The Scottish Referendum: historian Neil Oliver’s open letter to the people of Scotland

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

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

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


The Scottish Referendum: words for thought (1)

"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






Something Understood: a radio programme about translation

I’ve been very busy recently, with not much time to post here. But today I came across a radio programme that I can share (quickly!) with you. It’s from BBC Radio 4 and is called “Something Understood“. In the programme,

Mark Tully negotiates the challenges, pitfalls and delights of translating ideas, emotions and even music, into different languages, cultures and forms of expression.

“Something Understood” lasts 30 minutes and discusses the translation of literature, poetry and music (in the form of “variations on, or musical translations of, Paganini’s Caprice 24”). It’s available for another 4 weeks on the Radio 4 website.

Other posts you might like:

When the poet died: on translating remembrance

The translators’ poet laureate (and rapper!)

The king’s speech — and how to translate it

By Marian Dougan


Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

A guest post today, from someone starting out in their translation career. Kathleen Clegg is just completing her Masters at Glasgow University, and kindly agreed to write a post describing her experience over the last year and her feelings as she embarks on her translation career. So read on, for a fresh perspective on the translator’s life.

Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

What was the first thought that came to mind when I began the MSc in Translation Studies: Translation & Professional Practice at Glasgow University? Sheer terror and just a little bit of excitement. Semester one did feel like I’d been thrown in at the deep end but could I stay afloat? I’ve come out the other side, so the answer, thankfully, was yes. But in order to tell you where I am now, I’ll have to take you all the way back to September 2013 and it’s been quite a journey…

Semester one of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester one did seem to pass in a blur of reading lists, translation theory, and an ever-present feeling of panic as I adjusted to the pace of work (bring back undergrad). I didn’t even realise that there was literature on translation theory… I do now! For me personally, there was slightly too much emphasis on theory and not enough on practice. But, having said that, theory has influenced how I approach translation. My perspective has definitely changed now that my translator’s brain has been rewired to ask two simple questions before a translation begins: What type of text am I translating and who is my target audience? I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start any translation.

A translation student’s typical week

I must admit how much I loved the small class sizes; usually no more than 10 of us, put under the spotlight every week for two hours as we discussed our translations and our strategies for tackling them. And for those of you that don’t love that idea, it was a lot more fun and relaxed than I’ve just made it sound! The range of texts was impressive too – marketing texts, literature, news and magazine articles, and theatre…It’s strange how much I enjoyed it, given the amount of time I’d spend trying to find the right word, only to arrive at class for someone to tell me the exact word I’d been looking for all along! Not to mention the countless number of drafts I’d print off in the pursuit of perfection. Despite the inevitable challenges that came with each type of text, I’d have loved to have done more translations each week. The small number of contact hours each week did mean that I didn’t get to know my classmates as well as I’d have expected. Translating did surprise me in that respect for being a rather solitary process.

Translation Masterclasses

But there was the added bonus of being able to meet up throughout the year for translation masterclasses; professional, dare I even use the word ‘renowned’, translators would come to the university to talk to us about breaking into the profession. Although there wasn’t shock, there was awe. We couldn’t quite believe that they had come to talk to us. Their pearls of wisdom were gratefully received. Only one question remained after their departure. Could we be like that one day?

Semester two of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester two brought with it much of the same, with a foray into technical translation and the inevitable headaches that came with legal and medical translation. As we ventured back into the world of non-technical texts, the translation of children’s literature was a pleasant but confusing change. With semester two came two new additions – an introduction to subtitling and subtitling software and the love/hate relationship (mostly hate) that came with mastering Trados translation software. We were doing a Masters after all; how hard could it be? Very hard is the answer. After much frustration and shouting at my laptop later, I passed the beginners’ Trados exam, so you’ll be pleased to know that there was a happy ending and a still intact laptop… I can’t comment on the laptops of others.

My dissertation: Medical Translation

Currently, I’m in the middle of my 14,000 word dissertation and I’m going to surprise you all now when I tell you that I’m really enjoying it. My dissertation comprises a translation project followed by a commentary with a theoretical foundation. OK, I admit when I say it like that that it may not sound like the most exciting thing that you’ve ever heard of! My translation project involves translating a French medical textbook for both a medical professional audience and a non-professional audience; the latter will be in the form of a magazine article. While my classmates have no clue why I’d willingly delve into the world of medical translation, I’m not regretting my decision… well, not yet, at least. I’m just hoping that my supervisor isn’t regretting her decision to supervise me!

What lies ahead after my Translation Studies MSc?

