Interpreting is a most unusual, important, and misunderstood career. Providing a bridge for the language barriers that people find themselves at in our highly connected world is an important and valuable position, not to mention a job that requires hard work and years of training and practice.
In honour of the hard-working language translators and linguistic delegates of the world, here are ten things, situations, and problems that only interpreters would understand.
1. Speaking The Wrong Language At The Wrong Time
It happens all the time when you’re an interpreter — you’re in the middle of speaking to someone in one language, when you suddenly blurt out the right word, but in the wrong language, leading to confusion on all fronts. The problem with being such a major or minor polyglot, even if you only interpret one language, is that your brain is full of the same item or adjective, but with several different meanings attached to them, making it difficult at times, not to say the wrong one at the wrong time.
2. Having To Deal With Multiple Accents and Dialects At The Same Time
The job of an interpreter seems like an easy one — just listen to the language in which you happen to be versed and immediately translate into the other language. However, many people tend to forget about accents and dialects. There isn’t just a single way of speaking for every language, or even from every country. Everything varies from location to location, so it can be a supreme struggle to deal with people who are speaking in unusual dialects and accents, even if you’re fluent in the actual language that they are speaking in. There are a million different regional accents and dialects to deal with at any given time — so save a prayer for your poor, potentially frazzled interpreter.
3. Having To Translate ‘Everything’ Your Client Says
One of the least pleasant things an interpreter has to do, is translate everything that their clients are saying, and we’re not just talking about the nice stuff. You might find yourself scrambling to find a much nicer way of saying that pointed insult, or smoothing away additional barbs, all at the drop of a hat. You’re not just an interpreter — you’re a peacekeeper, too.
4. You Have A Go-To Party Trick
Admittedly, one of the highlights of being an interpreter is that you get to impress virtually everyone at party tricks. The vast majority of people (in the Western world) only know one language and the fact that you can speak another, maybe even more than two or three languages fluently, and get paid for it, is mind-blowing to many. Admittedly, this can also lead to some jealousy amongs party guests, but the joy is that you can say what you like, and chances are they won’t understand what you just called them.
5. Sitting Through World Cinema With Friends
World cinema can be a wonderful experience, but sitting through it with someone when you’re an interpreter can be an extremely tiresome exercise, not because you don’t like the film: inaccurate subtitles can cause you to comment and disrupt the film for those around you, or the person you’re with might comment on some un-translated moment and badger you into translating it for him or her at the moment when you’re trying to get lost in the movie.
6. Forgetting The Right Word At The Wrong Time
When your entire career centres around getting the right words out at the exact right time, you are often scrambling to accurately translate the right words, phrases, and idioms in order to keep up with the fast pace of everyone else in the room. However, there are times when you’re at work at eight o’clock, and your brain is still in bed at ten; times when you simply forget the word, or the sentence, or even the language that you’re speaking. Luckily, you normally pick it up moments later, but the look of wide-eyed panic is something you can see in everyone’s reflection, and something you endeavour not to see again anytime soon.
7. Keeping Your Accents Correct Is A Struggle
When you’re busy juggling a ton of different languages, keeping the right accents for the right tongues, can be a struggle for even the most seasoned interpreter. Sometimes the two languages are diverse and distinct, allowing for a minimal amount of crossover; however, when you have two very similar languages, keeping the accents appropriate and separate, so as to sidestep any accidental mocking, can be a hard task indeed.
8. Telling Jokes In A Different Language Is Awful
When it comes to telling jokes, apart from having a great ending to one, the key rule is to tell it in the language it was originally told in. Jokes and humour vary from country to country, region to region, and even village to village. Very few jokes are universal, and so, as interpreters will no doubt be aware, telling one country’s joke to someone who doesn’t speak the language can be a bit of a damp squib. You’re left with blank expressions, and the joke falls flat, which is never any fun.
9. Idioms Do Not Work In Other Languages
Here’s the thing about idioms — they’re fantastic, but only when they’re spoken in their native language to another person who speaks that language. When an interpreter has to translate them, this isn’t just a simple comparison job where you instinctually discover the corresponding idiom, nor is it appropriate to literally describe the idiom word-for-word which can lead to confusion and possible insults. Please, if you need a translator, try to veer away from the idioms.
