Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and the rest of the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

Dear readers and followers,

Have you ever had to deal with spelling something in English and realised that you have no idea how that works in your foreign language? Every single time I have to deal with my bank or with TfL, that is a huge obstacle, especially when it comes to addresses. Well, now it is time to learn what A is for and so on!

NATO_Spelling_Final

To make this task easier, I have prepared this image that combines some of the charts you can find on the internet, with the flags, the letters, the Morse code, the telephony correspondence, and the phonic spelling for English speakers. This spelling alphabet is the most known and most widely used and it is known by several names, the most commons being NATO phonetic alphabet, although it is not really a phonetic alphabet. The proper name is International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet or ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) spelling alphabet.

Some curiosities:

  • in airports with a majority of Delta Airlines flights, the D is spelled as ‘David’ or ‘Dixie’ to avoid confusions;

  • during the Vietnam War, ‘Charlie’ was a code name for a Viet Cong, so the C was spelled differently, often as ‘Cain’;

  • for those languages with letters not included in the English alphabet, such as German, Swedish, Danish, and more, when these letters have a two-letter ASCII substitute, they are spelled like that. One example for all, the ASCII substitute for ä is ae in German and Swedish, and the NATO spelling is Alfa-Echo.

If you want to learn more, you have plenty of material on the internet:

Wikipedia, in its entry, includes a voice file with the pronunciation of the whole NATO alphabet, and some spelling alphabets in other languages in a chart in this other page;

You have a phonetic alphabet converter, for which I don’t see the utility, but why not;

You also have an app to learn the spelling alphabet by playing.

Until next and… keep being naughty, Knotty surely will!!!

Aprender idiomas es fácil con los ojos cerrados

Vivir_es_f_cil_con_los_ojos_cerrados-621115369-large

Ya está decidido, Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados de David Trueba va a representar a España en los Óscar, y no es ninguna sorpresa. He visto la peli hace poco, albergando muchas expectativas, porque me encanta el cine español, y porque me espero una maravilla cuando el reparto incluye a Javier Cámara.
El título ya lo delata, pero yo no pillé la alusión: la peli va a hablar de los Beatles. Cámara es Antonio, un profesor de inglés y latín en la España de los años sesenta. ¿Qué tienen que ver los dos idiomas? Os podría contar yo, pero él lo hace de manera tajante con pocas líneas:

Antonio: ¿Ya has dejado los estudios?

Juanjo: Más o menos.

Antonio: “Más o menos”, buena respuesta. Pues, mira, yo más o menos soy profesor de inglés y de latín, que aunque te parezcan dos cosas opuestas, en realidad tienen mucha relación. ¿Por qué piensas tú que los ingleses usan table para decir mesa? Pues, porque viene del latín tabulatabula-table. A mis alumnos les encanta estudiar inglés, pero dicen que aprender latín que es inútil, y ¿sabéis yo qué les digo? Que su abuelo también está viejo y no sirve para nada, pero sin él no estarían aquí.

En sus clases en un colegio de curas muy estricto, Antonio enseña inglés usando las letras de las canciones de los Beatles, letras que, nos dirá luego, va escribiendo de oído. Esa escena me ha recordado dos momentos muy claros de mi vida: el primero es de cuando, adolescente, estudiante de francés como único idioma extranjero (y latín, claro que sí), esperaba acabar los deberes para poder copiar las letras de las canciones de Queen de los libros de la biblioteca y leer las traducciones. Fue mi manera de acercarme al inglés, un idioma que no incluí en mis estudios por escuchar a las personas equivocadas, y que luego acabó apoderándose de mi vida. Puede parecer aburrido, e incluso una pérdida de tiempo, pero así empezó para mí el acercamiento a la actividad que más placer y satisfacción me da: la traducción. Leía esas letras durante horas, porque a esas alturas ya tenía muchos discos (cintas, en realidad, soy de la lejana época de las cintas y los lápices para rebobinarlas, algo que ahora, según nos hace creer Facebook, es talento de los que incluir en el currículum, pero en aquel entonces solo era un agobio). A lo que iba, empecé aprendiendo vocabulario, a menudo pijo, pero pronto fui más en profundidad, intentando entender las reglas de gramática, y a cuestionar las traducciones: pues sí, ¡lo tengo en la sangre y soy una verdadera friki! La otra anécdota que me recordó es la de cuando, ya mayorcita y en la universidad, seguí sin estudiar inglés entre mis idiomas oficiales, y acabé en uno de los famosos cursos del Centro Linguistico d’Ateneo, y el profesor nos puso Message in a bottle y el único resultado fue liarnos con la pronunciación de please y police, con lo fácil que es explicarle eso a un hablante de italiano. Me gustaría decir que no era su culpa, que hacía lo que podía con la clase que tenía, pero no es verdad, solo era uno de los muchos extranjeros aburridos que acabó dando clase porque no sabía qué más hacer. De esos profesores de lengua tuve muchos, y son la plaga de la educación italiana. Ahora el sistema puede ser horroroso, y los profesores han perdido la ilusión, pero cuando yo empecé a estudiar era diferente, y no puedo excusar la mediocridad. Cámara nos dice en la peli que:

Tener malos profesores no es tan grave: a veces, si tienes talento, un mal profesor te ayuda a decidir por ti mismo.