I took the plunge a few months ago and joined the Institute of Translation and Interpreting‘s Scottish network, ITI ScotNet, in an effort to stave off the feeling of being a lone wolf. I can’t emphasise how lovely the Scottish translation community has been and it feels great to know I’m not alone; help is most definitely at hand if I need it. So what’s next for me after escaping academia? Well, nothing in this life is certain, but here’s my plan. In the near future, I’m intending to join the ITI and become a member of their medical network. After graduating I’m hoping to apply for an internship or work for a translation agency. I know that right now it’ll be impossible to live the life of a jetsetter and attend every major medical conference going, but I’ll be happy taking my first steps into freelance work. Can I make it as a freelance translator? Hopefully, my MSc in Translation Studies is just the beginning…

About Kathleen

Photo of Kathleen for blogKathleen Clegg lives in Glasgow, where she is currently working on her dissertation: the last stage in her MSc in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow. She translates from French and Spanish into English. In 2013, Kathleen graduated from the University of Strathclyde with a BA (Hons) in Spanish and French. During her degree course, she spent her fourth year abroad as a language assistant in Seville. Kathleen is a keen and passionate linguist who hopes to embark on a career in medical translation following graduation. She loves reading Scottish crime fiction (when she finds the time), and listening to Scottish folk and Spanish classical guitar music.

By Marian Dougan

Top 25 language blogs 2014 – a belated thank you (we came third!)

Top 25 Language Language Professional Blogs 2014
“Words to good effect” is one of the winning language blogs in the Top 25 Language Professionals Blogs 2014 competition organised by LexioPhiles and We came third, and are totally chuffed!

A (belated) big “Thank You” to everyone who voted for us, and to LexioPhiles and for organising the competition.

Great things about the Language Lovers competition include:

1. It’s eclectic. The Top Language Twitterers, Language Professionals BlogsLanguage Learning BlogsLanguage Facebook Pages and Language YouTube Channels for 2014 featured: French, Spanish/Catalan, US English, a Polish translator/interpreter writing in English, Italian, Terminology, Verbal branding, Grammar, Korean, Video Games, Phonetics, Swedish, Irish and Danish polyglots, tea-drinkers (one of them a tiny dot in the middle of the Ocean – that’s you, Cath! , and the other a translation team effortlessly carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders), Norwegian, American slang, Romanian, Thai, Russian, German…

2. It’s democratic, in that anyone in the various categories can be nominated and winners can just as easily be one-man or -woman bands as big “Language Service Providers”; just as easily be students or newcomers to their language profession as old hands. Also, 50% of the ranking is decided by voters and 50% by the organisers, on the basis of objective criteria. So even if you rope in all your friends and cronies and colleagues and clients and cousins, even if you pay people to vote for you, the team at LexioPhiles/ will still have the last word.

3. It’s a great motivator for the nominees and winners – and by “winners” I mean anyone in the top 25 of each of the categories. Many folk using social media for professional as opposed to personal purposes get tired and give up before long. But it’s lovely to find out, through a competition like this one, that people read – and like – your blog (or Twitter account etc), and a spur to go on writing.

So once again: thanks to everyone who voted for Words to good effect, and a special thanks to LexioPhiles and for all their hard work on the organisational side.

By Marian Dougan

Interpreters: what they do and how they do it

If you take part in outreach activities, or if people ever ask you the difference between translators and interpreters, and what they actually do, then you might find this “More Than Words” TEDx talk useful. Produced by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, it features Laura Burian, Miguel Garcia and Barry Olsen.

The talk also provides a good answer to anyone who asserts that everyone speaks English so there’s no need to bother learning other languages:

If you talk a man in a language he understands, that goes his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Anyway, it’s a myth that “everyone” speaks English: check out the Map of the percentage of people speaking English in the EU by country from Jakub Marian’s website (for copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the image here). Only 22% of Spaniards say they can hold a conversation in English, 27% of Portuguese and 34% of Italians. So if you want to do business in those countries, you’d do well to learn (or employ a translator/interpreter who knows) their languages!

By the way, check out the back-drop to the speakers: it’s amazing what you can do with plastic bottles and coloured lighting.

Other posts you might like:

Languages as they is spoke, by Catherine Tate

Ministry of Justice language services: FUBAR?

Spreading the language love (1) 

By Marian Dougan

Translators’ rates and the poverty cult. Plus ça change?

In the comments to one of my recent posts about translators’ rates and pay, translator Kevin Hendzel mentioned a speech by Neil Inglis, a translator with the International Monetary Fund. Neil’s speech referred to the “poverty cult” that so many (too many) translators seem to espouse. I haven’t been able to find the speech itself, but Kevin’s article “The Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era” (published by the North California Translators Association (NCTA)) was inspired by it. And Chris Durban mentioned it recently in a post entitled “The Frugal Translator” for the Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s “Pillar Box” blog. Here are some key points about the Poverty Cult, as summarised by Kevin and Chris.

The Poverty Cult and its Seven Deadly Sins

According to Neil Inglis, the Poverty Cult may develop from “the inferiority complex that language professionals have (and others have about them) regarding their worth in the marketplace”. The Seven Deadly Sins of the Poverty Cult are:

  1. envying the success of others
  2. gloating over the failure of others
  3. a pervasive sense that it is better for everybody to fail than for a few to succeed
  4. a sickly squeamishness where the subject of money is concerned
  5. shabby gentility, more shabby than genteel
  6. a widespread conviction that it is better to have a little and be secure than to take a gamble and risk losing everything
  7. Schadenfreude mixed with sour grapes.

‘Poverty culters’ inhabit or aspire to a world where the sensitivity to and love of language essential to expert translation is pure and desirable — and any sensitivity to market realities is the first step down the slippery slope to vulgar commerce. The choice is clear: noble, impecunious linguist or tacky money-grubber.

