Three things you don’t know about Iceland

Having just spent a few days Iceland, I have reaffirmed the fantastic advantage of travelling to a country to open your mind. With no more than 24 hours on Iceland’s sunny (if cold) shores, I discovered three things I didn’t imagine about Iceland. Arriving just after midnight into Reykjavik, I was welcomed by a setting sun (see below the nightscape at 1am). And yes, Iceland is home to the famous mid-summer white nights. But, you knew that.

Iceland sunset

A whale of a time

The first thing I discovered about Iceland was that they serve whale. Since I had never eaten whale, it had not occurred to me that the whale dish would be a meat dish. How naive! Would you have thought it so? Here it is:

Iceland dish

Had I not told you, would have thought this image was whale meat? I might add that it was very tasty. If you are interested, here’s a fine address to check out in Reykjavik: 3 Frakkar — which means Three French (a propos!) or Three Coats in Icelandic.

Icelandic naming device

Secondly, unique to Iceland, no child carries the father’s last name. They don’t even carry the mother’s last name. In fact, children carry a last name composed of: Continue reading

Words are so revealing: Time says it all!

WIth my long-time love of words, especially when it comes to translation, I thought about how the French translate the word “timing.” The word the French use is “delai” or “delay.” How ironic!  Certain words can have such a way of explaining a culture.  And, since the way we view time is tantamount to the way we view life, anything dealing with TIME is of particular interest. {Click to Tweet this}

french timing - the Anglo-Saxon talks about the timing for delivery of a product or service, the French refer to the delay.  It’s almost as if we’re inviting the retard, non?

What does that make you think? Doesn’t it give a whole new meaning to the “Parisian 15 minutes,” where the cool Frenchman (aka the dude to the right) is welcome to be late?

Your thoughts, please!

Cicero, the Roman Statesman, Called for a Balanced Budget …

Cicero Called for Balancing the Budget … 2000 years ago

Cicero, the Roman statesman (106BC-43BC) is said to have said the following (you can check here)*:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” — Cicero , 55 BC

When I googled, I found that this exact sentence has been referenced in over 100 sites/blogs. Clearly, it has hit a chord. While the first lines of Cicero’s quote are very a propos, it is the last line to which I fully subscribe and takes on importance in much of the mature Western World.

I wondered this morning what the original text was, but came up empty on the ‘net. Not much way I am going to remember my O’Level Latin how to cobble together a genuine translation. A friendly online translation service (intertran — the only one I could find for Latin) comes up with the following translation of the English back into Latin:

“budget should exsisto pondera. Publicus debitum should redeo. superbia of persona should exsisto tempero, quod suffragium ut extrarius terra should exsisto velum lest Rome decoctum.”

Don’t you love it. Not too fond of the conditional? I am inclined to use “Fiscus” for the noun budget (my Langenscheidt pocket dictionary didn’t have it). Fiscus postulo exsistere ponderum? Surely, some Latin scholar will jump in and set me right?

Meanwhile, of all the other Cicero quotes I have read, I retained this one: “As an old proverb says ‘Like readily consorts with like.'” I enjoyed this quote, particularly, because I do believe it is true and also because it reminds us of the oral tradition and the importance of proverbs in our culture(s).

And if you feel like swotting up on some more Latin, try this page of useful Latin phrases (except the last section which is a little fantasy).

*Full disclosure: I got this quote via my friend Nicole this morning. Thanks.

AMENDED June 25, 2009

Courtesy of my son’s Latin teacher (thank you Mr S.), I received the following information:

“The only work of Cicero’s which I know to have been published in 55 BC is the De Oratore (usually known as ‘The Ideal Orator’ in English).  But the content sounds more like something from the De Re Publica (‘On The State’), but that was published in 51 BC and is thought to have been begun in 54 BC.  Here is a Latin translation of it, but I’m sure Cicero would have put it a lot more elegantly (I didn’t know what to put for ‘budget’ either, and my dictionary gave ‘fiscus’ for ‘treasury’).

Libranda est pecunia, replendus fiscus, deminuendum aes alienum, continenda et temporanda praefectorum superbia;  necnon auxilium quod aliis patriis detur coartandum est ne Roma perdita fiat.  Necesse est cives ipsos iterum laborare;  e publico subsidio non pendendum est.

English Words Being Removed from the Collins Dictionary

The Wisdom of Winnowing Words?

I have often read, with keen interest, about the addition of new words to a language, typically to French and English where I can gauge the novelty, meaning and importance of the word(s) in question. Last week, however, I came across a TIME magazine article (European edition, October 20, 2008), entitled “War of the Words,” that talked about the opposite: the culling of what are considered archaic words from the [Collins] dictionary. Here is the list of words that are under review [in England]… There are 24 such words up for axing, in order to make room for 2,000 new words (presumably that means that the new words have little in the way of derivative definitions and the archaisms fill up reams of pages?).

