My heart will go on

The discrepancies in the imagery and connotations conjured up during translation never cease to amaze me. I continue to be caught off-guard when I come across these gaps between sign and signifier, even though these are mere questions of semiotics, as best explained by Ferdinand de Saussure or in Roland Barthes's "Rhetoric of the Image." 

While translating the gastrointestinal side effects for an antibiotic used to treat amoxicillin-sensitive bacteria, I came across one of these polysemous terms, anchored in imagery: "vomissements et haut-le-cœur" ("vomiting and retching"). Hardly a pretty picture, yet haut-le-coeur, literally "high-hearted" is a much lovelier image than its denotation: nausea from foul food, motion sickness, pregnancy, etc. Just some food for thought on a Monday morning.    

Sur la route... Monterey

Getting back to my "routes"... teaching @ MIIS this week. #cominghome

CIUTI Forum 2014 - Geneva - Free Fun for Entrepreneurial Linguists

I am pleased to pass on the dates and agenda for next year’s CIUTI (Conférence Internationale Permanente d'Instituts Universitaires de Traducteurs et Interprètes) Forum, which will be held from Thursday 16th January 2014 to Friday 17th January 2014, at the United Nations, Palais des Nations, 
in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year's topic is "Pooling Academic Excellence with Entrepreneurship for New Partnerships", addressing the core business of stakeholders in T&I training, research and practice, common problems and solutions, current trends and anticipated developments. Did I mention that it is free? Have a look at the program below; it should lead to some probing questions about the role of entrepreneurship in an industry driven by the "little guys". Working languages will be English, French and German

Pooling Academic Excellence with Entrepreneurship for New Partnerships

  • Session 1 : New Approaches to demanding Issues
    Session 2: Responsibilities of International Bodies and Institutions: Do Incentives really lead to Innovations?
  • Session 3: New sustainable Strategies in University – Industry-Government Relationships: Less State, more Entrepreneurship?
  • Session 4: Geopolitical Changes make Adaptations Necessary
  • Session 5: Specific Needs for Global Responses in Translational Partnerships
  • Session 6: Research and Innovation need Courageous Drivers


The conference is free, but online registration is required. Contact Hannelore Renate Lee-Jahnke with any questions (

Don't sweat the small stuff...

It is August 1st, and we have officially entered the dog days of summer. Hopefully, you have set aside some time to catch some fresh mountain air or a salty sea breeze, and you are not suffering from translatoritis and working yourself into an early karoshi . Yes, karoshi , the Japanese word for literally working yourself to death. It is this time of year that we need to remind ourselves to take a break from stress and sedentary long hours in front of our computers to enjoy the pleasant weather and more delightful things in life.

However, upon return from holiday, we all squirm intolerably at our desks, resisting the daily grind of mental over-stimulation, while our muscles slowly atrophy. Enter Darryl Agawin, the creator of No Sweat! Workspace Workout Furniture, a three-piece set of equipment that converts a desk-and-chair workstation to a mini gym, including a balance board, weight bar, skip rope, and kettle bell. If that Susan Lucci Malibu Pilates Chair just isn't working for you, this fitness set with a Keith Haring-inspired lithograph design might be just what you need to strike some much needed work-life balance, or get your blood pumping before rolling into that next batch of proofs.

Agawin knows what he's talking about: he's a fitness buff with a degree in cardiology technology and, while his design is merely a prototype, the video montage below is certainly inspirational for those of us confined to spending countless hours in front of a screen. Make a mental note for September... so you can maintain that beach bod for next year's vacances.


Friday Funday (TGIF): A Milanese in Palermo...

This is a hysterical clip from Le Iene, Italy's version of the Argentine Caiga Quien Caiga. My best description would be the odd lovechild of Saturday Night Live, 60 Minutes, and Punk'd.

Certainly gives me the chuckles, at a moment when Italy needs to be able to laugh at and with itself.

Cet été, « On traduit à Québec »!

If you are a US- or Canada-based French < > English translator, there is an upcoming summer conference that really cannot be missed, this is the "Translate in Quebec City" Conference in, well, Quebec City, Canada, at the Hôtel Loews Le Concorde from August 29th to 31st, 2013.