10. People Think Your Job Is ‘Easy’
When you tell people that you’re an interpreter, they might actually consider that you’ve worked relentlessly hard to get where you’ve had to be. You’ve had to spend years learning a language, maybe two at the same time if you’ve really got the ability and time to; you might have visited the language’s country of origin a dozen or so times, or lived there. But people forget that their own language is honed after decades of daily, frequent use and practice. They might think it’s oh-so-easy to become an interpreter, but it’s not; and you should never let anyone disrespect or belittle your career because they think that you’re walking a Google Translate.
|Beleaguer||To exhaust with attacks.|
|Brood||To think alone.|
|Bucolic||In a lovely rural setting.|
|Bungalow||A small, cozy cottage.|
|Chatoyant||Like a cat’s eye.|
|Conflate||To blend together.|
|Cynosure||A focal point of admiration.|
|Dalliance||A brief love affair.|
|Demure||Shy and reserved.|
|Denouement||The resolution of a mystery.|
|Elision||Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.|
|Elixir||A good potion.|
|Eloquence||Beauty and persuasion in speech.|
|Embrocation||Rubbing on a lotion.|
|Epiphany||A sudden revelation.|
|Erstwhile||At one time, for a time.|
|Ethereal||Gaseous, invisible but detectable.|
|Evanescent||Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.|
|Forbearance||Withholding response to provocation.|
|Gambol||To skip or leap about joyfully.|
|Gossamer||The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk|
|Halcyon||Happy, sunny, care-free.|
|Harbinger||Messenger with news of the future.|
|Imbrication||Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.|
|Imbroglio||An altercation or complicated situation.|
|Imbue||To infuse, instill.|
|Incipient||Beginning, in an early stage.|
|Ingénue||A naïve young woman.|
|Inglenook||A cozy nook by the hearth.|
|Inure||To become jaded.|
|Labyrinthine||Twisting and turning.|
|Lagniappe||A special kind of gift.|
|Lagoon||A small gulf or inlet.|
|Lilt||To move musically or lively.|
|Lissome||Slender and graceful.|
|Lithe||Slender and flexible.|
|Moiety||One of two equal parts.|
|Mondegreen||A slip of the ear.|
|Nemesis||An unconquerable archenemy.|
|Offing||The sea between the horizon and the offshore.|
|Onomatopoeia||A word that sounds like its meaning.|
|Palimpsest||A manuscript written over earlier ones.|
|Panacea||A solution for all problems|
|Panoply||A complete set.|
|Pastiche||An art work combining materials from various sources.|
|Petrichor||The smell of earth after rain.|
|Plethora||A large quantity.|
|Pyrrhic||Successful with heavy losses.|
|Ratatouille||A spicy French stew.|
|Ravel||To knit or unknit.|
|Riparian||By the bank of a stream.|
|Ripple||A very small wave.|
|Scintilla||A spark or very small thing.|
|Seraglio||Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.|
|Serendipity||Finding something nice while looking for something else.|
|Summery||Light, delicate or warm and sunny.|
|Susquehanna||A river in Pennsylvania.|
|Talisman||A good luck charm.|
|Umbrella||Protection from sun or rain.|
|Vestigial||In trace amounts.|
To paraphrase Krusty the Clown, comedy isn’t dirty words—it’s words that sound dirty, like mukluk. He’s right, of course. Some words really do sound like they mean something quite different from their otherwise entirely innocent definition (a mukluk is an Inuit sealskin boot, in case you were wondering), and no matter how clean-minded you might be, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow or a wry smile whenever someone says something like cockchafer or sexangle. Here are 50 words that might sound rude, but really aren’t. Honest.
If you read that as “a-hole,” then think again. Aholehole is pronounced “ah-holy-holy,” and is the name of a species of Hawaiian flagtail fish native to the central Pacific.
Aktashite is a rare mineral used commercially as an ore of arsenic, copper, and mercury. It takes its name from the village of Aktash in eastern Russia, where it was first discovered in 1968. The final –ite , incidentally, is the same mineralogical suffix as in words like graphite and kryptonite.
While exploring the coast of Virginia in 1606, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) wrote in his journal of a creature known to local tribes as the assapanick . By “spreading their legs, and so stretching the largeness of their skins,” he wrote, “they have been seen to fly 30 or 40 yards.” Assapanick is another name for the flying squirrel.
Assart is an old medieval English legal term for an area of forested land that has been converted into arable land for growing crops. It can also be used as a verb meaning “to deforest,” preparing wooded land for farming.
Derived from bastón, the Spanish word for a cane or walking stick, bastinado is an old 16th century word for a thrashing or caning, especially on the soles of the feet.
As well as being the name of a former shipping port in northern Tasmania, boobyalla is also an Aborigine name for the wattlebird, one of a family of honeyeaters native to much of Australia.
In his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson described a bum-bailiff as “a bailiff of the meanest kind,” and in particular, “one that is employed in arrests.”