Es verdad, pero no excusa.

La peli sigue, y no os la voy a estropear, pero os voy a decir que la miréis, que la aprovechéis tanto como lo he hecho yo, y que, si estáis listos, admitáis que “vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados”, ¡pero al abrirlos se ve todo otro mundo!

Lenguanding, que es gerundio

2014-09-13 10.02.51
Nostálgica como pocos después de este fin de semana pasado en una pequeña isla española en Londres, me he puesto a escribir este post mientras escucho a Sabina. Para quien no se enteró, acaba de celebrarse el primer Lenguando en Londres; ahora sí, para no enterarse con tantos #Lenguanding llenando el Instagram, el Twitter, el Facebook, el Google+ y todo lo demás, hay que ser un pelín despistados.

Septiembre es el mes de la traducción, y esta ha sido una gran manera de celebrarlo, pero aún quedan más citas. Todo ha empezado, de manera extraoficial, el viernes por la noche, cuando el grupo, más o menos establecido, del LDNTweetUp se ha juntado con los lenguantes que ya estaban en Londres para una cena en Le Pain Quotidien, donde se han juntado cara conocidas, caras que hemos visto tan a menudo en las redes sociales que ya es como si nos conociéramos de verdad, y otras nuevas que, después de tres días lenguando y comiendo, ya son caras de amigos.

Las charlas se han repartido entre el día del sábado y la mañana del domingo, y han sido una mezcla de traducción e interpretación, siempre desde un punto de vista muy práctico y útil. Lo mejor sin duda ha sido la parte virtual, que ha permitido que todos fuéramos unos y trinos, asistiendo a una presentación y siguiendo las otras dos a la vez en Twitter. Voy a hablar de las charlas que seguí yo, pero le agradecería a cualquiera que quisiera si pudiera ampliar este resumen sobre lo que yo tuve que perder. El sábado, hemos empezado con una presentación general sobre la OMI, para luego pasar a las charlas simultáneas. Por el hecho de estar empezando ahora como autónoma, me he centrado más en las presentaciones sobre los aspectos prácticos de la creación del perfil profesional y de su promoción.

El taller de Isabel Santiago sobre el miedo a hablar en público ha sido una manera muy relajada de reflexionar sobre lo que nos bloquea a la hora de enfrentarnos a una audiencia. Durante mis estudios en Salamanca, ya tuve la ocasión de participar en un taller sobre un tema parecido, pero más centrado en las técnicas para conseguir más resultados (proyección y cuidado de la voz, dos and don’ts en el vestir y en la postura, y cosas por el estilo). Esta vez, por otra parte, ha sido más bien un análisis del aspecto psicológico del hablar en público, de las dificultades que podemos encontrar, y de los resultados en nosotros mismos en el caso de que nos enfrentemos a nuestros miedos o de que los evitemos. En realidad, es algo que es útil para cualquier persona que tenga que hablar frente a una audiencia, pero ha sido una serie de reflexiones, y de consejos, muy útiles para quien quiere trabajar como intérprete o profesor, porque el hablar en público es una componente imprescindible de estas profesiones.

Después de la pausa café, hemos vuelto con los secretos de Google+. Tengo que admitir que durante mucho tiempo he tenido el perfil de Google+, así como las demás plataformas de Google, porque vienen con el correo electrónico. Solo hace poco, para dar más espacio a mi blog, y para escribir de pelis, series de televisión y libros incluso cuando no están relacionados con los idiomas (y por eso no tienen cabida en este blog) he empezado a publicar en Google+ también. La verdad es que no lo uso mucho, ni conocía todas las posibilidades que ofrece, y lo que se debe hacer o evitar para que el perfil tenga éxito. Por esta razón, el taller de Alessio Demartis, aunque haya sido muy rápido, y haya intentado abarcar cuanto más en tan poco tiempo, ha sido una buena ocasión para entender cómo sacarle más provecho a una herramienta que puede ofrecer lo mismo que muchas otras plataformas, pero que a lo mejor no conocemos tan bien. Con las pistas que anoté de esta charla, ya tengo deberes para estos días para ir mejorando mi presentación.

Después, Valeria Aliperta nos ha hablado de cómo crear nuestra propia marca, una empresa con un nombre que destaque. De hecho, al descolgar el teléfono en las oficinas del HMRC, una de las primeras preguntas que oímos cuando nos apuntamos como autónomos en el Reino Unido es “¿Cómo quiere llamar su empresa?”, y yo me encontré con que no tenía pensado un nombre, y que no podía improvisar uno ahí mismo, uno que diera juego y me gustara. Considerando que me llevó tres días encontrar un título que fuera tan bonito como ambiguo para este blog, decidí quedarme con mi nombre nada más, hasta encontrar algo que considerara perfecto para mi actividad como traductora e intérprete.El de no precipitarse en la elección fue justo uno de los consejos de Valeria, porque el nombre elegido es algo que nos va a identificar, y a acompañar durante mucho tiempo. Su ejemplo es sin duda uno de los mejores en cuanto a éxito y visibilidad, y sus sugerencias, junto con las de María Ortegón el domingo, han sido muy interesantes para muchos aspectos, incluso para la creación de una página web, que será sin duda el próximo paso para mí.

