, many of the words included on word of the year lists strike me as being eminently forgettable, and the criteria for their inclusion severely limited. Public discourse in the age of mass digital communication is marked by the rapid appearance and disappearance of inconsequential jargon of fleeting interest. Choosing words of the year on the basis of the frequency in which they appear in mass media and on the Internet during a given year seems to me to be an effective way of dumbing down a language and sweeping some of a year’s most important issues under the rug.

     This year, I kept a running list of words that caught my attention as I translated and edited documents, took online courses, and read newspapers, bulletins, books, and reports. Some tickled my funny bone and others prompted me to do further research. A few even inspired me to change the way I went about things in my personal and professional life. The following is a list of words that I stumbled upon and considered extraordinary in one way or the other in 2014.

 A

     Moving through the list alphabetically, I’ll start with avatar, which I jotted down some months ago due to a meaning this word can have in Spanish but not in English. To begin with, it’s worth noting that English and Spanish dictionaries rank shared exceptions for this word differently. Spanish dictionaries give primacy to a meaning not accepted by their avatarEnglish counterparts, which is “vicisitud o acontecimiento contrario al desarrollo o la buena marcha de algo.” Whereas the online Merriam Webster Dictionary offers four exceptions for this word: 1) the incarnation of a Hindu deity (as Vishnu); 2) an incarnation in human form; 3) a variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity; and 4) an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game), the website of the Real Academia Española offers only three: 1) a vicissitude or event that has a negative impact on something; 2) the virtual identity assumed by a user online; and 3) the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Although expressions such as the “los avatares de la guerra” and “los avatares de la vida diaria” are very common in both written and spoken Spanish, the adoption of the word avatar as a synonym for vicissitude in Spanish appears to have stemmed from a malapropism so frequently repeated that the word eventually took on this meaning in common parlance. Beginning translators should take note of this potential stumbling block.

     On June 10, The Guardian publicly lamented the Collins English Dictionary’s acceptance of adorkable (a portmanteau of “dork” and “adorable”), suggesting that while it has become popular on Twitter, it’s doubtful that many people actually use it in everyday speech. While I hope that’s the case, the same article notes that “author and Guardian journalist Lucy Mangan, writing for Collins, said that including adorkable in the new edition of the Collins English Dictionary would allow the publisher ‘to close the gap between the recording of a living language and its movements in the real world more than ever before.’”

     While translating a series of documents for an NGO that devotes its efforts to very different range of real-world issues, I came across the melodic word Artemisinin, known in Chinese as Qinghaosu. A derivative of Artemisia annua (Sweet Wormwood), an herb long employed in traditional Chinese medicine, Artemisinin is now the main component of drugs commonly used in the treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. According to the WHO, the use of Artemisinin-based combination therapies has greatly reduced the problem of malaria throughout the world.

Albedo     A number of the words on my 2014 list are related to climate change. Given that a make-or-break UN climate summit will be held in Paris next year, these are words to watch. Two of them of are “A” words. As defined by the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, albedo is “a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy.” Its website explains the dynamics between melting sea ice and the planet’s capacity to reflect solar energy.

     Anthropocene is a word coined by researcher Eugene F. Stoemer and popularized by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and others to describe the dawn of new geological era in which humans have a change-making impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

     Somewhat related is astroturfing, a term that could suggest something that happens in a football stadium but is frequently used to describe “an artificially manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grass roots activism.”

     The twenty-third edition of the Diccionario de la lengua española, which came out in October, contains a number of new words beginning with the letter “A”. These include agroturismo (agrotourism), antipersona (antipersonnel), and amague, a word used in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay to describe an indication or sign that something previously anticipated is not going to happen but that signifies “a gesture that indicates the intention to do something” in Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico).

B

     Brandalism is a newly invented word that has quickly taken on divergent meanings. Yet to be included in mainstream English dictionaries, it does show up on various online glossary sites, which all describe it as a portmanteau word formed by fusion of “brand” andbanksy “vandalism” but offer differing opinions as to what it actually refers to. Whereas the Urban Dictionary defines brandalism as “the creeping corporatisation of schools, libraries and other public buildings, which are gradually being daubed with company logos and slogans” and attributes the word to graffiti artist Banksy, Wiktionary.com and Wordnik offer two conflicting definitions: 1) the encroachment of ads, logos, and other types of corporate branding into public and traditionally non-commercial spaces, or the dissemination of corporate messages through methods or mediums not typically used for marketing purposes, and 2) the deliberate defacement of corporate iconography, generally for purposes of protest, parody, or social commentary. As one can easily see, context is everything in the interpretation of this word, which could just as easily be used to describe corporate advertising on school buses or graffiti attacks on corporate billboards.

     Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and UN sustainability advisor Jeffery Sachs has a lot to say about backcasting, which is a method of planning for the future that starts with the end in mind and rigorously follows the steps required to achieve that goal.

     “B” words describing corruption proliferated throughout 2014 here in Spain. The news has been dominated by stories about “pagos en b,” (a term used for everything from bribes and illegal commissions to undeclared income supplements) to “cuentas b” (which range from undeclared Swiss banks accounts maintained by tax evaders to political slush funds).

C

     Chupacabra, a Spanish word that can be literally translated as “goatsucker,” is the Caprimulgus-ruficollisname given in Latin America to a mythical beast that supposedly preys upon chickens and goats. It should not be confused with the very real chotacabra (nightjar), whose Latin name, Caprimulgidae, nevertheless stems from an ancient belief that these birds  actually suck milk from goats. The chupacabra myth appears  to be a case of European superstition taking root in the New World.

    The Oxford Dictionary has accepted the term clickbait, and the recently published Fifth Edition of The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary includes chillax (a fusion of “chill out” and “relax”).

    The new edition of the Diccionario de la lengua española includes the delightful if somewhat scatological word cagaprisas, which is used to describe an impatient person whose rush to do things without thinking often has negative consequences. (Not to be used in polite company.)

     As I translate and edit a substantial number of PR documents and academic articles about communications every year, the neologism churnalism (a portmanteau of churn and journalism) immediately caught my eye.

The Duchess of Alba

The Duchess of Alba

     One of the most delightful words I came across in Spanish newspapers this year was carpetovetónico, used by Luz Sanchez-Mellado in an article published in el País on November 23 about the demise (in some cases literal and others figurative) of a long list of colorful characters once adulated by the Spanish press and public as the country’s most beautiful people. According to the Real Academia Española, the term, which draws upon the names of the carpetones and the vetones (pre-Roman tribes that peopled the heart of the Iberian Peninsula,) describes individuals known for playing archetypal Spanish identities to the hilt. Age, financial crisis, and corruption scandals have swept many these celebrities from the chessboard of Spanish cafe society during 2014. The flamenco-loving Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart (a direct descendant of King James II of England and the most titled person in the world) passed away in Seville on November 20 at the age of 88 just hours before her friend, the copla singer Isabel Pantoja, entered a nearby prison to serve a two-year sentence for money laundering. Pantoja’s former boyfriend Julian Muñoz—once mayor of the glittering seaside city of Malaga—had been brought to justice earlier on corruption charges. The popular torero Ortega Cano also ended up in jail this year—in his case, for drunken driving and reckless manslaughter. In what has been an annus horribilis for the Spanish royal family, the aging and increasingly discredited King Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son Felipe, while the new king’s sister, the Princess Cristina, fought off charges of tax evasion and her husband Iñaki Undangarin grimly faced a raft of more serious charges. Carpetovetónico is somewhat related to another term further down the list, Marca España.

D

     Disincentivise (as well as its antonym incentivitise) are, according to the UK Government Digital Service Content Style Guide, two words that folks preparing written communications for GOV.UK “can do without.” The guide also advises against linking the verb “deliver” with abstract concepts (deliver all the pizzas, mail and services you want but look for another word if you’re thinking about priorities and improvements) and using the word “deployment” in conjunction with anything other than military troops and software. Recommendations for “D” words don’t stop there. Writers are reminded that “you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people” and that “drive out” should not be used unless one is speaking of cattle.

       Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot

    An article in PS Mag brought my attention to the Diderot effect, a term coined by anthropologist Grant McCracken to describe the behavior of people caught up in a spiral of consumption sparked by a single acquisition that propels them on a never-ending quest of an idealized lifestyle. According to Wikipedia, a “Diderot unity” is a group of objects that are considered to be culturally complementary. For instance, the acquisition of an original Eames chair can lead a person to compulsively purchase a series of other objects from the same period that complement it and round out an idealized self image. French philosopher Denis Diderot was supposedly the first thinker to identify this phenomenon, which he explained at length in an essay titled “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.”

     Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous (not to mention low-brow), 2014 marked the year of the DILF. Those of you thought that acronym only referred to the Diplôme Initial de Langue Française are behind the times. In 2014 it stood for “Dad I’d Like to Fuck”—a dubious homage to the David Beckhams and Brad Pitts of the world.

     Donor fatigue has severely restricted humanitarian relief efforts throughout the world this year.  Syrian American Medical Society reported back in May that because the United Nations had received only 28% of the 6.5 billion dollars it needed to provide relief support in Syria during 2014, it was being forced to scale down its two most ambitious humanitarian relief efforts: the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP), which serves internally displaced persons, and the Syria Regional Response Plan (RRP), which serves Syrians who have fled the country. A Reuters news story released in February anticipated the negative effect that an appeal for massive aid for Syria would have on other UN requests for funding, noting that this would be a “make or break” year for assistance programs in the Sahel region of Africa as well. At the more local level, charitable organizations and NGOs are increasingly launching crowdfunding campaigns that allow donors to support specific projects and missions.

     When I first saw the expression dyed in the grain, I thought it was a mangled version of dyed-in-the-wool, but I was wrong. Quoting Wikipedia once again, “Dyed in the grain refers to dyed with kermes or kermes in combination with another dye, producing colors such as crimson in grainviolet in grain. The original source for this information was John H. Munro’s “Medieval Woolens: Textiles, Technology, and Organisation,” featured in The Cambridge History of Western Textiles edited by David Jenkins.

     During the run-up to the recent referendum on Scottish independence an entire series of terms related to proposals for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland sporting the prefix “devo” were invented. Devo-Plus and devomax competed with other terms related to the same issue that ranged from fiscal federalism to independence-lite and independence-minus.

better world for nothing     I’ve got to admit that degrowth does not have the lyrical ring that its equivalents in French (décroissance), Italian (descrescita), and Spanish (decrecimiento) have. Degrowth theory advocates the downscaling of production and consumption to avoid a radical depletion of the earth’s dwindling natural resources and further degradation of the environment. This idea has been bounced around in environmentalist circles since the 1970s but is slowly gaining mainstream adherents in the wake of scientific evidence supporting climate change theory.

E

     Ebola was perhaps the most frightening of all the words that entered our general vocabulary in 2014. According to the World Health Organization, the current outbreak first reported in March is the most extensive and complex since the Ebola virus was identified in 1976.

     The effects of the economic crisis on this side of the Atlantic continue to inspire new acronyms. One of this year’s most memorable was ENDIES, which stands for “employed with no disposable income or savings.” Although ENDIES earn a fairly decent annual salary (according to theweek.co.uk between £18,000 and £28,000), that’s not enough in London to amass significant savings or dream of buying a house one day.

     Emission reduction pathway, sometimes referred to as deep decarbonization pathways or DDPs, is on its way to becoming a household phrase. This term refers to a nation’s plans, strategies, and policy for meeting future targets for harmful emissions reduction and decarbonizing its economy.

F

      Fatberg was the one of the words that the editors of the Collins English Dictionary asked the Twitter community to consider for inclusion in its twelfth print edition. This term for “a large mass of solid waste, grease, etc, clogging a sewage system” lost out to adorkable.

      Captura de pantalla 2014-11-28 a la(s) 15.40.47While tracking down the dates of this year’s Perseid meteor shower, I came across the term full buck moon, which I discovered comes from Native American culture. It turns out that there is a name for every monthly full moon that appears throughout the year: the full wolf moon, full snow moon, full worm moon, full pink moon, full flower moon, full strawberry moon, full buck moon, full sturgeon moon, full harvest moon, full hunters’ moon, full beaver moon, and full cold moon.

G

     Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines Global carbon budget as “the total amount of carbon that moves into and out of the earth’s atmosphere, seas, and land,” or as Law Dictionary.org puts it, the sum of the exchanges of carbon compounds (both inflow and outflow) that occur in the carbon cycle. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, as of 2011, approximately 515PgC has been emitted since the industrial revolution began—about 52% of the cumulative carbon dioxide emission budget contemplated in the current “two-degree” negotiation framework strategy.

     In a bid to engage its target audience at a deeper level, the editors of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary decided to ask fans to help update the contents of its upcoming new addition. Crowdsourced geocache is one of the 5,000 new words to enter scrabble players’ vocabularies.

