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for chinese new year they get all these famous actors and comedians together and they do a lil show and one of the comedians was like “i was in a hotel in america once and there was a mouse in my room so i called reception except i forgot the english word for mouse so instead i said ‘you know tom and jerry? jerry is here’

jerry is here

my chinese teacher once shared this story in class about someone who went to the grocery to buy chicken, but they forgot the english word for it, so they grabbed an egg, went to the nearest sales lady and said “where’s the mother”

my aunt was in china and there was a mouse running around in her room but when she called downstairs to the desk she mispronounced the chinese word for mouse so the hotel thought there was a tiger in her room and called the police
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today i learned that the finnish word for ‘hazardous waste’ is ongelmajäte, which can also translate as ‘problematic garbage’ and my roommate and i immediately agreed this is a word that belongs on tumblr.

Your fave is ongelmajäte

in german it’s Sondermüll which means special trash and that too belongs on tumblr
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Throwback to the time my poor German teacher had to explain the concept of formal and informal pronouns to a class full of Australians and everyone was scandalised and loudly complained “why can’t I treat everyone the same?” “I don’t want to be a Sie!” “but being friendly is respectful!” “wouldn’t using ‘du’ just show I like them?” until one guy conceded “I suppose maybe I’d use Sie with someone like the prime minister, if he weren’t such a cunt” and my teacher ended up with her head in her hands saying “you are all banned from using du until I can trust you”

God help Japanese teachers in Australia.

if this isnt an accurate representation of australia idk what is

Australia’s reverse-formality respect culture is fascinating. We don’t even really think about it until we try to communicate or learn about another culture and the rules that are pretty standard for most of the world just feel so wrong. I went to America this one time and I kept automatically thinking that strangers using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ were sassing me. 

Australians could not be trusted with a language with ingrained tiers of formal address. The most formal forms would immediately become synonyms for ‘go fuck yourself’ and if you weren’t using the most informal version possible within three sentences of meeting someone they’d take it to mean you hated them.

100% true.

the difference between “‘scuse me” and “excuse me” is a fistfight

See also: the Australian habit of insulting people by way of showing affection, which other English-speakers also do, but not in a context where deescalating the spoken invective actively increases the degree of offence intended, particularly if you’ve just been affectionately-insulting with someone else.

By which I mean: if you’ve just called your best mate an absolute dickhead, you can’t then call a hated politician something that’s (technically) worse, like a total fuckwit, because that would imply either that you were really insulting your mate or that you like the politician. Instead, you have to use a milder epithet, like bastard, to convey your seething hatred for the second person. But if your opening conversational gambit is slagging someone off, then it’s acceptable to go big (”The PM’s a total cockstain!”) at the outset.

Also note that different modifiers radically change the meaning of particular insults. Case in point: calling someone a fuckin’ cunt is a deadly insult, calling someone a mad cunt is a compliment, and calling someone a fuckin’ mad cunt means you’re literally in awe of them. Because STRAYA. 
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via that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms:



You rarely see a “wend” without a “way.” You can wend your way through a crowd or down a hill, but no one wends to bed or to school. However, there was a time when English speakers would wend to all kinds of places. “Wend” was just another word for “go” in Old English. The past tense of “wend” was “went” and the past tense of “go” was “gaed.” People used both until the 15th century, when “go” became the preferred verb, except in the past tense where “went” hung on, leaving us with an outrageously irregular verb.

The “desert” from the phrase “just deserts” is not the dry and sandy kind, nor the sweet post-dinner kind. It comes from an Old French word for “deserve,” and it was used in English from the 13th century to mean “that which is deserved.” When you get your just deserts, you get your due. In some cases, that may mean you also get dessert, a word that comes from a later French borrowing.

If we see “eke” at all these days, it’s when we “eke out” a living, but it comes from an old verb meaning to add, supplement, or grow. It’s the same word that gave us “eke-name” for “additional name,” which later, through misanalysis of “an eke-name” became “nickname.”

“Sleight of hand” is one tricky phrase. “Sleight” is often miswritten as “slight” and for good reason. Not only does the expression convey an image of light, nimble fingers, which fits well with the smallness implied by “slight,” but an alternate expression for the concept is “legerdemain,” from the French léger de main,“ literally, “light of hand.” “Sleight” comes from a different source, a Middle English word meaning “cunning” or “trickery.” It’s a wily little word that lives up to its name.

Nowadays we see this word in the expression “to run/ride roughshod” over somebody or something, meaning to tyrannize or treat harshly. It came about as a way to describe the 17th century version of snow tires. A “rough-shod” horse had its shoes attached with protruding nail heads in order to get a better grip on slippery roads. It was great for keeping the horse on its feet, but not so great for anyone the horse might step on.