La pausa para la comida ha sido un momento más para conocernos mejor entre todos mientras comíamos los platos riquísimos preparados por Casa Galicia y disfrutábamos del clima aún templado de Londres. Entre una empanada y una croqueta, hemos estado dándole espacio al networking, al twitting, al facebooking, al fotocalling y a los demás –ings.

La tarde, he querido dedicarla a mi pasión original, la interpretación, con las charlas de Tony Rosado sobre cómo defendernos como intérpretes, el taller de Trinidad Clares sobre interpretación judicial policial y la presentación de María Abad sobre consecutiva. El primero se ha centrado más en lo que puede ser útil en EEUU, pero que se puede aplicar sin dificultades al Reino Unido también, con ejemplos claros y divertidos de experiencias personales. Trini nos ha explicado un poco su trabajo de intérprete en las comisarías, y nos ha presentado un juego de rol para que pudiéramos entender las dificultades, lingüísticas y humanas, a las que se enfrenta quien trabaja en este sector. María, para concluir, nos ha llevado a una de las más temidas, y fascinantes, técnicas de interpretación, la consecutiva; con una breve introducción, y unos ejemplos muy claros, ha recordado a quien, como yo, ya lleva mucho sin trabajar con esta técnica, cuáles son las dificultades mayores, y las trampas más comunes, de este tipo de interpretación.

La cena en Byron ha sido más de lo mismo: buena comida, fotos, charlas e intercambio de experiencias, y mucho cansancio después de un día a tope. El segundo día, si se me permite parafrasear al Gran Wyoming, más pero no mejor, porque era imposible. La presentación de María Ortegón, como ya he dicho, ha dado unas pistas para cómo moverse en el mundo digital, y más consejos sobre lo que está bien hacer, y lo que hay que evitar, a la hora de promocionarse. A esta charla, le ha seguido la de Javi Mallo sobre Quality Assurance, un campo del que conozco muy poco, y al que he querido acercarme para aprender. A veces un poco opaca para una como yo que no conoce bien el tema, la discusión se ha hecho mucho más amena cuando de las descripciones hemos pasado a los ejemplos.

La pausa café en el patio ha traído más sol y más fotos, y ha sido un buen descanso con doble dosis de té para estar lista para la última parte, con la presentación de Antonio Martín sobre cómo crear macros en Word, una charla muy práctica e interesante que puede hacernos ahorrar mucho tiempo, y evitar lanzar el ordenador contra la pared, tentación que, de nada sirve negarlo, tenemos todos, y es superada solo por el deseo de hacer lo mismo con el móvil. A Xosé Castro le ha tocado cerrar Lenguanding con una charla sobre los errores y los calcos en las traducciones desde el inglés, y nos hemos echado unas buenas risas con los ejemplos y las anécdotas.

Besos y despedidas, e intercambio de tarjetas de visita con quienes se iban, y rumbo al The Castle para los que nos hemos apuntado a todo, comida de despedida incluida. Entre un “esto no sé qué es, pero lo voy a probar”, y un “a ver si queda más de esto otro que estaba bueno”, también se ha acabado esta experiencia maravillosa, y todos seguimos compartiendo ideas y fotos, esperando poder repetir muy pronto. ¿Cuántos tienen pensado ir al de La Rioja? Una servidora ya va moviendo hilos e intentando sobornar a los compañeros de trabajo para que le den días libres: fingers crossed! Mientras tanto, aquí dejo unos enlaces, que ya he compartido en Twitter, y donde se pueden encontrar fotos, tweets y opiniones sobre Lenguanding. Solo quiero añadir una cosa: mis agradecimientos a los organizadores y oradores para habernos facilitado estos dos días de diversión y aprendizaje.

