First of all, apologies for posting something political, especially after an absence of more than a year (which I’ll explain in a later post). But I very much want the UK to stay in Europe, and have only recently realised just how bereft I’d feel if we left. I can’t get out on the streets to campaign in the EU referendum as I’m not living in the UK right now. So a blog post (plus tweets) seemed the best option to set out my feelings.

My life since my early twenties has been influenced by Europe. I’ve lived in France, Italy (for more than 20 years), and am now living and working Germany. In these countries I enjoy voting rights and access to public services, just like we offer to EU incomers to the UK.

My husband is Italian, my children Scottish-British-Italian, and I have the most wonderful Italian in-laws you could wish for.

My translator colleagues are a gloriously mixed bunch of nationalities (Scotnetters, I love you!).

The EU: good for business

Over 90% of my clients are based in the EU. I can bid for (and even win!) contracts with European Union institutions and with public sector organisations in EU member states. I am currently working in Germany as an in-house translator-editor for an EU institution.

When I moved back to Scotland from Italy in 2002, I took part in EU-funded business start-up workshops here in Glasgow that profoundly influenced my whole approach to my work and from which I’m still benefitting. And through which I made some lasting friendships (Refreshers, I love you too!).

My city, Glasgow, has benefited hugely from European funding and projects, whether for employment and development projects or for profile-raising initiatives like the “European Capital of Culture” in 1990.

The UK: good for Europe

The European Union is by no means perfect. It needs a lot of work. I believe the UK can help make it better, and counterbalance the worrying tendencies that have emerged recently in some Member States – but it can only do so from within.

I’m deeply proud to be British and Scottish. And I’m proud to be European too. Europe is part of who I am and what I do. I want us to remain as members of the European Union and to work to make it better and fairer.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, are very welcome!

I was looking through Vogue magazine last night, the British version, and a couple of articles caught my eye: one on “over-programmed” children whose days are packed with so many activities that they’re “over-stimulated, over-pressured, stressed right out”; one on personalised fitness for busy people showing a drawing of a man using a cycling machine while working at his desk, a trainer at his back urging him on; and one entitled “Shades of Grey”.

All topics of interest to Vogue readers, especially with “Fifty Shades of Grey” opening in cinemas this month. Except that the issue I was leafing through dates from November 1989, and the “shades of grey” refer to the colour of unbleached babies’ nappies “free from the [highly toxic] dioxins that are a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process”. The film being reviewed that month was “When Harry Met Sally”. I wonder which will better stand the test of time…

Plus ça change

Fashion may have changed since 1989 (those shoulders!). But 25 years on, we’re still concerned about children being rushed from one after-school activity to another by over-anxious or over-competitive parents. Some of us are so worried about our sedentary lifestyles that we’ve installed standing or treadmill desks. And dioxins are still a health concern (these two articles provide more information: Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome and Dioxins and their effects on human health).

Context, context, context

From a language perspective, I wonder when, if ever, we’ll again be able to use the expression “shades of grey” to represent subtle distinctions, without triggering any sexual connotations. A reminder, if one were needed, of the importance of context and connotation in writing, translations included. That’s one area where human translators beat machine translation hands-down.

The fitness article also had a couple of language/technology nuggets in the description of one trainer’s relationship with his clients: “I gradually become as indispensable as a car-phone or a word-processor” (my italics). Remember when word processing was all that most of did on our computers (those of us who had a computer, that is, back in 1989)? To the extent that we used the term “word processor” to describe not just the application but the device itself. And I wonder who uses car phones now?

A note for fashionistas

The models featured on the  fashion pages of the November 1989 edition of Vogue included Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, while the cover had Tatjana Patiz. Good to see that they’re still going strong.

Other posts you might like

Get off your butt

New York fashion treat

Taking care of dem bones

By Marian Dougan

Did you watch the “English 3.0” video examining the question: is the Internet having a detrimental effect on English and on “standards”? Here are my thoughts on the question.

Social media = online conversation

Much of the “bad writing” we see online is really just a form of conversation. People writing on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites are chatting with friends and family. They didn’t write so much before social media arrived, and they certainly weren’t published. Their spelling and grammar, if shaky now, were probably just as shaky before they started posting on social sites. Rather than cause a decline, the Internet has simply made spelling mistakes and misplaced apostrophes visible, and to lots more people.

Texts, tweets and… post-cards

There’s nothing inherently bad about text- or Twitter-speak. Texts and tweets are inventive and fun and, in the case of tweets, the discipline of conveying your thoughts in 140 characters is surely a good exercise in concision.