The “fro” in “to and fro” is a fossilized remnant of a Northern English or Scottish way of pronouncing “from.” It was also part of other expressions that didn’t stick around, like “fro and till,” “to do fro” (to remove), and “of or fro” (for or against).

The “hue” of “hue and cry,” the expression for the noisy clamor of a crowd, is not the same “hue” as the term we use for color. The color one comes from the Old English word híew, for “appearance.” This hue comes from the Old French hu or heu, which was basically an onomatopoeia, like “hoot.”

When you leave someone “in the lurch,” you leave them in a jam, in a difficult position. But while getting left in the lurch may leave you staggering around and feeling off-balance, the “lurch” in this expression has a different origin than the staggery one. The balance-related lurch comes from nautical vocabulary, while the lurch you get left in comes from an old French backgammon-style game called lourche. Lurch became a general term for the situation of beating your opponent by a huge score. By extension it came to stand for the state of getting the better of someone or cheating them.

“Umbrage” comes from the Old French ombrage (shade, shadow), and it was once used to talk about actual shade from the sun. It took on various figurative meanings having to do with doubt and suspicion or the giving and taking of offense. To give umbrage was to offend someone, to “throw shade.” However, these days when we see the term “umbrage” at all, it is more likely to be because someone is taking, rather than giving it.

We might not know what a shrift is anymore, but we know we don’t want to get a short one. “Shrift” was a word for a confession, something it seems we might want to keep short, or a penance imposed by a priest, something we would definitely want to keep short. But the phrase “short shrift” came from the practice of allowing a little time for the condemned to make a confession before being executed. So in that context, shorter was not better.

Holy shit, “giving umbrage” literally means “to throw shade”
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via camp tries to reinvent the Hebrew language, so transgender kids can fit in:



Some of the important bits:

When Zev Shofar, a 14-year-old from Takoma Park, started going to Jewish summer camp seven years ago, the children all learned the Hebrew words to introduce themselves. “Chanich” means a male camper; “chanichah” means a female camper.

But what if Zev didn’t feel male or female — neither a chanich nor a chanichah?

Zev’s camp didn’t have a word that worked for Zev. In fact, the Hebrew language doesn’t have any words. Like many other languages — Spanish, French and Russian, for example — Hebrew assigns each noun a gender.

In Israel, or anywhere else that Hebrew is spoken, there’s no linguistic solution, either. But now there is at camp. Zev is a chanichol.

The seven Habonim Dror camps, spread across North America, are pioneering a new gender-neutral form of Hebrew this summer. They hope to set an example that Hebrew-speakers worldwide might someday follow.

Those cheers have had to be rewritten this summer to fit the new gender-neutral Hebrew. Plural masculine nouns in Hebrew — including any group of people that includes at least one man — typically end in im, while feminine nouns end in ot. At Camp Moshava, all groups of both boys and girls now end in a blend: imot.

In Israel, some LGBT communities have adopted the –imot plural, but few seem to have decided on a non-binary singular.

So Habonim Dror decided on its own that –ol would be its singular non-binary ending, based on the word kol, which means “all.”

?אני אישל

An interesting addition to previous descriptions of gender-neutral pronouns in Hebrew:  

The way genderqueer Hebrew speakers have solved the problem is interesting, both grammatically and politically. Gramatically, the genderqueer population has basically invented its own. There are a few methods of making speech genderqueer: either one uses general verbs that have no gender – “I feel like eating,” for instance, which in Hebrew would be “it’s coming to me to eat.” Infinitives aren’t gendered, nor is the phrase “ba li,” which literally means “it’s coming to me,” but really means “I want” or “I feel like” doing or having or being something.

Another way genderqueer folks have gotten around the binary nature of Hebrew is to simply harness it and mix it all up with itself. A genderqueer person might then say something like “I am male-going to the gallery and female-buying art.” Or they will say, “I am male-going/female-going to the gallery and female-buying/male-buying art.” Since the feminine endings of words in Hebrew are usually simply an added suffix, genderqueer folks can play with the pronunciations of words to make them ambiguous.
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I LOVE THAT POEM! I’ve thought about showing it to my student, but I know that it would be more confusing than amusing at this point in his English-speaking career :P Your poor coworker hahaha
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if anyone ever tells you that english isn’t ridiculous remember that the reason why we have a silent b in debt is because a group of guys got together to standardise english spelling and got to the word debt, which at the time was primarily spelled either ‘dett’ or ‘det’. so they basically went:

‘everyone speaks latin, right? so let’s put a silent b in debt. like debitum, which is latin for debt. problem solved.’

also the reason why there is a h in ghost is because when the printing press first came to england the only people trained to operate it were flemmish speaking, and they put a h after g because that’s what you do in flemmish. they put shit like ghirl and ghoose, but the only reason why ghost stuck is because people saw ‘the holy ghost’ in the bible and were like ‘well, that MUST be right’.

so yeah english is a really stupid language with some of the most ridiculous spelling

Anyone telling you that English isn’t a bullshit Frankenstein language is lying.