Fotos en:

https://www.facebook.com/xosecastro/media_set?set=a.10152516542551492&type=1

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23lenguanding&mode=photos

Tweets en:

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23lenguanding

Más posts y otras informaciones en:

http://blog.lenguando.com/category/talleres/

http://www.tiposervicioseditoriales.es/2014/09/lenguanding-y-contacting-londres/

http://atranslations.com/lenguando-por-londres/

Aestheticism and “The Importance of Being Earnest”: A Trivial Post for Serious People

Quant’è bella giovinezza
che si fugge tuttavia!
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia,
di doman non c’è certezza.
Quest’è Bacco e Arïanna,
belli, e l’un dell’altro ardenti;
perché ’l tempo fugge e inganna,
sempre insieme stan contenti.
Queste ninfe e altre genti
0sono allegri tuttavia.
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia,
di doman non c’è certezza.
Questi lieti satiretti,
delle ninfe innamorati,
per caverne e per boschetti
han lor posto cento agguati;
or da Bacco riscaldati,
ballon, salton tuttavia.
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.
Queste ninfe anche hanno caro
da lor essere ingannate:
non può fare a Amor riparo,
se non gente rozze e ingrate;
ora insieme mescolate
suonon, canton tuttavia.
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.
Questa soma, che vien drieto
sopra l’asino, è Sileno:
così vecchio è ebbro e lieto,
già di carne e d’anni pieno;
se non può star ritto, almeno
ride e gode tuttavia.
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.
Mida vien drieto a costoro:
ciò che tocca, oro diventa.
E che giova aver tesoro,
s’altri poi non si contenta?
Che dolcezza vuoi che senta
chi ha sete tuttavia?
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.
Ciascun apra ben gli orecchi,
di doman nessun si paschi,
oggi sìan, giovani e vecchi,
lieti ognun, femmine e maschi.
Ogni tristo pensier caschi:
facciam festa tuttavia.
Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.
Ciascun suoni, balli e canti,
arda di dolcezza il core:
non fatica, non dolore!
Ciò che ha esser, convien sia.
Chi vuole esser lieto, sia:
di doman non c’è certezza.

Now that I think about it, the fact that I have quoted the Magnifico twice in one week (three times if we count this post,) without any Leopardian quotes in the middle, was a clear symptom of this post growing in my mind, and being completed by a surprising staging of The importance of being Earnest, a play that, albeit funny anyway, is irretrievably lame in Italian without the pun that feeds the whole story.

As you know, I am self-taught in English literature, so I have not as much knowledge as I can have in other languages, but there are some authors, and some literary works that have marked my philosophical growth. In general, we can say that the English language and culture have forced themselves into my life for some time, until I just decided that to keep avoiding them was simply pathetic. You can imagine my happiness when, yesterday, I was told that I have no Italian accent in written English. Of course, I have someone to thank for that, but that is another story.

Going back to literature, I have always been interested in Aestheticism and Decadentism more than I have ever liked to admit. The ironic thing is that these movements are deeply rooted in the Italian Renaissance and Humanism, but they flourished almost all around Europe, barely touching Italy, plunged in its self-pitying attitude called Realism back in the XIX century. I can’t avoid asking myself how is it possible that, after living such a prosperous moment in the XV and XVI centuries, Italy abandoned this glorious path to never really return to it.

When I was invited to the play, of course, I accepted on the spot, judging impossible to say no to anything by Shakespeare or Wilde: I support transgression, but that would sound immoral to me! Once again, the theatre offer in London managed to surprise me. The Bunbury Company of Players presents a peculiar metaplay in which the actors are impersonating actors impersonating Wilde’s characters.

The play doesn’t really start or finish in a traditional way, we arrive to our seats and the curtain is not down; the stage is a bright living room in which, soon enough, and without a clear announcement, the actors start walking in as if nothing was happening: our play has started, but theirs hasn’t yet. A measured Patrick Godfrey (George/Merriman) is soon joined by a bubbly Nigel Havers (Richard/Algernon) wearing a Victorian suit and a pair of flashy red Nike trainers. We are still wondering what’s going on, until the sound engineer walks down the stairs to fix a problem: It should be the moment when the illusion collapses, and we step out of the fictitious world, and instead it is exactly when we feel ourselves diving in: The play inside the play is starting as well, and it is dragging us in a timeless place. Ironically, the satire of the society is still relevant nowadays, more than a century since the opening of The Importance. Just some quotes to prove this:

Oh! it is absurd to have a hard-and-fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.

***

When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

***

I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.

The cast is simply wrong for The Importance, which makes them perfect for this adaptation. Martin Jarvis appears breathless and tired of telling his lines half of the time when acting as Anthony, and yet he is a charming 28+ years old John; Siân Phillips is simply marvelous and regal both as Lavinia and as Lady Blacknell; Havers is incredibly seductive and the two characters of Richard and Algernon are magically tangled and indistinguishable.

There is no real interval, and when we come back from the bar, the cast is already on stage, watching a match on the TV that is conveniently hidden in a XIX century drinks cabinet in George’s and Lavinia’s sitting room. Little by little, we all regain our seats, and at the same pace, the actors walk back on stage, apparently unaware of being there, a group of old friends getting ready to rehearse.

At the end, the different levels slowly converge again to put a perfect seal to the piece. The Importance ends between laughs and applause from the actors themselves: the round brackets are closed. The second play, the one that we actually went to see, ends a minute later, and the square brackets also close around the first ones. It is like in a matryoshka, with the smaller doll of The Importance nestled between the walls of the bigger frame play.