This conference is unique in that it is 2 days of hands-on translation, with both French-to-English and an English-to-French tracks. This year's speakers include reputed financial translator Chris Durban, Head Translator for the Banque Cantonale Vaudoise, David Jemielity, literary translator Ros SchwartzFrançois Lavallée , founder of Magistrad and author of Le traducteur averti, as well as Marc Lambert, a translator and editor with the Marketing Translation Division of KPMG, among others, of course.

The interactive, and French-centric nature of the conference really sets it apart, plus there are several activities planned, including a summer garden party, a dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence, and a party at a private residence in the City's Old Port district featuring Robert Lepage's Image Mill.

Of course, there is the annual Translation Contest, for those of you looking for a little bit of healthy competition. Check out last year's texts.

Register early and be sure to take advantage of the discounted hotel rates.

And, since we are speaking of Quebec, check out this 2-part interview on French TV with Claire Armange on Québécois.

... et alors, on se voit à Québec cet été ...

Forget super governo, e' il governissimo che fa benissimo

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Following the still unresolved Italian elections in February, a new word has entered the Italian vernacular... governissimo!  Splashed across the front pages of most Italian dailies, in reality, this is nothing more than a "grand" coalition government--but leave it to the Italians to add a little sprezzatura to their characterization of the Bel Paese's never-ending political maladies. #governissimo has been trending since February, overtaking super governo after Italians realized the gravity of their situation and that there was really nothing so "super" about their plight, even in the ever-so ironic sense.

Leave it to Beppe Severgnini to explain this term, which turns out to also be quite the grammatical chimera, in that the superlative suffix -issim- is generally added to adjectives to express the highest degree of quality (superlative form); however, in this case it has been applied to the nominal form. Absolute superlatives in the nominal form are a rarity indeed... I think I have a few absolute superlatives I could use to describe Italian politics, although these may not be fit to print.

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Mistranslation Monday... Farewell to our

Today, we bid farewell to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, or as many remember her, Britain's "Iron Lady," or is that "woman" or "maiden"? Interestingly, the story behind Ms. Thatcher's favorite soubriquet is a story of tongues tied and language crossed.

On Jan. 24, 1976, the Soviet propaganda outlet known as Красная Звезд ("Red Star") published an unremarkable article about the up-and-coming British politician Margaret Thatcher. She had taken leadership of the U.K. conservative party, then the opposition party, less than a year earlier and had earned a reputation as an anticommunist crusader.

After claiming, in one of her speeches, that the Russians were aiming for world domination, the Russian paper carried the headline “Железная Дама Угрожает” ("Iron Woman Launches Threat")  which then-Reuters bureau chief Robert Evans more respectfully translated as “Iron Lady Wields Threats.” 

Interestingly, the article's author, Yuri Gavrilov asserted that Thatcher was "known by her compatriots as the Iron Woman," even though that term had never previously been applied to her. It is still unclear whether this was a complete fabrication, or based on rumors that some Britons had called Thatcher an “iron maiden,” in reference to the medieval torture device, or whether there might be some truth to those rumors.

In the absence of other news, Evans, wrote from Moscow, “British Tory leader Margaret Thatcher was today dubbed ‘the Iron Lady’ by the Soviet Defense Ministry newspaper Red Star.” The phrase immediately caught on in the British press.

It seems worth noting that there was a slight "upgrading" in the language used to describe Thatcher, from the Russian "Iron Woman"(Железная Дама)  to the British “Iron Lady” (Железная леди), and how this simple change in register during  translation sparked the universal moniker that marked Thatcher's entire political career, having emerged from a Soviet source intent on insult.

In fact, this mere use of "Lady" rather than "Woman" was wittily employed at Thatcher's service in one of her speeches, as she noted, "Yes, I am an Iron Lady. After all, it wasn't a bad thing to be an Iron Duke," she said in a reference to the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

Hardly minding the inadvertent Soviet comparison with the great English general, "if that's how they wish to interpret my defense of values and freedoms fundamental to our way of life", she added, to rapturous applause.