To bumfiddle means to pollute or spoil something, in particular by scribbling or drawing on a document to make it invalid. A bumfiddler is someone who does precisely that.
Like the aholehole, the bummalo is another tropical fish, in this case a southeast Asian lizardfish. When listed on Indian menus it goes by the slightly more appetizing name of “Bombay duck.”
According to a Tudor dictionary published in 1552, a clatterfart is someone who “wyl disclose anye light secreate”—in other words, it’s a gossip or blabbermouth.
Cockapert is an Elizabethan name for “a saucy fellow” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but it can also be used as an adjective meaning “impudent” or “smart-alecky.”
A cock-bell can be a small handbell, a type of wildflower that grows in the spring, and an old English dialect word for an icicle. In any case, it’s derived from coque, the French word for a seashell.
The cockchafer is a large beetle native to Europe and western Asia. The origin of its name is a mystery, but one theory claims the beetles are so characteristically aggressive that they can be made to fight one another like cockerels.
Standing little more than a foot tall at the shoulder, the dik-dik is one of the smallest antelopes in all of Africa. Their name is apparently an imitation of their alarm call.
A dreamhole is a small slit or opening made in the wall of a building to let in sunlight or fresh air. It was also once used to refer to holes in watchtowers used by lookouts and guards, or to openings left in the walls of church towers to amplify the sounds of the bells.
According to one 19th century glossary of industrial slang, a fanny-blower or fanner was “used in the scissor-grinding industry,” and comprised “a wheel with vanes, fixed onto a rotating shaft, enclosed in a case or chamber to create a blast of air.” In other words, it’s a fan.
Fartlek is a form of athletic training in which intervals of intensive and much less strenuous exercise are alternated in one long continuous workout. It literally means “speed-play” in Swedish.
Fuk was an old Middle English word for a sail, and in particular the foremost sail on a ship. A fukmast, ultimately, is a ship’s foremast, while the fuksheet or fuksail is the sail attached to the ship’s fukmast.
To grope a gull is an old Tudor English expression meaning “to take advantage of someone,” or “to swindle an unsuspecting victim”—and a gullgroper does just that.
Taking its name from an Arabic word meaning “blustering” or “blowing,” a haboob is a dry wind that blows across deserts, dustbowls, and other arid regions often at great speed, forming vast sandstorms as it goes. Haboobs are typically caused by the collapse of a cold front of air, which blasts dust and sediment up from the desert floor as it falls.
The Oxford English Dictionary calls a humpenscrump “a musical instrument of rude construction.” Alongside others like humstrum, celestinette and wind-broach, it was originally another name for the hurdy-gurdy.
Invagination is simply the process of putting something inside something else (and in particular, a sword into a scabbard), or else is the proper name for turning something inside out. The opposite is called evagination.
Jaculation is the act of throwing or jostling something around, while to jaculate means “to rush or jolt forward suddenly.”
A jerkinhead is a roof that is only partly gabled (i.e., only forms part of a triangle beneath its eaves) and is instead levelled or squared off at the top, forming a flattened area known as a “hip.” Jerkinheads are also known as “half-hipped” or “clipped-gable” roofs.
As well as being an old nickname for a walking stick or truncheon, knobstick is an old 19th century slang word for a workman who breaks a strike, or for a person hired to take the place of a striking employee.
Like the haboob, the kumbang is another hot, arid wind, in this case one that blows seasonally in the lowlands of western Indonesia.
Lobcock is an old Tudor English word for an idiot or an unsophisticated, clownish bumpkin. Lobcocked is an equally ancient adjective meaning “boorish” or “naïve.”
A nestle-cock is the last bird to hatch from a clutch of eggs. It dates from the early 1600s, when it was also used as a nickname for an overly spoilt or pampered child.
Nicker-pecker is an old English dialect name for the European green woodpecker, the largest woodpecker native to Great Britain. In this context nicker is probably a derivative of nick, meaning a small cut or scratch.
In early 19th century English, boxers were nicknamed nobbers, a name apparently derived from the earlier use of nobber as a slang name for a punch or blow to the head.
Nodgecock, like lobcock, is another Tudor word for a fool or simpleton. It likely derives from an even earlier word, noddypoll, for someone who senselessly nods their head in agreement with any idea, no matter how good or bad it might be.
Pakapoo is a 19th century Australian word for a lottery or raffle. It apparently derives from a Cantonese phrase, baahk gáap piu, literally meaning “white pigeon ticket”—the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that in the original form of the game, a white dove might have been trained to select the winning ticket from all of the entries.