At least once a lesson I will have a variation on this exchange with my ESL student:
Student: How do you pronounce [ear]?
Me: [eer].
Student: Ok, then what about [bear]?
Me: [bay-r].
Student: But it’s written almost the same?
Me: That’s correct. I’m sorry.
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Mediaeval scribes invented this bizarre Latin sentence as a joke to show just how difficult Gothic text could be to read.
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People who are blind from birth will gesture when they speak. I always like pointing out this fact when I teach classes on gesture, because it gives us an an interesting perspective on how we learn and use gestures. Until now I’ve mostly cited a 1998 paper from Jana Iverson and Susan Goldin-Meadow that analysed the gestures and speech of young blind people. Not only do blind people gesture, but the frequency and types of gestures they use does not appear to differ greatly from how sighted people gesture. If people learn gesture without ever seeing a gesture (and, most likely, never being shown), then there must be something about learning a language that means you get gestures as a bonus.

Blind people will even gesture when talking to other blind people, and sighted people will gesture when speaking on the phone - so we know that people don’t only gesture when they speak to someone who can see their gestures.

Earlier this year a new paper came out that adds to this story. Şeyda Özçalışkan, Ché Lucero and Susan Goldin-Meadow looked at the gestures of blind speakers of Turkish and English, to see if the *way* they gestured was different to sighted speakers of those languages. Some of the sighted speakers were blindfolded and others left able to see their conversation partner.

Turkish and English were chosen, because it has already been established that speakers of those languages consistently gesture differently when talking about videos of items moving. English speakers will be more likely to show the manner (e.g. ‘rolling’ or bouncing’) and trajectory (e.g. ‘left to right’, ‘downwards’) together in one gesture, and Turkish speakers will show these features as two separate gestures. This reflects the fact that English ‘roll down’ is one verbal clause, while in Turkish the equivalent would be yuvarlanarak iniyor, which translates as two verbs ‘rolling descending’.

Since we know that blind people do gesture, Özçalışkan’s team wanted to figure out if they gestured like other speakers of their language. Did the blind Turkish speakers separate the manner and trajectory of their gestures like their verbs? Did English speakers combine them? Of course, the standard methodology of showing videos wouldn’t work with blind participants, so the researchers built three dimensional models of events for people to feel before they discussed them.

The results showed that blind Turkish speakers gesture like their sighted counterparts, and the same for English speakers. All Turkish speakers gestured significantly differently from all English speakers, regardless of sightedness. This means that these particular gestural patterns are something that’s deeply linked to the grammatical properties of a language, and not something that we learn from looking at other speakers.


Jana M. Iverson & Susan Goldin-Meadow. 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature, 396(6708), 228-228.

Şeyda Özçalışkan, Ché Lucero and Susan Goldin-Meadow. 2016. Is Seeing Gesture Necessary to Gesture Like a Native Speaker? Psychological Science 27(5) 737–747.

Asli Ozyurek & Sotaro Kita. 1999. Expressing manner and path in English and Turkish: Differences in speech, gesture, and conceptualization. In Twenty-first Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 507-512). Erlbaum.

Incredible! I have nothing to add because I had no idea, but may I just say **WOW**!!!

this is crazy interesting to me. brainz are weird.

I think what this shows, esp when you pull in the fact that signers gesture in meaningful, non-grammatically coded ways - much like speakers do - is that gesture is a fundamental part of language.

It’s only because linguists started off using written data / data we could write down in a notebook, and went from there to audio tapes, it just got left out of the study of the field. (Note that intonation also p much got left out of the field even though it has meaningful coded patterns that vary between languages. Because there wasn’t technology for recording it or easily coded ways to write it down.) It’s not a coincidence that gesture studies took off as video became an easier medium to work with.
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the thing you need to realize about localization is that japanese and english are such vastly different languages that a straight translation is always going to be worse than the original script. nuance is going to be lost and, if you give a shit about your job, you should fill the gaps left with equivalent nuance in english. take ff6, my personal favorite localization of all time: in the original japanese cefca was memorable primarily for his manic, childish speaking style - but since english speaking styles arent nearly as expressive, woolsey adapted that by making the localized english kefka much more prone to making outright jokes. cefca/kefka is beloved in both regions as a result - hell, hes even more popular here

yes this

a literal translation is an inaccurate translation.

localization’s job is to create a meaningful experience for a different audience which has a different language and different culture. they translate ideas and concepts, not words and sentences. often this means choosing new ideas that will be more meaningful and contribute to the experience more for a different audience.