You know what? I want to re-read The Importance of Being Earnest now, and I think that is absolutely fine. After all, as Wilde would say:

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

Mistakes and typos 2

I don’t know if by chance or by mistake, but finally I have found the folder with the pictures of mistakes that I have collected during the years, a good mix of Italian and English examples. Since I have several cases, I will split them according to languages. Let’s go for English this time, old and new jewels!

Maybe clean, maybe not

1

We don’t force our staff to do their job, freedom of choice is our policy!

Danger!

2

I guess it will be the grammar police!

Dismanting bikes…

3

 

and words, so they can fit better in our trains and brains!

The importance of being Earnest

4

If One asks, you have to be earnest, you can’t spit frivolously in front of the Queen!

Don’t just protect it,

5

Protect it CLEAN!

No fear…

6

of bad grammar and spelling!

Perfect presents…

7

include: Grammar books, spelling books, proofreading vouchers, and so on!

And they just need to check Facebook to know that

Post errori

Try the new “Letters diet”! 

 

9

10

 

We don’t reduce calories, we cut vowels and add consonants, and you lose your fluency in a matter of weeks!

Killing him again

8

Maybe 007 only lives twice, but Kurt Cobain (Oh, yes, we are talking about Curco Vein here) certainly dies twice, or every time someone spells his name in this fashion!

30 years later, are we heading towards another wave of Newspeak?

I have just seen 1984, the play. I have read the book something like one year ago, and I cannot believe they managed to create something for the stage that could respect the novel and still be so incredibly surprising at the same time. Mind-blowing is how I described it, because I cannot think of another word that is so close to what the audience experiences. The play starts from the end of the story, so to say, with people from the future analysing Winston’s notes. What I find at the same time clever, spectacular, and disturbing is the mise-en-scene. We are watching what happens to Winston, but we are inside his mind as well. We are Winston and we are Big Brother. We feel his pain, and we share with him the astonishment for what is happening around. However, we also see the images from the screen, what Big Brother is seeing while he controls him. The blackouts and the alarms that we experience constantly are what Winston sees and experiences.

One of the most interesting concepts in the book, from my point of view, was obviously the Newspeak. Unfortunately, this part is one of those that has suffered the most from the cuts needed for the screenplay, and it is, maybe, the only real complaint that I have about the adaptation.

Just to offer a brief summary for those who haven’t read the novel, the story happens in a dystopia, a world of oppression ruled by the Party (also Ingsoc, or English Socialism). This has created a reality in which human beings live in fear, constantly controlled by the Big Brother through the telescreens. In this book, the control of the totalitarian regime is brought to the extreme of even controlling the thoughts of the population. How is that goal achieved? Of course, the presence of screens in the apartments makes almost impossible for people to express their opposition even in private, including putting down on paper what they think. This is the problem that Winston has from the beginning: he knows that what is happening is wrong, and feels the urge to express it in its diary, so that the future generations will be able to know. Exactly as plenty of other chosen character in literature, he has the gift of knowledge, but this talent is not something that makes him happy or better than the rest. On the contrary, because of it, he is upset, he struggles, and he is found guilty and punished. We are seeing, once again, the myth of Adam and Eve. Of course, it is not he only idea inspired in the biblical teaching, so is also the idea of sexcrime.

The other way of controlling the population is the Newspeak. This language, opposed to Oldspeak, or Standard English, works in a completely different way compared to any other language we know, natural or artificial. A language is the mean human beings have to communicate, and the more they know and learn, the more the language evolves and grows. In the case of dying or dead languages, the speakers don’t use them anymore (as it happened with Latin when the vernacular languages gained importance over it), or they disappear (as it has been the case of some aboriginal languages in Australia.) A dead language, however, doesn’t lose its vocabulary, it simply stops in time as it is at that given moment. The case of Latin is different due to the fact that the Catholic Church uses it as its official language, and therefore the vocabulary is being expanded again.

Newspeak is different, its purpose is to prevent people committing thoughtcrime, so it needs to systematically reduce its vocabulary until all thought against the Party is impossible. The Project, such is the name of the plan to promote Newspeak, aims to orderly eliminate,  by 2050, all word that could allow thoughtcrime. One of the ideas is that synonyms are useless, and so are antonyms:

It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning, or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words — in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?

Not only the Party deprives the citizens of their dignity by cutting the food allowance and starving them, and by putting the children against their parents; it also wants to annihilate the one characteristic that makes them human: the ability to speak. I can’t believe that we currently live in a moment and in countries where we are free to talk and think, and we ourselves torture and maim our own languages writing things such as: “r u ready?”, “c u l8r”, “ikr”, and so on. I am not complaining about what other people do, I recognize that I am guilty as sin as well, and that I often find myself reading the charts of synonyms that I find on Facebook to keep my vocabulary alive and flowery.

