Drinking a unique toast

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Dear reader,

In this season, many a glass is raised and “toasts” offered. The word seems to come from an old custom of using spiced toast to flavor wine; by extension it meant the person whose health was saluted.

Kroyer Peder Severin 'Hip Hip Hurrah!' 1888

Peder Severin Kroyer, Hip, Hip, Hoorah! (1888).

In Spanish it’s brindis, one of that language’s rare Germanic (as opposed to Latin) roots. From Ich bring dir “I bring you”—i.e., good wishes. (The verb brindar is “to offer, provide”.)

“To your health!” or variants thereof may well be the world’s most popular toast; Span. ¡Por su salud! or simply ¡Salud! and Fr. A votre santé! are close equivalents.

Toasts can be intricate, as in the legendary old Irish blessing: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, the rains fall soft on your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

But where drinking and poetry intersect, it’s hard to beat William Oldys’s 18th century “anacreontic” (poetic term for a drinking song), “The Fly”:

Busy, curious, thirsty fly!
Drink with me and drink as I:
Freely welcome to my cup,
Couldst thou sip and sip it up:
Make the most of life you may,
Life is short and wears away.

Both alike are mine and thine
Hastening quick to their decline:
Thine’s a summer, mine’s no more,
Though repeated to threescore.
Threescore summers, when they’re gone,
Will appear as short as one!

The empathy and fraternity with a tiny fellow mortal: how moving, how gently expressed! And likely inspired by a real fly on the edge of the poet’s glass.

¡Buenas palabras!
Pablo

 

Pablo J. Davis is an attorney, translator, and historian. A version of this essay was originally published in the Dec. 24-30, 2017 issue of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee, USA) as No. 262 of the weekly, bilingual column “Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation” [Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción].

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Un brindis único

Click here for English/Enlace para inglés

Querida lectora o lector,

Es época de levantar copas y ofrecer brindis. En inglés: toast, lo que significa principalmente “tostada”. En su acepción de “brindis” parece proceder de la antigua costumbre de saborizar el vino con tostadas de especias, y también podía referirse a la persona por cuya salud se brindaba.

Kroyer Peder Severin 'Hip Hip Hurrah!' 1888
Peder Severin Kroyer, Hip, Hip, Hoorah! (1888).

La voz “brindis” es una de las muy pocas en español de origen germánico, en vez de latín. Viene de Ich bring dir, “Yo te traigo”.

“¡Por su salud!” o “¡Salud!” probablemente sea el brindis más popular del mundo. En inglés, To your health! y en francés, A votre santé!

Los brindis pueden ser muy elaborados, como esta legendaria bendición irlandesa: “Que el camino se allane a su encuentro. Que el viento siempre le sople por la espalda. Que el sol le acaricie el rostro, la lluvia caiga suavemente sobre sus campos… y hasta la próxima, que el Señor lo mantenga en la palma de su mano.”

Pero es difícil sobrepasar el “anacreóntico” (canción de taberna) de William Oldys, del siglo XVIII inglés—la traducción al español a cargo de este servidor:

Mosca sedienta y audaz
Bebe, sírvete en paz
A mi copa, bienvenida
Toma todo lo que quieras
Aprovecha el momento
Que la vida es breve y fugaz.

Tu vida cual la mía igual
Corre hacia su final
La tuya un verano dura
La mía, sesenta con holgura.
Mas sesenta años cuando se hayan ido
Cual uno solo parecerán.

Hermosas, la compasión y hermandad que derraman estos versos hacia un pequeño compañero en la mortalidad. Seguro que inspiradas en una mosca real posada en el borde de la copa del poeta.

Good words!
Pablo

Pablo J. Davis es abogado, traductor e historiador. Una versión de este ensayo se publicó originalmente en la edición del 24 al 30 de diciembre 2017 de La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee, EEUU) como la entrega nro. 262 de la columna bilingüe semanal “Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción” [Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation].

The violent alienation of “ajeno”

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Dear reader,

Recently your faithful servant stumbled across a recording of a song [link below] he had heard from time to time, but has now had a chance to listen to closely. It is a jewel. Beautiful… but painful. Composed by César Calvo, sung in the bell-like tones of Susana Baca, leading exponent of Peru’s Afro musical traditions: “María Landó” is a hypnotic chant evoking the back-breaking, mind-numbing, and most of all soul-deadening work that is the title character’s lot in life. And still that of most of our kind, humankind.Millet - Gleaners, The, 1857

After singing of dawn breaking with its wings of light over the city… and noon with its golden bell of water… and night with its long goblet lifted to the moon… the lyric turns to María “who has no time to lift her eyes, her eyes wracked by lack of sleep, by sorrows… María who has no dawn, no noon or night… For María there is only labor, only labor and more labor… y su trabajo es ajeno: her labor is not her own.”

What power, what violence, what understanding of the world is compressed into that single word ajeno “belonging to another or others, alien, foreign, unfamiliar.” Its root, Lat. alienus, also yields Engl. “alien.” (Think of how the latter word is applied to immigrants.)