      The term gamification cropped up in a number of texts that I translated and edited this year. Through these projects I learned how game thinking and mechanics are being used to solve problems, boost user engagement, and evaluate job candidates.

H

     It was through Michael Quinion’s wonderful World Wide Words digital newsletter that I was first introduced to the very useful composite word hand-me-up, a recycling of the traditional hand-me down that describes things such as computers and mobile devices that children constantly upgrading their tech gadgets pass on to their parents once they are through with them.

Another new word that found its way into the Diccionario de la lengua española this year was homoparental, an adjective that describes anything related to same-sex parenting.

     I never accept purely medical translations, but as several of NGO clients provide humanitarian health care services in different parts of the world, I spend a fair amount of time brushing up on related vocabulary. The definitions of holoendemic and hyperendemic found their way onto my 2014 word list during the course of my work for these clients. According to Merriam-Webster, a holoendemic disease is a disease “affecting all or characterized by the infection of essentially all the inhabitants of a particular area” whereas a hyperendemic disease is a disease “exhibiting a high and continued incidence.” In a nutshell, endemic disease levels are the levels of a disease that are normal for a certain location or population, hyperendemic refers to endemic levels of a disease being higher in certain circumstances, and holendemic refers to circumstances in which a disease is universally present.

     I’m not sure whether hypercorrection is hyperendemic or holodemic in English speaking populations, but it certainly is common. My 2014 usage notes include a link to a nicely researched post by blogger Warren Edwardes about the use of “fewer” and “less.” Warren is one of those lucky souls to be blessed with both a keen eye and a good Captura de pantalla 2014-11-30 a la(s) 14.56.57memory. He’s one of the few people in the world who would notice a sign in a Waitrose store stating “Only 2 items or less from the shopfloor may be purchased at the Café Bar” and immediately remember that way back in 2008 Tesco had altered similar “ten items or less” signs in its stores to read “up to ten items” in response to complaints from customers who had asserted that the use of “less” in this context was incorrect. Many of the hypercorrectionists lobbying Tesco to change their signs argued that ‘fewer’ should be used to refer to countable units, and that ‘less’ was only appropriate when one was referring to an uncountable quantity. Tesco’s “up to ten” solution squares with the Plain English Campaign’s advice that “‘up to ten items’ is easy to understand” and neatly skirts the less and fewer debate. It is at this point that I need to add two more items to Warren’s long list of virtues: he has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a set of English grammar reference books. Before flitting on to something else, that curiosity made him consult Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage, where he found a well-reasoned opinion in black and white. According to Fowler’s, “Supermarket checkouts are correct when the signs they display read 5 items or less (which refers to the total amount), and are misguided when they read 5 items are fewer (which emphasizes individuality, surely not the intention).” This blogger wisely adds the caveat that “the quote above is from “Fowler’s Modern Usage” and refers to current usage rather than rigour.”

The Ensaimada, a Balearic Culinary Tradition

Ensaimada1The ensaimada (spelled ensaïmada in Catalan) is a Balearic culinary tradition that dates back to at least the seventeenth century. Anyone who has ever fallen in love with this delicious pastry during a trip to Majorca knows that it’s devilishly hard to find a good one anywhere else in the world.

Football players Andrés Iniesta and Victor Valdés returning to Barcelona from Majorca with ensaimadas

Football players Andrés Iniesta and Victor Valdés returning to Barcelona from Majorca with ensaimadas

Although bakeries in most major cities throughout Spain sell ensaimadas, mainland residents tote them back to the mainland in stacks when they return from their Majorcan vacations, a habit that has not gone unnoticed by low-cost airline Ryan Air, which recently announced that the company planned to slap an eight-euro excess hand baggage charge on passengers who carry them aboard their planes. What is it that makes an ensaimada made in Majorca so special and difficult to replicate elsewhere?

Vintage ensaimada box

Vintage ensaimada box

To begin with, expertise handed down from one generation to another seems to be a big factor. According to the Illes Baleares Qualitat website, about half of the bakeries in Majorca have been in business for a century and a half and many of these venerable institutions have been owned and operated by the same families for five generations. It is estimated that 5% of the bakeries on the island have been around for three hundred years and a good 10% hung out their shingles at least two centuries ago. Competing with that much experience would be daunting for even the most talented newcomer.