In the early 20th century, before telephones were commonplace and with 4 or more postal deliveries a day, people used post-cards to send short messages. You could send a card in the morning arranging to meet a friend later that same day – the equivalent of today’s text message. Post-cards were great for quick, impromptu communication – and most likely contained plenty of abbreviations, spelling mistakes and grammar errors. Just like texts.

In her “Txting is for people who can’t spell, write? Wrong” post for The Guardian newspaper’s Mind Your Language blog, Caroline Tagg gives the following example, taken from a post-card written in 1907: “I arrived all right about 4 oclock hope you are all right grand wether”. That could easily be a text from 2014, don’t you think?

The important thing is to know when text-speak is appropriate and when it’s not, and when it’s OK for your writing to contain the odd wrongly spelled word. In other words, to know which form of language to use in which situation. We all switch from formal to informal speech and writing (using our “posh” voice when we’re on the phone to business contacts, for example). Maybe we should give young people the credit for knowing how to do that, too.

“Children love language, writing and wordplay”

According to Fiona McPherson, the lexicographer featured in Joe Gibson’s film, there’s no evidence that children’s formal writing has been adversely affected by “social-speak”. Caroline Tagg’s blog post reaches a similar conclusion:

Children are probably writing more than ever before, and they are doing so freely and through their own choice, developing their writing skills through play

For some heartening examples of great writing by children and young people, also check out Elli Narewska’s Guardian post: “Here is the news: children love language, writing and wordplay“.

Lastly, let’s not forget that most of what’s written in social media sites is ephemeral. Tweets and Facebook up-dates may well still be lurking on the web years from now, but they represent a fleeting moment. They aren’t meant to be set in stone. Who’ll be reading those posts 10 years from now? Will it matter if they contain spelling mistakes?

Other posts you might like

Serendipity and the scents of war 

A translation sin of omission

Punctuation botheration (as resolved by Victor Borge)

By Marian Dougan

The French translators’ organisation (the Société française des traducteurs, or SFT) recently asked me to write an article about the Scots language, the inspiration being Scotland’s independence referendum on 18 September 2014. The article – beautifully translated by Géraldine Chantegrel – will be published in the December 2014 issue of Traduire, the SFT journal. See below for details of how to buy this issue, subscribe or read back issues.

During my research for the article, I discovered from the Scottish Census (2011) results that Polish (along with Urdu and Punjabi) is one of the top 3 languages – other than English, Scots or Gaelic – used at home by people living in Scotland. 54,186 people, over 10% of Scotland’s population of 5,118,223, have Polish as their household language.

Polish: the world’s most loved language

Polish is also the world’s most loved language, according to the Language World Cup 2014 organised by the language portal. English (which came first in 2013) was in second place this year, with Italian in third.

While I don’t for one second doubt the lovableness of the Polish language, I wonder if the two results are related. Could Polish’s World Cup victory be a reflection of the national pride (and homesickness, surely) felt by the many Polish people who have left their country since it joined the European Union back in 2004? Could this be a case of absence making Polish hearts grow ever fonder of their language?

What do you think, readers? What’s your favourite language, and why? Comments from Polish readers particularly welcome!

How to buy Traduire

To buy the December 2014 or other issues of Traduire, you need to create an account (but you don’t need to be a member of the SFT to do so). Each issue costs €25; an annual subscription (2 issues per year) costs €30 for SFT members and €40 for non-members. Past issues of Traduire (with 2-year embargo – so this year’s issues won’t be available until 2016) are free to read on the portal.

Other posts you might like

“Dreich”: Scots, the Scots… or Scottish weather?

Lingua franca: English vs Latin

Commas: fascinating facts (and a Stop Press)

by Marian Dougan

Helicopter shining beam of light


Italian journalist and author Beppe Severgnini has come up with a rule for good writing. It’s the PORCO rule: Pensa, Organizza, Rigurgita, Correggi, Ometti (Ponder, Organise, Regurgitate, Correct, Omit).

I’m not mad about the PORCO rule because:

a) “Porco” is Italian for pig. Not the cute kind of pig you see in a film like Babe (for which the Italian would be maiale), more a filthy swine sort of pig. The Italian “vecchio porco” equates to “dirty old man”. ‘Nuff said.

b) Regurgitate = spewing up words all over the page or screen. Again, ’nuff said.

c) “PORCO” lacks affordance. That is, the word and its connotations don’t suggest what it’s for. Where’s the link between smelly swine, dirty old men and good writing? Or maybe I’m missing something?

d) Good writing is lean, concise and elegant. Not words you usually associate with pigs – even the cute ones. They tend to be flabby.

e) “Omitting” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Editing and excising, fine. But simply omitting can be a sin (as the Catholic Church and Labour Party leader Ed Milliband both know).