Argentina’s incomparable troubador Atahualpa Yupanqui sang of the exhausted herdsman driving cattle in the hills: “Las penas y las vaquitas/ se van por la misma senda./ Las penas son de nosotros,/ las vaquitas son ajenas” (Sorrows and cattle/ moving along the same trail/ The sorrows are our own,/ the cattle belong to another).

The Roman playwright Terence gave us this moving expression of compassion, of solidarity with all our fellow mortals: Homo sum, nihil humani me alienum est—I am human, and nothing that is human is alien to me.

¡Buenas palabras!

[To hear Susana Baca’s legendary recording of “María Landó” click here.]

Pablo

Pablo J. Davis, Ph.D., CT, J.D., is a historian, translator, and attorney. The essay above was originally published in La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) in the Nov. 20-26, 2017 issue, as No. 257 of the weekly, bilingual column “Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation” [Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción].

Grammar and the “president elect”

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Dear reader,

By the time these lines (written on Sunday) reach you, the election will be over—and all I can say is, I told you so. Which reminds me of the brilliant quip by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean who said, before the 1934 World Series against Detroit, “This Series is already won”—then added, “I just don´t know by which team.”

ballot-into-ballot-boxSo, as you read this, there will (presumably) be a president-elect. The term’s a bit odd: if a candidate is “elected,” why the form “elect”? (Spanish similarly has presidente electo where you might expect elegido.) The answer lies in the difference between “strong” and “weak” verbs in Germanic grammar, which is the main structure for how English works.

A weak verb forms the participle by adding an ending, typically “ed,” to the verb stem without changing the stem. Thus “bake” becomes “I had baked” and the participle can also act as an adjective: “baked chips.”

On the other hand, strong verbs like “seek,”  “sink,” and “bind” form irregular participles, short and punchy: “sought,” “sunk,” and “bound.” So, in English, the verb “elect,” while normally weak, in the phrase “president elect” behaves as a strong verb.

In Spanish, the equivalent principle derived from Latin grammar refers not to verbs, but rather to participles, as strong or weak.  Many verbs have both forms. Elegir (to elect or choose) yields me habían elegido (they had chosen me) in weak form, and presidente electo (president elect) in strong form, as an adjective. Habían freído las papas (they had fried the potatoes) but papas fritas (fried potatoes). Span. conquista and Engl. “conquest” both embody a strong form of verbs derived from Latin conquirere. Span. convencer gives convencido (convinced) but the strong form convicto (convicted); the English noun “convict” also derives from the strong form.

From “president elect” to “convict” in the same column—sadly, in 2016, regardless of who won, it doesn’t seem like such a big leap.

Word of a thousand disguises: the long, strange career of “freak”

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Dear reader,

Words change across years and generations. They change spelling, sound, and especially meaning. But some follow such long and winding paths, so full of surprises, it can be incredible. One of these is the English word “freak.”

Circus poster photo, Ala., Walker Evans [1935] [AmMemory LOC id- fsa1998017988(slash)PP]

A key association of “freak” is with the circus, where it meant a person displayed due to some unusual (even hideous) characteristic such as extreme height, extra fingers, etc. This photo of a circus poster was taken in Alabama in 1935 by Walker Evans. (Source: Library of Congress, American Memory website)

Brave, fierce warrior.  From Old English, this sense dates to A.D. 900 or before.

Sudden fancy, whim.  This use was well established by the early 19th century. “A sudden freak seemed to have seized him” (Jane Austen). Spanish equivalents: capricho, locura. Not much used anymore. But freak out is—meaning a highly nervous or irrational reaction to a situation: “I need you to stay calm—don’t freak out on me.”

Enthusiast.  From the sense of “whim” arose that of “enthusiast.” It’s still common to hear, “She’s a health freak.” Spanish: Es una maniática de la salud.

Abnormal or extreme specimen. From “whim” came, too, the idea of the abnormal. A very tall person could be called “a freak” or “a freak of nature.” Around 1920 the term “circus freak” began to grow in use. It referred to an unfortunate person or animal fated to be exhibited in a circus, fair, or carnival. Spanish has fenómeno del circo. Typical attractions might be “The Bearded Lady” or “The Two-Headed Calf.”

Unusual, odd, rare. Similar to the previous sense, but distinct, is this broader one: as an adjective, “freak” can simply mean “unusual, odd, rare.” For instance, “a freak early-summer snowstorm” or “a freak occurrence.”

Drug user. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was commonplace to hear “freak” for an enthusiastic drug user, usually of marijuana or LSD.  It was also associated, in men, with beards and long hair. The combination “hippie freak” was common. An underground comic of the era was The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Nymphomaniac, hypersexual person. The drug-related sense began to give way to a new one. Rick James used it when he famously sang, “Super freak, the girl’s a super freak!” The meaning is that an individual is presumably insatiable in the sexual realm. Spanish has ninfómana and many slang terms, including loca (the feminine form of the adjective for “crazy”), much used in Argentina and Uruguay.