The time needed to make an ensaimada correctly —at least twenty-four hours—is certainly an issue as well. Once the dough is prepared, divided, allowed to rest, rolled and stretched until it is paper-thin, slathered with softened lard, perhaps dotted with a sweet or savory filling, rolled up again to form long strands, and finally laid out on baker’s parchment in loose coils, it must be left to rise between twelve and eighteen hours before it can be popped into a (preferably) wood-fired oven.

Einsaimadas Can Joan s'AigoThe flaky, savory charm of an authentic Majorcan ensaimada also depends on the ingredients used. Although some bakeries have started using butter, the saïm in the name ensaïmada means lard. An ensaimada made with butter is a horse of a slightly different color and one made with vegetable shortening in another animal altogether. Then there is the question of preparing the starter dough. Most recipes floating around the Internet fail to clue beginners in as to how this should be done, but Majorca native Sara González Orts has graciously shared her recipe for ensaimadas, which includes instructions on how to make the necessary starter dough, in her blog Las Recettas de Sara. Sara is a culinary purist. In her opinion, substituting butter for lard is out of the question—a travesty akin to tossing onion into a paella. Traditional Majorcan bakers use high-gluten, hard wheat flour, which gives the dough sufficient strength and elasticity to stand up to the intensive rolling, stretching, overlapping, and coiling involved in producing this pastry. Determining how much flour to use is an art unto itself: it varies according to the temperature and humidity on any given day as well as the moisture level of the other ingredients. The characteristics of the eggs, sugar, and water that make up the rest of the ingredients also affect the flavor and texture of the final product. This short demonstration video posted by pastry chef Elisa Llobet in her food blog Semevalaolla shows bakers whipping out a batch of ensaimadas at the Horno Cala d’Or in Mallorca.

I prefer my ensaimadas straight up with only a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar on top, but they are also prepared with fillings that range from custard cream, almond purée, chocolate, apricots, and cabello de ángel (a very sweet jam made from the thread-like pulp of the squash cucurbita ficifolia, which is widely used as a pastry filling throughout the Iberian Peninsula) to sobrasada (a raw, cured pork sausage often used uncased as a cocktail spread).

San Joan S'aigo, Palma

San Joan S’aigo, Palma

Einsaimadas purchased at Palma de Mallorca airport are more expensive than those purchased directly from the island’s bakeries. One of my favorite places to enjoy an ensaimada in Palma is C’an Juan de S’aigo. This charming café hidden away on a very small street a few meters from the church of Sant Eulalia was founded in 1700. In addition to its fabulous ensaimadas, it also serves a variety of other Majorcan pastries, hot chocolate, horchatas, and homemade ice cream.

ensaimada2As for the etymology of the name ensaïmada, some claim the Catalan word saïm was borrowed from Arabic. In fact-checking this unlikely assertion, I could only find references that identified saim (also transliterated from the Arab as sa’im, saaem, saem, saaim, sayim, and saayim) with fasting. The ensaimada does bear a hazy resemblance to a spiral-shaped Middle Eastern pastry called a bulema, which might possibly been introduced to Majorca by either Arab or Jewish bakers and is still popular in those communities, but quite understandably is never made with lard. It is much more likely that the word saïm was derived from the Latin word sagimen.

Majorca or Mallorca? How should English writers, editors, and translator write the name of the island?

When the Romans conquered the Balearic Islands in 123 BC, Emperor Quintus Caecilius Metellus decided to call them Insula Maior and Insula Minor. When Issam al-Hawlaní conquered Majorca in 902 AD, he renamed the island’s largest city, Madîna Mayûrqa. The name of the island eventually evolved into Maiorica before consolidating in Catalan as Mallorca. The j in the English word Majorca comes directly from a translation of the Roman maior. Although both the Oxford and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries still support that spelling, British writer and Majorca resident Ana Nicholas suggests that English speakers might consider adopting the double “in the interests of European integration.” So far, the European Parliament has stuck with the standard English spelling in its English language documents.