The depressing thing about the Seven Deadly Sins of the Poverty Cult is that Neil Inglis wrote that speech about them back in 1996 – nearly 20 years ago. And they still haven’t gone away. In his article for the NCTA, Kevin suggests Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era as a remedy to the Poverty Cult. Here they are in summary/paraphrased form:

Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era

  1. Master Your Subjects. Deliver a product of unparalleled quality. Choose a few commercially viable specialty areas and learn everything about them. Translators with a formal education in the various subject areas have a huge advantage in the commercial market
  2. Appreciate Your Limits. All good translators recognize the limits of their knowledge and turn down (or refer to colleagues) assignments that may imperil the quality of their product. Referring work to colleagues promotes the notion that what translators do is sufficiently complex and demanding to require specialization [client education]
  3. Defend Your Product. Stand up and defend the integrity of your product. Good clients will rely on the translator to look out for their interests on a level far in excess of their ability to judge it. They will give latitude sufficient to operate in a manner consistent with the translator’s quality standards, which in the end can only benefit them.
  4. Sign Your Work. The simple act of claiming authorship shatters the “black box” invisibility of the translation process and reinserts translators into their rightful place as craftsmen of the translation product. Translators who sign their work are also expressing confidence in their product in public […] Signing your work also serves as a means to elevate public recognition and appreciation for the role of translators.
  5. Quote Your Rate. Set your rates at your own discretion and quote those rates to translation agencies or companies. There is plenty of room for good faith negotiations between parties that approach a transaction as equals.
  6. Promote Your Profession. Public relations and promotion of translation has been so catastrophically poor for so many years that it is a miracle the public knows we exist at all. Engage in client education. Grasp opportunities to talk about the profession.
  7. Perfect Your Craft. Establish and maintain a close community of cooperative and disciplined colleagues whose talent and expertise help to guide you and hone your skills in the intensely personal creative act that is translation. All translators benefit to the extent that their work is “at risk” for examination, revision or review [by peers and colleagues].

What do you think, readers? Are we saints or sinners?

Articles by Kevin and Chris:

The Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era

The Frugal Translator

Other posts you might like:

Translators’ rates: of guns and hoes

St. Jerome: a good role model for translators?

How to be good (2). Tips for clients 

By Marian Dougan

“Reginella”, sung by Olivia Naio. A song for Italian National Day

Olivia Dougan Naio signing

Today, 2 June, is the Festa della Repubblica, Italy’s National Day. So for my Italian readers (and everyone else too!) here’s a song from Naples performed – in the Neapolitan dialect – by my daughter, Olivia.

About Reginella

“Reginella”, written in 1917 by Libero Bovio and Gaetano Lama, is a bitter-sweet song about lost love and innocence. The singer sees his old love, his Reginella, walking down the street with her chanteuse friends, speaking in French. She’s wearing a low-cut dress and a hat adorned with roses and ribbons. Wordly, and no longer the girl he once courted, when they lived on bread and cherries – and kisses (“oh, what kisses!”).
He tells Reginella’s caged goldfinch to fly away, just like Reginella did. The cage door is open, he says, so fly away and find a mistress with a true heart, who deserves to hear you sing.  We don’t love each other any more, he sings in the chorus, but sometimes, he thinks (hopes), when Reginella allows her mind to drift, she still thinks of him.

About Olivia Dougan Naio

Olivia is a singer-songwriter who’s just finished her second year at Leeds College of Music, where’s she’s studying popular music. She’s classically trained too, having been a member of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Junior Chorus. Olivia’s working on an EP, but in the meantime if you’d like to hear some of her own songs you can find her on YouTube. She’s bilingual in Italian and English. But not in Neapolitan, which she learned to pronounce for this song (the recording was a birthday present for her Dad, Vito).

About Olivia’s name

When Olivia and my son Harry were born, the bureaucrats at the Anagrafe (public records office) in Rome wouldn’t allow us to give them a double surname (ie Dougan Naio). So we gave both of them my own surname, Dougan, as a middle name (and even that was a struggle with the unhelpful staff at the Anagrafe). The Naio surname is quite rare – Vito was the only “Naio” in the Rome phone book when we lived there, and the only other Naios we know are his brother, his sisters, and his nephew and nieces. If you happen to know anyone called Naio, please let us know in the comments (if you can – the comments function seems to be playing up).

Other posts you might like:

Language, music and me by Elisa Bonora

Singing in Occitan, beautifully

English-Italian blues

By Marian Dougan

Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 – voting now open!

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 Voting is now open for the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 competition organised by LexioPhiles and, for which we’ve been nominated in the “Language Professionals” category. Voting runs from 20 May to 23:59 hours Central European Time time on 9 June 2014. If you’d like to vote for Words to good effect, you can cast your vote here. Thank you!

PS Having chosen a blog name that begins with “W”, we’re right at the bottom of the list, so if you want to vote for “Words to good effect” you’ll need to scroll — sorry! My next blog will be called “A word to good effect”.

PPS If you’d like to tweet about the competition, the hashtag is #tll14.

By Marian Dougan