Mar 18

Collisions on language's slippery road

ANDREW BOYLE, Comments: 0

"You don't like to see hookers going down on players like that."

"Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical." 

"I don’t think anywhere is there a symbiotic relationship between caddie and player like there is in golf."

Hmm, sports journalists have a way with words. But they are in good company...


In the last weeks I have been working on a couple of large translation projects. It is painstaking work that is bound to remind me that the highways and byways of our language faculties have a very slippery surface. Anyone can lose their footing here. You can be tootling along thinking yourself Master or Mistress of your mother tongue - only to trip over a comma rule or horrible homonym that leaves you sprawling in the dust. 

There's likely to be more and more embarrassment up ahead, as people opt for the near-misses of Google Translator rather than the sure-thing of a professional translator. The coastal municipality of Hvaler, near where I live, has an information page on their website: Kort og nyttig info om Hvaler means Short and useful info about Hvaler. Unfortunately Hvaler also means whales. Which - if you open the page here and press the ENGLISH-button at the top - you will see is a nuance that completely evades Google Translator. Further down we can read that the "whales population increases to well over 30 000 in the summer months". Now, Hvaler is also the home of Norway's only marine national park, but as far as I know whale safaris are pretty much unknown in these climes. (Whales? Now I think of it, isn't that on England's west coast, not Norway's....)

It's not only in translation that laughable language lapses occur. Over the years when I was working as a journalist I collected a few - as a warning to myself.... Many occur simply because we, as the sender of a sentence, are not very good at imagining just how it is received. As in these headlines: 

Tunnel to be placed underground

(Well, er, where else could it be placed?)

Police took pirate taxi

A couple from the main text of newspaper articles: 

Negotiations will begin in Columbo in an hour - Norwegian time

This last example no doubt started out as part of a live radio interview, then got transferred straight into print. Our local paper brought a positive report about the organist Sten Næss, who was back at his manuals after a serious heart operation:

Now the organist is back, full of enthusiasm: "My time hadn't come after all", he said in an open-hearted interview.  

For many journalists punctuation rules are just so many banana skins. A common error is that a writer forgets that the way he/she speaks - with a little pause for emphasis here and there - is difficult for a reader to pick up! 

To warm applause Lund was presented with honorary membership, flowers, and a painting by Per Hasselgård who was stepping down.
                                                                                                                                                                            Jesus, the king, who rides into the city where he will be crucified on a donkey.

And then we have all the rubbish that comes out of the mouths and pens of sports journalists. This sliding tackle on the language is from Norwegian TV: 

There will be more football soon, but first let's see some highlights from the Scottish League Cup. 

(Ouch, that hurt my Scottish sensibilities.)

And here we have an ecstatic match report where goalkeeper Erik Holtan's achievements are compared to those of violinist Arve Tellefsen:

Holtan's fingers were pretty much like Arve Tellefsen's when he chooses a vibrator for his violin.

I am presuming he means vibrato, but he may know Tellefsen better than I do.... This journalist's vibrator belongs to a group of faux pas that arise simply because someone can't be bothered checking out a tricky foreign word. A resounding crash of colliding grammar can be heard after this sentence:

It says: 

After a year or two with anus horibilus, the business is looking up again. 

Even allowing for the fact that it should be annus, and horribilis, the most astonishing thing here is that the journalist seems to believe that he/she is describing a painful condition of the private parts! 

Sometimes it is just bad luck that is to blame. Or carelessness. As was the case when I was cutting a press release down to size, chopped a bit here and a bit there, and ended up with: 

Gourmet chef Yngvar Nilsen will as usual be serving up dishes prepared from the finest seafood available: lamb chops, shrimps, and eels. 

And here are some unusual election promises:

That Høyre had such a good election is no doubt down to their principal message being so easy to grasp. They wanted: Better taxes, lower schools. 

Sometimes you are left with a question mark hovering over your head. As with this extraordinary concert review:

Actor Kalle Øby from Torp took his place at the microphone, confident and relaxed, but with his hair rather thinning.

A couple more that leave you pondering... 

I gambled 100.000 crowns. I got back half of that. But even so I can't call it easily-earned money! said Robert Larsen.

The new establishment closed its doors after the first day. Once the opening day, with coffee and waffles, was over the owners sat themselves down and came to the conclusion that there no longer was sufficient custom for further operation.

I suppose the moral has to be that on this slippery surface everyone is going to come a cropper now and then. I have a Norwegian bible that concludes - as all bibles do - with the awe-striking warning from John's Revelations: 

If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book!

Only to have on the next page a list entitled:  ADDENDUM

Incredible!

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