References and sources:

Epigrafía latina republicana de Hispania by Borja Díaz Ariño

http://www.latin-dictionary.org/sagimen

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/6251577/You-say-Majorca-I-say-Mallorca.html

http://www.illesbalearsqualitat.es/iquafront/producte/357;jsessionid=668E91FBDE6DB73D215A8617BEA0EE49?lang=en

http://www.mundodeportivo.com/20121112/fc-barcelona/mision-cumplida-tres-puntos-y-ensaimadas-para-todos_54354407326.html#ixzz2g87ghyYt

http://www.ensaimada.es/

http://semevalaolla.net/2013/09/23/ensaimadas-mallorquinas/

In Celebration of National Punctuation Day

I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.   Gustave Flaubert

Things that make us [sic]Wikihow has published a site suggesting what people might do to observe National Punctuation Day. Don’t get too excited. There are also Wikihows that feature tips on how to celebrate Chocolate Mint Day (treat yourself to a chocolate mint beauty mask), National Battery Day (ask yourself what the world would be like without batteries), and Hobbit Day (throw a Hobbit party for your friends). As there is also a National Grammar Day, founded by Martha Brokenbrough (author of the witty Things That Make Us [Sic] and prime mover of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar), one might wonder if there is a real need to devote a separate day to punctuation, but given the important role it plays in written communications, I think that it doesn’t hurt to address the topic officially once a year.

Smoking pets and bicycles?

Smoking pets and bicycles?

Punctuating a document correctly is not easy, and ferreting out the punctuation errors contained in a text is one of the thorniest parts of a copy editor’s job. Often the concentration required to even think about the subject causes a writer to let other infelicities contained in a document fly by unnoticed. Several days after the Huffington Post ran a short slide show prepared by William B. Bradshaw, the author of The Big Ten of Grammar: Identifying and Fixing the Ten Most Frequent Grammatical Errors, to mark last year’s National Grammar Day, it dutifully published an erratum noting that the author had inadvertently used the word “explanatory” in a slide about exclamation points rather than “exclamatory.” This kind of thing can happen to the best of us.

needs punctuationAs an American translator and copy editor who grew up reading The New Yorker and consults The Chicago Manual of Style on a daily basis, I naturally advocate the use of the Oxford (also known as the serial) comma. For the non-grammarians out there, this is the comma often placed before the conjunction at the end of a list. Apart from the Oxford University Press, most British authorities weigh in against it, and one of the last things I do before delivering a document to a client who has requested that I follow British grammar rules is scan the text to detect any superfluous serial commas I might have subliminally inserted. However, there are situations in which the serial comma is absolutely necessary for clarity. One of the classic examples trotted out in its defense is the hypothetical “I dedicate this book to my parents, Ayn Rand and God,” which without a final clarifying comma gives the impression that the parents of the author writing the dedication were, in fact,  Ayn Rand and God. Misplaced commas can do as much damage or more. In her often hilarious book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss provides  a good example in the form of a joke:

“A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Original_New_Yorker_coverHarold Ross, founder and long-time editor-in-chief of The New Yorker magazine, was so fond of commas that E. B. White, who had many run-ins with him about comma placement, once quipped, “Commas in The New Yorker fall with a precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim.” On the other hand, Gertrude Stein considered commas to be “servile” tools and avoiding using them. Both Oscar Wilde and Gustave Flaubert complained that they often spent their mornings putting commas into a text only to spend their afternoons taking them out.

When in doubt about the placement of a comma, it’s a good idea to consult a guide. If you don’t own The Chicago Manual of Style or the Modern Humanities Research Association’s Style Guide, the Grammarly Handbook is a good online resource.

Finding just the right word

vocabulary notebook indology info site“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”  Emily Dickinson

Arriving at a quantitative estimate of the total number of words in any language involves a subjective process of deciding what counts. Should foreign loan words be included? Medical, legal, and scientific terms as well? And how about abbreviations and acronyms? In English, it is often difficult to establish a consensus as to whether certain concepts should be expressed as compound words, hyphenated words, or separate words. Arriving at a qualitative estimate is no easier. New words are invented every day and many old words fade away into oblivion. Editors are forever adding neologisms and dropping words considered archaic from standard dictionaries. While conservative authorities estimate that the English language contains between 200,000 and 350,000 words, the Global Language Monitor claims that English vocabulary passed the one million mark at 10:22 am on June 10, 2011 with the introduction of “Web 2.0” and estimates that a new additional word is introduced every 98 minutes.