Copyright ©2016 by Pablo J. Davis.  All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the May 8-14, 2016 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) as number 179 in the weekly bilingual column, “Misterios y Engimas de la Traducción/Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation”.  Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, CT is an ATA (American Translators Association) Certified Translator, Engl>Span; a Tennessee State Courts Certified Interpreter, Engl<>Span; and an innovative trainer in the fields of translation, interpreting, and intercultural competency, with over 25 years experience. He holds the doctorate in Latin American History from The Johns Hopkins University, and is a Juris Doctor Candidate at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, University of Memphis (May 2017).

What good translation is “for”!

Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Dear reader,

 “Latinos para Trump” read signs at the GOP Convention. Clearly it meant “Latinos for Trump” but it didn’t say that: Spanish para can mean “for” but it’s not the same “for” used to indicate support of a candidate. (An even more unfortunate version of the sign, also seen at the convention, was  “Hispanics para Trump” which didn’t even use the Spanish word for “Hispanics”: hispanos.)

Latinos-Hispanics para Trump

Scenes from the Republican Convention held in Cleveland, Jul. 18-21, 2016.

The preposition para mainly means “for the purpose of, in order to, to be used by.” Papel para fotocopiadora, “paper for  photocopier, photocopy paper”; vegetales para ensaladas, “vegetables for salads, salad greens.”

“Latinos para Trump” says something like “Latinos to be used by Trump.” It should read: Latinos por (or con) Trump.

(We’ll revisit por/para again in the near future.)

The mistranslation unintentionally said some other things, too: “This sign was not made by a Latino” or (more accurately) “was not created by a native Spanish speaker.” Even worse: “We don’t care about Latinos, we just want their votes.”

Poor translation is poison: it undermines your message; makes you look foolish; and sends adverse signals—the worst being, “We don’t care enough to do this right.”

Every time an organization assigns a translation to some employee who happens to (it is believed) “speak Spanish,” the result will almost certainly be unfortunate—and maybe deadly: imagine the mistranslation of a safety warning!

Few of us would let our brother-in-law “who fools around with electrical stuff” do the wiring of our house. Or have the neighbor who once took a CPR course operate on our liver. But, in essence, that’s what’s routinely done with translation (and its spoken cousin, interpreting). These are professional, technical skills requiring training and experience, not something you can do just because you (sort of) know a second language—and not even just from being bilingual.

The position must be filled

Enlace para español/Click here for Spanish

Dear reader,

We’re about to see two political conventions whose result may not be foreordained. Many find this strange, even unthinkable. But it’s how conventions used to be—before they became blockbuster TV specials with lots of flash but no real drama.

A bilingual look at some words of the season:

Roman white toga

“Candidate” comes from the Roman custom of those seeking public office wearing a white (candidum) toga, symbolizing purity. It’s unclear if this would make apt electoral attire today.

Convention, from Latin convenire “to come together.” Spanish convención has been widely used for such gatherings for some time; in the early/mid 20th century it surpassed an older term still not entirely obsolete: asamblea (assembly).

“Convention” can also mean a broadly accepted custom, as when broadcasters say a show starts at “9PM/8PM Central” it’s understood 9PM means Eastern time. Spanish “Convengamos en que…” (Let’s agree that) uses this sense of “convention.”

Span. convenio, from the same Latin root, means “agreement” as in an international treaty or a legal settlement.

Candidate and  candidato go back to a Roman custom: aspirants to public office wore white togas. Lat. candidum meant “white, pure.” Engl. “candid” took French’s sense “frank, sincere.” Span. cándido takes up a different sense: “naïve.” Neither “candid” nor cándido generally spring to mind when thinking of politicians.

Nominee. This sense is old in English, from at least the 1680s. The Spanish equivalent: candidato, simply, or titular (el titular del partido Republicano, the Republican Party nominee). A quaint term is “standard-bearer” (“standard” a term for “flag”); Span. has an equivalent, abanderado.

Running. Candidates “run” for office (or “stand” in the UK). In Spanish se postulan or se presentan, which are both also ways of saying “to apply”—as for a job. The electorate is a strange employer, though, as it is forced to hire someone even if not satisfied with the applicants.

¡Buenas palabras! Good words!

Pablo

Copyright ©2016 by Pablo J. Davis.  All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the Jul. 17-23, 2016 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) as number 189 in the weekly bilingual column, “Misterios y Engimas de la Traducción/Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation”.  Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, CT is an ATA (American Translators Association) Certified Translator, Engl>Span; a Tennessee State Courts Certified Interpreter, Engl<>Span; and an innovative trainer in the fields of translation, interpreting, and intercultural competency, with over 25 years experience. He holds the doctorate in Latin American History from The Johns Hopkins University, and is a Juris Doctor Candidate at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, University of Memphis (May 2017).

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