Apparently, there is an opportunity for some words to “fight for their lives” by being used six times in an authentic “quality” fashion in the next few months (death knell is February 2009). My post here will not constitute an effort to “save” any of these words, but I find some of the words on the block (that may not have been around the block enough?) rather charming. From the list of 24, here is my selection of words that I would consider keeping:

Apodeictic: Unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration(and a good one for spelling tests)
Caducity: Perishableness (surely a necessary word for the Sustainable Developers?)
Fatidical: Prophetic (since vaticinate, meaning prophesy, is also up for damnation, I conclude that being prophetic/forward thinking is in trouble?)
Fubsy: Squat (to be come up with a sequel to Bugsy Malone)
Griseous: Somewhat grey (for those who can’t ever make up their mind?)
Muliebrity: The condition of being a woman (love this one, a sequel for André Malraux)
Olid: Foul-smelling (so close to fetid, and living in cities we’ll need lots of adjectives on smell)

Apparently, embrangle (to confuse or entangle) garnered the most support through a London Times survey. This Times Online article uses all the words, more or less, in context. You can read more from VisualThesaurus. But, while the announced intention to cull these words has received so much press, I am inclined to say that it is the addition of 2,000 more new words that is fascinating. With so many lesser languages dying every year, the addition of new words to English is a sign of a vibrant, dynamic language. Making space by cutting 24 words (or less as the case may be) is basically irrelevant, especially in the virtual era, where paperbound dictionaries will become less and less printed, much less interesting (lack of Random Access Memory, etc.).

What do you think? Should words make exits or not?

English Lessons for the French courtesy of French Government

Ici on parle franglaisXavier Darcos, France’s Education Minister announced the giving of free [correction] English lessons over the summer months (starting next year) to willing students. What a shift in direction for the French who tend to promote francophonie. See here for the BBC News article.

When you hear the number of Anglicisms that have encroached into daily French conversation–either for effect (“c’est ok?”), affect (“la bottom line, mes amis”), or because the word does not exist in French (“accountabilité“)–you can understand the pragmatism behind this action.

Here’s an article written (in approx 2005) by Dr Christopher Rollason on Anglicisms in French and Spanish. As Dr Rollason says, Yves Laroche-Claire and Bernard Pivot, who published in 2004 an anti-anglicisms dictionary “Évitez le franglais, parlez français“, may “have their work cut out for them.”

Since President Sarkozy once said to a crowd of British investors that they were welcome to invest in “Frence”… he himself could do with a tune up.

Are you for or against such an offer?

Merging fields of ad, web and creative agencies

As the marketing world and consumer behaviour evolve, one of the more interesting battle grounds involves the creative process and production. When a marketer plans to make a communication campaign or a shift in brand image, he/she now has a number of alternatives.

As part of any good creative, there is the interrogation on the identity of the brand, questioning on the objectives and strategies…and measurements and channels … and mix of media content, and buzz and memes. All that, plus figuring out the internal decision making processes and/or internal IT challenges (does the boss know about facebook yet…). In short, in a multi-multi-multi world, who should one turn to?

* The (struggling) traditional ad agency trying to stay in the game. Laced with ‘old fashioned’ good sense & strategy, reliable — if not exciting — creative, heavy structures and a little slow in turnaround. Web 2.0 typically considered an alien being. Some have turned a corner, but there’s plenty of work to do.

* The traditional agency’s new fangled integrated or in-house web agency. The bonus is good old fashioned brand values. Some nerds trying to fit in with an agency culture. Otherwise, the risk is old agency style costs.

* The still young independent web agency, fraught with inexperience (misfits in a stodgy corporate world). Vying for credibility, light in consultancy, weak in structure, yet (hopefully) daring in proposition. At best, run by an agency stalwart looking for a new gig.

* A communications expert or consultancy — after all, it’s all about communication (not selling) these days.

* Marketing/brand consultant — appropriate for strategy. But, most of the creative is still going to have to be outsourced. Pay them for breaking the mold.

* Production company — definitely an option with direct access to the client (ever more versed in the lingo), a habit of last minute hup-to, digital equipment, reduced overhead & wannabe creatives. Reminds me of the struggle between architect and contractor. Creative versus budgets.

* The consumer. Slave labour in disguise? Generally in touch with the brand, if not pure consumer sentiment. Something original if not excellent…but just for now.

* Yourself. Have Apple; Will Travail. Can be a little lonely. Need to be super brilliant or super asocial.

In all, it’s a manic world out there. At some point, the main deal will again return to content. In the interim, we have people’s eyeballs are zeroing in on the social networks and other spaces of likemindedness — and, importantly, spaces where sponsors have yet to infiltrate. In all of the above choices, there will be a need for discriminating minds, able writing and flexible wiring to stay up with the Jones’ (literally). Lots of choices to rock your boat. Who will best keep you afloat? And, probably still lots of room for consolidation.

The Untranslatables – Part 3 of the Things we say…

Having always enjoyed learning languages, I revel in the difference between one language and another. Amongst my musings, I conjure up reasons to explain a language’s structure or vocabulary. Herewith are some of my favorite, if frivolous, observations about a few of the languages I know.