 Spanish, on the other hand, has a much smaller vocabulary. Experts estimate that the vocabulary of the English language is about twice as large as the vocabulary of Spanish. For translators working from English to Spanish, this gap infers a tricky process of reduction, and for their counterparts translating Spanish into English, it supposes overcoming the temptation to use the same words repeatedly, a practice that is perfectly acceptable in Spanish but is almost guaranteed to make a text appear sluggish and boring to an English-speaking reader.

armor-with-descriptions-helmet-pauldron-gardbrace-Terminology, defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the technical or special terms used in a business, art, science, or special subject” makes up only a small part of any language’s vocabulary. That fact should be a comfort to translators who feel like contemporary incarnations of the legendary steel-driving John Henry every time a client presents them with an analysis of fuzzy matches contained in a text to be translated. Over half the words contained in the second edition of the twenty-volume Oxford Dictionary are nouns, a quarter are adjectives, a seventh are verbs, and the rest fall under such categories as exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, and suffixes. Even if all those nouns could somehow be classified as terms, a translator would still be faced with the daunting but stimulating task of picking through a rich trove of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, which properly woven together, bring a text to life for the reader. As the eminent translator Edith Grossman points out, “every competent translator has to be a writer, because that is what we do. We write in the guise of the person we are translating.” So translators need to constantly work on their writing skills and broaden their vocabularies. They should also never forget that, like the author of the source language text, they must adjust vocabulary and style for specific target audiences.

“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” Ernest Hemingway

I always ask my clients a number of questions related to the anticipated audience of any text I’m asked to translate: Is the PowerPoint presentation going to be made to a group of potential investors, or is it to be used for internal communications purposes? Will the viewers/listeners/readers be native speakers or people for whom English is a second language? Will a given report be submitted to a particular institution such as the European Commission or European Parliament? What group or groups does a company wish to reach through its website content? Is it meant to attract specific groups of native English speakers or would the company prefer that I use a fairly neutral vocabulary that will be clear and appealing to a wider public that uses English as a lingua franca? What kind of reader is the author of a book writing for? As Patricia O’Connor points out in Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing, “It’s a big world out there, and before you write you have to narrow it down. Once you’ve identified your audience, everything you do—every decision you make about vocabulary, tone, sentence structure, imagery, humor, and the rest—should be done with this target, your reader, in mind.” She suggests that writers draw a mental picture of their target readers and keep it in the forefront of their minds as they write. As stand-ins for the original authors of texts, translators should take the same advice very much to heart.

“There is no doubt that I have lots of words inside me; but at moments, like rush-hour traffic at the mouth of a tunnel, they jam.” John Updike

 Adjusting vocabulary to suit a specific target readership

“Words have their own hierarchy, their own protocol, their own artistic titles, their own plebeian stigmas.” José Saramago

Once translators have been provided with basic information about the target audience for a given text, what can they do to ensure that the vocabulary and style they employ will resonate with that specific group? Sector-specific glossaries, dictionaries, and house style guides are obviously essential resources. However, given the two-to-one vocabulary ratio between English and Spanish, I always assume that I’ll have to sift through a wide range of options for words that don’t fall into the categories of house style or insider jargon. 

Castle Ashby NorthamptonshireIf prior experience and the contents of translation dictionaries and glossaries prove to be inadequate for the context I’m dealing with, I look up the word used in the source text in María Moliner’s Diccionario del uso del español. From there, I often compare Spanish synonyms for the word I need to translate to synonyms of the most obvious candidates in English. I then do corpus searches to see which have been used in similar Spanish and English texts. That process at least gives me something to chew on. If I’ve been asked to localize a text, I do keyword searches that target geographically specific publications or digital libraries known for the quality of their writing such as the New York Times, the Guardian, or JSTOR.

However, there are other vocabularies that can only be mastered by constantly perusing information written for, or about, specific audiences. Since I translate texts related to a wide range of subjects that range from education, the arts and humanities, communications, history, humanitarian aid, sustainable development and the European Union to tourism, travel, and luxury goods and services, I try to keep current with sector trends and the vocabulary and style used by the most authoritative and articulate publications and organizations in each community or sector.

This type of reading matter almost always contains unexpectedly useful information. For instance, once a year an online educational bulletin I subscribe to features an article about Beloit College’s “Mindset List,” which provides some very interesting clues about what vocabulary one might want to avoid or need to tweak when translating texts for specific age or cohort groups. According to this Beloit College study, members of the incoming class of 2011 have never “rolled down” a car window. The list also notes that “off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone for members of this group and that they have always known the country older people still call Burma as Myanmar. The class of 2010 is described as never having heard anyone “ring something up” on a cash register and it is noted that the class of 2003 has probably never dialed a phone or opened an icebox and wouldn’t be able to figure out the size of something described as being “as big as a breadbox.” The list also claims that the class of 2002 wouldn’t make much out of the expression “you sound like a broken record” either. It was interesting to know that the members of the class of 2013 have always seen the word “waitperson” in their dictionaries and the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions “GM” to a member of the class of 2017 is genetically modified food rather than an automobile manufacturer. These are valuable bits of information for communications professionals (translators included) who need to deal with a never-ending barrage of newly coined words and keep track of current usage as the denotations and connotations of words shift and evolve.