Books, translation, and neurolinguistics

Autograph

This afternoon, I went to watch a movie that has always been in my list of “must watch,” Fried green tomatoes at the Wistle Stop Cafe. Of course, the first question was why translating it as Fried green tomatoes at the train stop (Pomodori verdi fritti alla fermata del treno) in Italian. I know, some of you may be surprised that the Italian title doesn’t give away the end, but that is not my point. I understand the difficulty of leaving the name of the café and still recall the idea of the train for the Italian audience, seen that trains are basic in the story. Nonetheless, the actual translation simply sounds funny to the reader, because fried green tomatoes are not a common dish in Italy, and with that translation, it is not really clear what they are doing at the train stop. If the choice is to drop the name of the place, why not going for something like Fried green tomatoes at the station café (Pomodori verdi fritti al bar della stazione,) which seems an easy compromise between the two? Well, who knows what influenced the translator’s choice anyway.

Today I was invited to a nice afternoon in which, after the movie, the author of the book was going to talk about it and, of course, I twitted that. She talked about her inspiration for this book, and for the new one, which is about the first women who flew planes during the war. Also, and this is the part where I felt her close, she talked about her dyslexia, and her conviction of not being able to write because of that. She started telling a funny story about her teacher calling her Pasty because she was always misspelling her nickname Patsy in the papers (her real name is Patricia.)

Of course, I myself am dyslexic, and I have troubles knowing left from right. If you ever ask me which way to go, look at where my hand points, because what I say is misleading! I remember talking about that during a linguistics class, and my professor saying that that was not due to dyslexia, but to the fact that, anthropologically, women where the ones dedicated to house chores and, therefore, they didn’t need skills to orient themselves, while men, traditionally the ones hunting, where the ones with orientation skills. That was pure nonsense, since my boyfriend at that time was not able to find the way back after walking on a straight line, so we just laughed at the explanation and we just agreed on the fact that it was more likely that I was dyslexic than that he was also a woman!

Of course, after that, I started checking for signs that can be symptoms of dyslexia, knowing that it could be genetically transmitted, and that my mother was dyslexic. I found out that, for example, my incapacity for memorizing things that I was reading aloud was a symptom of dyslexia. Today, I was browsing the Internet again looking for more information, and I found out that something that I thought was just a characteristic of my sensitive ears may instead be a symptom: I get easily distracted by background noises. That is one of the reasons why I love simultaneous interpretation more than the rest of techniques: because the booth and the headset are supposed to clean my ears from any other distraction. Of course, this profession is more difficult with dyslexia because, even if not too much with letters, I have troubles with numbers, and I switch them when reading them aloud, or when I hear them and have to write them down. In class, aware of that, I was constantly attentive and I used to end up getting them right, but just because I was aware of the risk and making a double effort. What seems not to agree with the dyslexia is my ability with languages, but maybe I had to compensate with something, I have no idea.

Ms Flagg, talking about her writing, said that she loves writing stories that move backwards and forward in time, constantly switching. Talking with a friend after the presentation, we agreed on the fact that that is also typical of dyslexia, and I remembered that actually I normally open a magazine at the end, and then go backwards. When I was a child, I used to say that it was because the magazines that we used to buy had the weekly TV programming at the end, and that was the interesting part for me; I see now that it is not that the reason. Am I right? Or left, honestly, wherever the hand is pointing to!

 

When “Suitable for vegetarians” means everything but that!

This post is not strictly about vegetarianism as a lifestyle; it is, instead, about the use, and misuse of the word vegetarian and, particularly, of the expression suitable for vegetarians. Therefore, I ask for comments that are about the linguistic characteristics and not about the life choice, because that debate, although interesting, is not pertinent here.

I am one of those who are constantly reading the labels and the ingredients when buying food and drinks. Living in the UK, one of the most common symbols on packages is the one that guarantees that the product is suitable for vegetarians. I am no expert, but I know that vegetarian is a wide, blur concept that can include people who don’t eat meat and fish, but also those who don’t eat eggs or milk, or both. On a broader analysis, if I am not wrong, people can choose to be vegetarian not only to avoid eating animals, but also because they are against the modern farming techniques and, more in general, for an ecological reason, since the production of meat is, among other things, really damaging the planet.

With all these points clear, my question is: “What does suitable for vegetarians really mean?” I see it too often on packages of products that contain plenty of products that are not really suitable for vegetarians; even when they are, the company’s policies are sometimes awfully harmful for the planet and the environment.

Who knows me, have heard me talking about my choice of avoiding as much as I can consuming products that contain palm oil. This ingredient is possibly the worst oil that we can consume, both for our body and for the Earth, and if we don’t mind about our health, we should at least make sure that we are buying sustainable palm oil, which means that we are not destroying the forests and endangering the indigenous species, the gorillas in particular. Starbucks is one of those companies that uses, according to its website, 100% sustainable palm oil.