In French, there is frileux, a word that means “sensitive to cold”( or “overcautious” in a more abstract sense). No such single word exists in English to describe being afraid of the cold. This word encompasses why the French find that air conditioning is not appreciated, and probably the reason #1 given for the common cold in the summer [in France]. Meanwhile, you can find equivalent words for frileux in all the Mediterranean languages (frigoloso…)

In French, the word “efficient” doesn’t exist. It’s generally defined as the word “efficace” which really only means “effective” and obscures the notion of productivity & timing in “efficient.”

In French, the adjective “fin” (not la fin, as in the end) is very hard to describe in English as it applies to a person. “The person is fine” doesn’t really cut it. “Il est fin” means the person has a refined sense (i.e. in wit and/or aesthetics) combined with a degree of subtlety.

Of course, there are many thousands of examples of words borrowed from one language into another, which doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t an equivalent. But, somehow, etymologically speaking, it does reveal a prowess or at least an exotic preference for the language from which the word is borrowed. Looking at French words in English (some 10,000 words were adopted back in the Norman invasion), there are many words that come to mind. What is more delectable, is the reason why:

  • avant-garde (thinking if not being ahead of its time)
  • bon appétit (and many other food-related sayings)
  • c’est la vie (beautifully reverse translated in French as “that’s life” in certain French subtitles)
  • décolleté (and numerous other arousing descriptions… ménage à trois, lingerie, etc.)
  • double entendre (and other diplomatic nuances, such as sang froid)

In French, it’s generally not considered as positive when English (or foreign) words creep into the language (the Académie Française is always on the watch). But there are certainly plenty of English words that have been accepted into the French vocabulary, i.e. weekend, ok, etc. Sometimes, the English word provides a certain je ne sais quoi to the sentence. At other times, English is almost used like a trump card. Subject to much acrimonious debate and some periods of protectionism, the rate at which English words have been flowing into the French language has by all statistics accelerated over the last fifty years.* I list a few favourite examples of words that are used in every day French language:

  • c’est très “safe” – a blend of “securité” and “innocuous”
  • le self – as if it were demeaning to have self service?
  • airbus is a cute one
  • chewing gum is an embarrassment
  • sexy – used to be considered a little pejorative, but has come around, even in French
  • le go-between – what they mean by English diplomacy
  • bulldozer – a hint at American diplomacy

There are even examples of words that do an aller-retour. One that is particularly fun is the word “challenge” which was borrowed originally by the English from the French (‘chalenge’), only now to be considered an English word when used in French (typically compared with “enjeux“).

Moving into a few other languages, I choose the word Gemütlicht, in German which, translated roughly as “cozy, relaxed”, has oddly been co-opted into the English language rather than translated — but, again, it’s true that just because the word has been added to the language, doesn’t mean the concept didn’t exist before. Just an opening up of the vocabulary.

Another German word, realpolitik, speaks volumes of the Anglo-Saxon heritage of pragmatism. Of course, if it were a politique of ideas, that would surely have a French origin.

In Russian, I remember a time when it was said (until Yeltsin’s era) that the word “unemployment” didn’t exist. That is no longer the case. For now, meanwhile, there’s still no singular word for “wholesale.” And the word “chat” has become current currency in Russian. And, courtesy of a research paper on line, I was entranced by the fact that “education” doesn’t have a singular translation. Russian splits the word into three separate meanings: (1) Образование (Education System, formal term for education, as in State Education system); (2) Обyчение (teaching, learning as in the practical activity of education at school); and (3) Воспитание (education of somebody, fusing the notions of personal education & upbringing).

A little tour to stir the juices. One thing’s for sure. As the world connects (and merges) on line, the chances are that the English language has a great shot at owning the ‘net language (blog, podcast, twittering…) aided by a continuing line of inventions. However, maybe all the terms already exist in Chinese and I’m just shamelessly unaware. Welcome any other examples of untranslatable or untranslated words that come to mind and might stir a smile, once exposed.


*A study showed that 14% of the Englishicisms in French came before 1800, 22% between 1800-1850, 9% between 1850-1900, 22% between 1900-1950 and 32% since 1950.

Favorite things kids say – Meme in the making?

This entry will be the first installment of a 3-part string (not a [string] theory, yet) of assorted things people say. The three parts will be: Kids sayings, Adults sayings and Untranslatables. It’s not exactly a meme if you follow the strict the definition. But, each is just designed to eke out a infectious wry smile or perhaps just a smirk (if not your own list).

For Kids Part 1, I have collected a few sayings that I would wager are said by virtually every lucky child, in every language around the world at some point in time (in no particular order):

  • I’m not tired (after yawning twice toward the end of a film).
  • I’m not hungry (for that vile looking sprout).
  • I am hungry (even though we just finished the meal… just the sight of a candy bar in a passing window or in the cupboard at home).
  • I’m not upset (with fisted clenched and arms stiffly hanging down the sides).
  • I wasn’t crying (as if we can’t see those eyes welling up).
  • I didn’t get any (comparing the child’s own plate versus a sibling who appears to have been served more).
  • Nobody loves me (at times accompanied with the sound of the smallest of smiles).
  • I don’t know (when you’re doing homework and that seems like the easiest way out…).

This is of course not a definitive list (hint: join in!).