“Vocabularies are crossing circles and loops. We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or to be confined by.” A.S. Byatt

vocabulary

The Internet has expanded the horizons of word junkies everywhere. My long list of favorite sites and digital newsletters includes A.Word.a.Day, which the New York Times has described as “the most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace,” TermCoord, a concise, weekly terminology bulletin distributed by the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, and the Visual Thesaurus’s Word a Day. I get a lot out of the Stack Exchange’s English Language & Usage Weekly newsletter because the Stack Exchange forum connects people searching for just the right word to describe people, things, and concepts with hard-core vocabulary addicts. As participants from almost every corner of the planet submit queries, it’s the perfect place to ponder the options available for transferring cultural concepts expressed in other languages to English. Writers using English as a second language tend to query about the shades of difference between two English words. The answers to questions such as “Is there really any difference between bristle and stubble when the subject is facial hair?” and “What’s a good word for someone who likes to always be different?” can be very useful to a translator looking for just the right descriptive word. This site also dishes up some lively discussions about grammar questions and editing decisions and provides insight into English vocabulary use throughout the world and in different subcultures. I also consult the Stack languages Spanish Language and Usage site for information about Spanish words. Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words Newsletter explores words from an etymological point of view. One of the features I like most about this weekly bulletin is the feedback it generates from readers all over the world. Its website is a treasure trove of knowledge about the ever-changing English language, complete with an entertaining “weird words” section.

“Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power.” Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

A brief vocabulary sampler from some of the above-mentioned sources

Scientific words:

 entomophilous (the Visual Thesaurus)

When -phily or -philous appear in a word there’s often a whole lotta love going on. In today’s word, it’s love of insects, and plants are doing the loving. Entomophilous plants are ones that are pollinated by insects. The roots of the word are Greek for “insect” (entomon), and for “dear, friendly” (philos).

Equivalent terminology used by the European Parliament (TermCoord)

EN: European Prosecutor / European Public Prosecutor

SP: Fiscal Europeo

FR: procureur européen

EN: Connecting Europe Facility

SP: Instrumento de Interconexión para Europa (IIE)

FR: Mécanisme pour l’interconnexión en Europe

EN: Botnet

SP: botnet / red infectada

FR: réseau de machines zombies / réseau zombie

Forgotten words:

 swoopstake (A.Word:a.Day)

adverb: In an indiscriminate manner. Alteration of sweepstake, from sweep + stake, originally referring to the winner who takes all. Earliest documented use: 1599.

Usage: “I replied by falling swoopstake and cropneck in love with them all, damn it, them all.” Kathleen Tynan in Tynan Letters published by Vintage in 2012.

(Cropneck is also a nice, forgotten word derived from the expression “neck and crop,” which according to Merriam Webster means to do something with “with brisk dispatch and completeness.”)

Words and phrases with obscure etymologies:

picayune (the Visual Thesaurus)

Though it started life as a noun designating a coin of small value, picayune is today an adjective synonymous with trivial, paltry or petty. The word is derived from Portuguese or Occitan but was introduced to English in the US, from the coin called a picayune being in circulation in colonial North America. The Times-Picayune, a newspaper in New Orleans, is named for the coin.

blatherskite (World Wide Words)

In a nutshell, a word of Old Norse / Scots origin used to describe a person who spouts rubbish or the ridiculous things he says that is now heard more often in the United States than in Great Britain. See the World Wide Words website for the full story.

Antonyms:

Question: What is the antonym of the verb to ameliorate? (Stack Exchange English Language and Usage)

Nice answer offered by user 49727: I don’t think there is an antonym that ends with an –iorate because the words ameliorate and meliorate derive from a single stem (see below). The closest etymological antonym is aggravate. Ameliorate comes from French meilleur and ameliorer – the direct French antonym for this word is aggraver meaning ‘to make worse’.