All of that said, here’s my TORCH rule to cast a clear light on good writing:

Think: about what you want to say. Marshall your ideas. Let them rest a bit.

Organise: your thoughts. Jot down a summary, your main headings. Or even just think them out in your head.

Restate: your (by now beautifully ordered) thoughts in written form.

Correct, Clarify and Clean up: Run a spell-check. Read through your text and clarify any words, phrases or sentences that might confuse your readers. Do a “find and replace” on things like double spaces between words (or after full stops!), spaces followed by a punctuation mark, etc.

Hone: sharpen, whittle and fine-tune your (preferably printed out, if you’re working on a computer) text to make it more incisive.

That’s it. Do you have any additional tips for clear and concise writing? Let us know in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Brian Digital

Other translation and writing posts you might like:

Oxford commas

The Gettysburg Address: lessons for writers (and translators!)

Smart quote marks for smart writing

By Marian Dougan

“English 3.0”, a 20-minute video by documentary film-maker Joe Gilbert, “explores how the internet has influenced the way we communicate today and whether the changes witnessed have had a positive effect on the language”. It features interviews with Tom Chatfield (author and cultural commentator), David Crystal (author and linguist), Robert McCrum (associate editor of The Observer), Fiona McPherson (lexicographer) and Prof. Simon Horobin (author and academic).

Take a look and let us know what you think: has the Internet been good or bad for English? Do “ROFL”, “C U L8R”, “amazeballs” (no doubt out of fashion by now…) and all the rest mean that the language is in terminal decline?

Other posts you might like:

Apostrophes: everything you ever wanted to know, just about.

Nouning and verbing: an ask too far?

Life’s a beach? Great! But please, not on LinkedIn…

By Marian Dougan

Back in July, the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation (DGT) organised a joint event entitled “Future-proofing the profession: Equipping the next generation of translators“.

The event posed the following questions:

Are translators being trained to meet the future expectations of work providers and users of translation services?

Are they equipped with the skills they need to deal intelligently with technological change?

What part can academic institutions, professional bodies and international organisations play in preparing new and current practitioners for the challenges facing the profession?

I attended the event and to my mind it completely missed the very important question of basic employability/self-employability skills – a lack of which is a problem for all school- and university-leavers, not just translators. But no less important for that. My own question would have been:

As a work-experience provider, I find language graduates lack employability skills (marketing, business, targeted social media, web-savviness, IT (even MS Office!)) for employment/self-employment. Who, if anyone, is addressing this gap?

The ITI addresses some of these training issues in its Setting Up as a Freelance Translator course. At a more basic level, I think schools and universities should be providing young people with a sort of tool-kit or “leavers’ pack” telling them what skills they need to enter the world of work as it is today and, most important, where to obtain them (including information on grants and training available from government agencies, local authorities and organisations such as the Prince’s Trust).

Watch the videos and take the survey

You can watch the videos of the “Future-proofing the profession presentations”. And, if you’ve got 5-10 minutes to spare and ideas to share, you can take the follow-up survey (you don’t need to have attended the event to do so). I think today (2 October) is the deadline, unless it’s been extended.

If you do have ideas on how best to equip translators for the future, don’t forget to share them here in the comments too!

Other posts you might like:

Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

Life’s a beach? Great! But please, not on LinkedIn…

101 things a translator needs to know but doesn’t necessarily think to ask

By Marian Dougan

Scottish historian Neil Oliver has written an open letter to the people of Scotland, setting out his position on the Independence Referendum. I’m publishing extracts from it here as it expresses similar feelings to my my own.

Neil Oliver’s open letter to the Scottish people:

“I will lay my cards on the table from the start: I will be voting No.

I have no economic argument to make. Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing people argue the toss about the pound, pensions and the rest. I am voting No because for me, the offering by the Yes camp lacks nobility and humanity.

Having spent years working on the television series Coast, I think it’s fair to say I’ve seen as much of this United Kingdom of ours as anyone else living here. It’s a project that has changed my life in several ways. It has certainly caused me to fall in love with the place – the whole place. Circumnavigate these islands as I have, as often as I have, and one thing above all becomes clear: the national boundaries within are invisible and therefore meaningless.

People living in a fishing town in Cornwall have more in common with the inhabitants of a fishing town in Fife than either population has with the folk of a town in the Midlands. They have a shared experience and a common history of coping with lives shaped by the sea. The coast is another country – the fifth country – and it unites us and binds us like the hem of a garment.

The differences that are discernible as you travel around Britain are regional ones – made of accents and architecture, geology and geography. I am all in favour of people having the power to make decisions about their own patch: but I am utterly opposed to the idea of breaking centuries old bonds in order to make that happen.”