From my point of view, that you can share or not, if someone choses to be vegetarian should also be careful and buy products that are not damaging the environment. Too many companies declare that their products are suitable for vegetarians, but they should just be shut down for unethical practices against the planet. Krispy Kreme is one of them, since they use palm oil without specifying the sources, but not only. From direct sources, I know that in the UK they use Belgian chocolate, but what they do is to buy it from Belgium, send it to the US and then back to the UK because all the ingredients they use have to come from the States. We could say a lot about the chocolate, which should also come from sustainable sources, exactly as the coffee and this kind of products that are originally from countries that Europe uses to have cheap, underpaid products, but what concerns me now is not that, since I have no proven information about that in this case. What disgusts me is that a product that could reach London on a short truck trip has to go to the other half of the globe and back just to receive a stamp, wasting resources and polluting for no reason. Do you, vegetarians, still consider these products suitable for you and respectful of your lifestyle?

What makes me mad is that no real, binding legislation seems to exist about the labelling of products on this sense. Companies can simply write vegetable oil or suitable for vegetarians meaning whatever they want. The United States (forgive me if I keep praising them, but some examples are really worth to be followed) are a lot clearer on their labels, stating the kind of oil used almost always, and very often there is no palm oil in their products.

There is also another aspect that makes me sad: I have been working in a shop serving food for a very long time, and the vast majority of people asking: “Is it suitable for vegetarians?” really meant to ask if the products were halal certified. The two things are completely different, and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably, because it seemed too often to me as if “is it suitable for vegetarians?” were the politically correct version of “Is it halal?” There is no politically correct or incorrect in these cases (and there shouldn’t be in plenty of other cases as well,) no one should need euphemisms to ask these kind of questions!

It may be purely my impression, but I feel like the legislation in this field is too ambiguous, and the controls too weak, so everyone can declare anything without really having to prove anything about their practices or their supplies. The sad part is that I see very little hope for the situation to improve soon. The problem of animal testing, similar to this, is still in a similar situation, despite the decades of fights and the huge amount of laws, because the loopholes are still too large in numbers, and companies are more than happy of playing with language ambiguities.

To kill 6 kilos with one stone

I always struggle when I hear someone talking about stones, inches, pounds and all those units of measurement that are used in the most of the countries that were part of the British empire, and that are called Imperial system for that reason, opposed to the SI, or International System of Units. I even went through 3 terrifying seconds at JFK airport when my suitcase, which was supposed to be under 23 kg, went on the scale and had a weight of 47! My heart literally bumped, especially thinking that I didn’t buy any souvenirs, and that it was not even reaching 22 kg before I added that wonderful Nivea moisturising lotion that was my first purchase in American soil. Those seemed some of the longest 3 seconds of my life, until I realised that the expressionless, unfriendly face of the guy at the desk meant that I was safe from having to sell a kidney to pay the overweight, and that those numbers meant pounds.

The only easy conversion for me is km<>miles, because one mile is around 1.6 km, and that is easy to do. Almost all the English speaking countries kept the imperial system even after abandoning the empire. The one that I know for sure has switched to the SI is Australia, and I remember it because the really funny tour guide, who drove us to the Blue Mountains and first introduced me to the Australian culture on site, said to us: “Between 1970 and 1988 we had a transition from one system to the other, then we just kept the metric system, so everyone else in the world could understand us. About the driving, though, we kept the British one, because it is makes more sense. Don’t forget that Europeans drive on the right side, but we drive on the correct side!” Yes, he quoted the right dates, but I had to look them up right now! Also, he expressed is not too friendly opinion about American, who didn’t get one right, choosing the European driving side, and the imperial system of units!

Anyway, tired of reading of people who lost a stone and of recipes in ounces, when not in cups, I decided to look up some information online and to do a quick post for all of you. If you are thinking that you can achieve the same result with the conversion websites, you are also right.

Let’s start with weight:

Kilograms (kg) Ounces (oz) Pounds (lb) Stones (st)
1 35.27396195 2.204622622 0.1574730444

 

1oz 28.350 g
1 lb 0.45359237 kg
1st 6 kg 350.29 g

Now length:

Metres (m) Inches (in) Feet (ft) Yards (yd) Miles (mi)
1 39.3700787402 3.28083989501 1.09361329834 0.000621371192237

 

1 in 0.0254 m
1 ft 0.3048 m
1 yd 0.9144 m
1 mi 1609.344 m

Related to these ones are the units to measure the area:

Hectares (ha) Square metres (m2) Acres (ac)
1 10000 2 ac 20519 ft²

 

1 ac 0 ha 4046.9 m²

Then temperatures:

In this case, there is an equation that we learn when we are young and innocent, and that we then forget because it has no space in the little cupboards of our brain, but here you have it again

ºC to ºF = ºC (9/5) +32

ºF to ºC = ºF -32 (5/9)

Or also, quicker:

Celsius Fahrenheit
-10 14
-9 15.8
-8 17.6
-7 19.4
-6 21.2
-5 23
-4 24.8
-3 26.6
-2 28.4
-1 30.2
0 32
1 33.8
2 35.6
3 37.4
4 39.2
5 41
6 42.8
7 44.6
8 46.4
9 48.2
10 50
20 68
30 86
40 104
50 122
60 140
70 158
80 176
90 194
100 212

Finally, cooking conversions are a real headache, and I have found a really useful website, so I am going to copy the charts from there:

Liquids

1 tsp 6ml
1 tbsp 15ml
1/8 cup 30ml
1/4 cup 60ml
1/2 cup 120ml
1 cup 240ml

Dried ingredients

1 tsp 5g
1 tbsp 15g
1oz 28g
1 cup flour 150g
1 cup caster sugar 225g
1 cup icing sugar 115g
1 cup brown sugar 175g
1 cup sultanas 200g

Butter

1/8 cup 30g
1/4 cup 55g
1/3 cup 75g
1/2 cup 115g
2/3 cup 150g
3/4 cup 170g
1 cup 225g

Oven temperatures

275°F 140°C Gas Mark 1
150°C 300°F Gas Mark 2
165°C 325°F Gas Mark 3
180°C 350°F Gas Mark 4
190°F 375°F Gas Mark 5
200°C 400°F Gas Mark 6
220°C 425°F Gas Mark 7
230°C 450°F Gas Mark 8

I hope this can be useful for you!

Writing laws is easy, but proofreading them must be difficult

Divieto accesso non addetti

First things first, my apologies for what I’ve done to Tolstoy’s quote in the title. I am going to talk about laws and crimes, and that was one of mine!

I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a long time, remembering a funny English class in Salamanca with the unforgettable John Hyde. Today I have seen a link on Facebook, and the title seemed something similar, so I felt the need to finally really sit down and work to it. All started when John, determined to have our really mixed class learning English by the end of the year, brought us a copy of this article from The Telegraph with some funny laws still in use in England and abroad. I am also attaching a .pdf version of the articles so you can easily read them without ads and pop-ups.

Ten stupidest laws are named – Telegraph

Some of them are just funny, but others, unfortunately, are offensive and really discriminatory, as you can see with more details in this article:

Funny Laws 1

and in this extensive blog post:

Funny Laws 2

Before starting making fun of some of these examples, let’s pretend we are serious. I am briefly going to explain why some of these laws are still in use or why they even exist. The British law system is based on the common law, which means that there hasn’t been an extensive codification resulting in general rules. Its system is, instead, based on precedents, which stand as the examples used to judge cases including the same set of facts. This is why the laws are so specific; to give an example:

In Alabama, it is illegal to be blindfolded while driving a vehicle.

Does that mean that it is legal in the rest of the states? No, it means that probably in Alabama they had to face a case in which the driver was blindfolded, and to rule about that, while the other states never had a similar case.

Now let’s talk about some specific laws that are puzzling or funny. To start, please have a look at this link, because the comments to each law are really witty and I cannot hope to do such a good job!

My favourites:

It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament… You cannot have a law like this in Italy where, until recently, the youngest MP was aged 70!

Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day… Thank God I was in Italy for Christmas, because I totally had mince pies, and I also lured my dad into crime!

In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet… Also, no one is going to double check if you are wearing your “baby on board” badge just to take the piss out of a policeman. Never an idiom was better used than this one!

In Switzerland, a man may not relieve himself standing up after 10pm… But no one will blame you if you tell your flatmates that it is illegal at all times; it may even work and you may not be afraid of walking into the bathroom!

In Switzerland, it is illegal to flush a toilet after 10pm… Ok, Swiss people, what is your problem with toilets after 10pm? Is it something like don’t feed the Gremlin after midnight?

In Florida, unmarried women who parachute on a Sunday could be jailed… Of course, they should go to the park and look for a man, it’s Sunday!

In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon… But, apparently, it is legal to let it run the empire. No, wait, that really WAS Napoleon!

The only two states where divorce is illegal are the Philippines and The Vatican… Such a shame, it sounded so perfectly funny to go and live a life of sins in The Vatican!

In July 2013 a law was passed in China that states it is illegal for adult children to not visit their parents “often” in China. They are also required to attend to their parent’s spiritual needs… They needed a law for that? Emotional blackmail has worked so well for decades in Italy!

In Iowa, it is illegal for a man with a mustache to kiss a woman in public… I tried that one as well with my ex-boyfriend, but it didn’t work, he didn’t shave anyway!

In Kentucky, a woman cannot remarry the same man more than three times… Now I understand why Liz Taylor always tried to avoid Kentucky!

In France, it is stated as illegal to marry a dead person… It makes sense, that would kill the party!

In Samoa it is illegal to forget your wife’s birthday… Now stop looking up how to move to Samoa with your husbands!

In Australia, men are free to cross-dress, just as long as their dresses are not strapless… You know, melanoma is a huge concern in OZ!

In Massachusetts it is deemed illegal for a woman to be on top during sex. It is also apparently illegal in Massachusetts for a man and a woman who rent a room for the night to sleep in the nude… Wow, now I get all that obstruction to my plans to stay in Boston for the night!

No hanky panky allowed in Connecticut. A person who commits any unnatural and lascivious act with another person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. It is illegal for unmarried couples to commit lewd acts and live together… Well, let’s close this post right here, being thankful for being back to London, and trying to forget this before next trip!