There was an example during late Tokugawa period in Japan where the translator translated, "Я люблю Вас” (I love you), to “I could die for you,” while translating  Ася, ( Asya) a novel by Ivan Turgenev. This was because a woman saying, “I love you,” to a man was considered a very hard thing to do in Japanese society.

In a more well-known example,  Natsume Soseki, a great writer who wrote, I am a Cat, had his students translate “I love you,” to “the moon is beautiful [because of] having you beside tonight,” because Japanese men would not say such strong emotions right away. He said that it would be weird and Japanese men would have more elegance.

Both of these are great examples of localization that wasn’t a straight up translation and both of these are valid. I feel like a lot of people forget the nuances in language and culture and how damn hard a translator’s job is and how knowledgeable the person has to be about both cultures. [x]

Important stuff about translation!

Note that you can apply this to your own translations even if they aren’t big pieces of literature or something. Don’t feel bad about not translating word for word. An everyday sentence may sound odd translated literally - it’s okay to edit a little bit so it feels right!

Oh my god, I’m about to go on a ramble, I’m sorry, I can’t help it, the inner translation nerd is coming out. I’m so sorry. The thing is–there is actually no such thing as an accurate translation.
 It’s literally an impossible endeavor. Word for word doesn’t cut it. Sense for sense doesn’t cut it, because then you’re potentially missing cool stuff like context and nuance and rhyme and humor. Even localization doesn’t really cut it, because that means you’re prioritizing the audience over the author, and you’re missing out on the original context, and the possibility of bringing something new and exciting to your host language. Foreignization, which aims to replicate the rhythms of the original language, or to use terminology that will be unfamiliar to the target culture–(for example: the first few American-published Harry Potter books domesticated the English, and traded “trousers” for “pants”, and “Mom” for “Mum”. Later on they stopped, and let the American children view such foreignizing words as “snog” and “porridge.”)–also doesn’t cut it, because you risk alienating the target readers, or obscuring meaning. 
Another cool example is Dante, and the words written above the gates of hell: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. 
In the original Italian, that’s Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. Speranza, like most nouns in latinate languages, has a gender: la. Hope, in Italian, is gendered female. Abandon hope, who is female. Abandon hope, who is a woman. When the original Dante enters hell, searching for Beatrice, he is doomed, subtly, from the start. That’s beautiful, subtle, the kind of delicate poetic move literature nerds gorge themselves on, and you can’t keep it in English. Literally, how do you preserve it? We don’t have a gendered hope. It doesn’t work, can’t work. So how do you compensate? Can you sneak in a reference to Beatrice in a different line? Or do you chalk her up as a loss and move onto the next problem?
You’re always going to miss something–the cool part is that, knowing you’re going to fail, you get to decide how to fail. Ortega y Gasset called this The Misery and Splendor of Translation. Basically, translation is impossible–so why not make it a beautiful failure? 
My point is that literary translation is creative writing, full of as many creative decisions as any original poem or short story. It has more limitations, rules, and structures to consider, for sure–but sometimes the best artistic decision is going to be the one that breaks the rules. 
My favorite breakdown of this is Le Ton Beau De Marot, a beautiful brick of a translator’s joke, in which the author tries over and over again to create a “perfect” translation of “A une Damoyselle Malade”, an itsy bitsy poem Clement Marot dashed off to his patron’s daughter, who was sick, in 1537. 
This is the poem: 
Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.
Seems simple enough, right? But it’s got a huge host of challenges: the rhyme, the tone, the archaic language (if you’re translating something old, do you want it to sound old in the target language, too? or are you translating not just across language, but across time?) 
Le Ton Beau De Marot is a monster of a book that compiles all of Hofstader’s “failed” translations of Ma Mignonne, as well as the “failed” translations of his friends, and his students, and hundreds of strangers who were given the translation challenge (which you can play here, should you like!) 
The end result is a hilarious archive of Sweet Damosels, Malingering Ladies, Chickadees, Fairest Friends, and Cutie Pies. It’s the clearest, funniest, best example of what I think is true of all literary translations: that they’re a thing you make up, not a thing you discover. There is no magic bridge between languages, or magic window, or magic vessel to pour the poem from one language to another–translation is always subjective, it’s always individual, it’s always inaccurate, it’s always a failure. 
It’s always, in other words, art. 
Which, as a translator, I find incredibly reassuring! You’re definitely, one hundred percent absolutely, gonna fuck up. Which means you can’t fuck up. You can take risks! You can experiment! You can do cool stuff like bilingual translations, or footnote translations! You write your own code of honor, your own rules that your translations will hold inviolable, and fuck it if that code doesn’t match everyone else’s*. The translations they hold inviolable are also flawed, are failures at the core, from the King James Bible right on down to No Fear Shakespeare. So have fun! It’s all in your hands, miseries and splendors both. 


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February 2017

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