Other posts you might like:

The Scottish Referendum. Words for thought (2): “solidarity”

The Scottish Referendum: words for thought (1): “cleave”

For words to even better effect – just add music 

 by Marian Dougan

Red, white and blue bangles

First of all, a warning to readers.

I normally try to keep this blog a-political and to focus mainly on language issues. However, I feel very passionately about the Scottish Referendum debate and its outcome. As this blog is my main platform for expressing my beliefs, this post, and maybe one other in the next few days, will have a political slant. Not party-political, but political in the sense of deeply-held convictions. If you’re not particularly interested in the referendum, don’t worry: the language element will come first, so you can easily ignore the political stuff if you prefer. 

The language bit: “solidarity”

One word I wish we’d heard more of in the Scottish Independence Referendum debate is “solidarity”. I’d always thought this was a directly Latinate word, but apparently it was coined during the French Revolution:

Online Etymology Dictionary:

solidarity (n.)
1829, from French solidarité “communion of interests and responsibilities, mutual responsibility,” a coinage of the “Encyclopédie” (1765), from solidaire “interdependent, complete, entire,” from solide. With a capital S-, the name of an independent trade union movement in Poland, formed September 1980, from Polish Solidarność.

Oxford Dictionaries online:

mid 19th century: from French solidarité, from solidaire “solidary”.

Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group

The political bit

One plank of the Yes-voters’ (those in favour of Scottish independence) campaign is that an independent Scotland will be better able to fight social ills such as child poverty and youth unemployment.

Like the Yes-voters, I deplore child poverty and youth unemployment. But I don’t think that turning our backs on poor households and unemployed people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while seeking to resolve those social problems here in Scotland, is the right solution. I believe we can tackle poverty and unemployment better if we stick together and pool our resources.

I also think we should give our politicians – all of them – a great big kick in the bahookie while we’re at it, to let them know we want change, and we mean it.

By the way: the photo features my key accessories for Referendum week.

Other posts you might like:

Bangles, jangles… and keyboards?


Simple words but in an intelligent way

The Scottish Referendum: words for thought (1)

By Marian Dougan


"Morning Toilet" - Painting of woman by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

As you’re probably aware (you certainly will be if you live in Scotland or one of the other UK countries!), on 18 September people on both sides of the Scottish independence debate – “Yes” voters, who want independence, and “No” voters, who want to stay with the United Kingdom – will be casting their votes.

And in spite of their opposing stances on Scottish independence, both sides will have one thing in common: they’ll each be voting to “cleave”. The “No” voters will express their desire to cleave to the United Kingdom, and the “Yes” voters their desire to cleave from it. Because “cleave” is one of those odd words in English that contains two contradictory meanings.

Both words started out from different roots, but their spelling has converged over time.

Cleave no. 1: to split, divide or separate

From the Old English cleofan, cleven, cliven, from Proto-Germanic *kleuban. Past tense: clove or cleft or cleaved; past participle: cloven or cleft or cleaved.

This version of “cleave” gives us terms like cloven hoof, cleaver and cleavage (about which, see below).

“Cleave”, version 1, is normally used to denote a clean and irrevocable split (imagine a butcher’s cleaver chopping through bones).

Cleave no. 2: to adhere, stick, cling

From Old English clifian, cleofian, from West Germanic *klibajan. Past tense and past participle: cleaved.

“Cleave”, version 2, is frequently used to describe a very strong and emotional attachment to a person or belief: such as allegiance to a nation or family of nations.

Returning briefly to cleave no. 1, for most people nowadays the related word “cleavage” is associated with low-cut necklines. Or possibly builders’ bums (shudder). The women in the painting above, Morning Toilet by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (Source: Wikimedia Commons), offers both varieties.

However, “cleavage” was originally a geological term referring to the “action of splitting (rocks or gems) along natural fissures”. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the bosomy meaning wasn’t in use until the 1940s:

The sense of “cleft between a woman’s breasts in low-cut clothing” is first recorded 1946, defined in a “Time” magazine article [Aug. 5] as the “Johnston Office trade term for the shadowed depression dividing an actress’ bosom into two distinct sections;” traditionally first used in this sense by U.S. publicist Joseph I. Breen (1888-1965), head of the Production Code Administration (replaced 1945 by Eric Johnston), enforcers of Hollywood self-censorship, in reference to Jane Russell’s costumes and poses in “The Outlaw.”

So now we know.

Other posts you might like:

 The UK’s sexiest accent? Parliamo Glasgow

“Dreich”: Scots, the Scots… or Scottish weather?

Glasgow’s times past

By Marian Dougan