Definitely not what it sounds like, peniaphobia is actually the fear of poverty.
Penistone (pronounced “pen-is-tun”, before you ask) is the name of a picturesque market town in Yorkshire, England, which has given its name to both a type of coarse woollen fabric and a type of locally produced sandstone.
The Scots word pershittie means “prim,” or “overly meticulous.” It’s one of a family of late 18th–early 19th century Scots words all of similar meaning, including perjinkity, perskeety, and, most familiar of all, pernickety.
Pissalat is a condiment popular in southern French cookery made from puréed anchovies and olive oil, mixed with garlic, pepper, and herbs. It’s used to make a type of open bread tart called a pissaladière, which is flavoured with onions and black olives.
Pissasphalt is a thick semi-liquid form of bitumen, similar to tar. The first part of the name is the Greek word for pitch, pissa.
Poonga oil is obtained from the seeds of the Indian beech tree, Pongamia pinnata, and is widely used across southern India as everything from a skin treatment to a replacement for diesel in engines and generators.
Spelled with one T, a sackbut is an early Renaissance brass instrument similar to a trombone. Spelled with two Ts, a sack-butt is a wine barrel.
The adjective sexagesimal means “relating to the number 60,” while anything that proceeds sexagesimally does so in sets of 60 at a time. A sexagesm, ultimately, is one-sixtieth of something.
Both sexangle and the equally indelicate sexagon are simply old 17th century names for what is otherwise known as a hexagon, a plane geometric shape with six sides. The prefix sexa– is derived from the Latin word for “six” rather than its Greek equivalent, heks.
Dating back to the Middle English period, foil is an old-fashioned name for a leaf or petal, which is retained in the names of plants like the bird’s-foot trefoil, a type of clover, and the creeping cinquefoil, a low-growing weed of the rose family. A sexfoil is ultimately a six-leaved plant or flower, or a similarly-shaped architectural design or ornament incorporating six leaves or lobes.
The shittah is a type of acacia tree native to Arabia and north-east Africa that is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah as one of the trees that God “will plant in the wilderness” of Israel, alongside the cedar, pine, and myrtle. Its name was adopted into English from Hebrew in the early Middle Ages, but it can probably be traced all the way back to an Ancient Egyptian word for a thorn-tree.
Billcock , brook-ouzel, oar-cock, velvet runner, grey-skit, and skiddy-cock are all old English dialect names for the water rail, a small and notoriously elusive wading bird found in the wetlands of Europe, Asia, and north Africa. The name skiddy-cock is thought to be derived from skit, an old 17th century word meaning “to act shyly,” or “to move rapidly and quickly”—but it could just as probably be derived from an even older 15th century word, skitter, meaning “to produce watery excrement.”
In 19th century English, a slagger was a workman in a blast furnace whose job it was to siphon off the stony waste material, or slag, that is produced when raw metals and ores are melted at high temperatures. Even earlier than that, in 16th century English, slagger was a verb, variously used to mean “to loiter” or “creep,” or “to stumble” or “walk awkwardly.”
Staying with furnaces, a tease-hole is simply the opening in a glassmaker’s furnace through which the fuel is added.
Sheep farmers in some rural parts of Britain once had their own traditional counting systems, many of which are particularly ancient and predate even the Norman and Anglo-Saxon invasions of England. Most of these counting systems vanished during the Industrial Revolution, but several remain in use locally and have become fossilised in local rhymes, sayings and folk songs. Tether was an old Lake District name for the number three, while dick was the number ten; tetheradick, ultimately, was a count of 13.
Tit-bore—or tit-bore-tat-bore, in full—is an old 17th century Scots name for a game of peekaboo. It was once also called hitty-titty, as was, incidentally, hide and go seek.
The tit-tyrants are a family of eight species of flycatcher native to the Andes Mountains and the westernmost rainforests of South America. One of the species, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant, is one of the world’s most endangered birds with fewer than 1000 individuals left in a handful of remote, high-altitude sites in Peru and Bolivia.
Wankapin, or water chinquapin, is another name for the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, a flowering plant native to Central American wetlands. The lotus was apparently introduced to what is now the southern United States by native tribes who would use the plant’s tubers and seeds (known as “alligator corn”) as a source of food.
In less than 6 hours, I will have to say Good-bye to 15 degrees Celsius, don an union jack in the form of a casual shirt and head to one of my dream cities. It will be my first travel to London and I happen to be a mixture of nerves and excitement.
I have a misstion to taste custard and mince pie, and see, beside all other sightseeings, the 221b Baker Str.
Any suggestions of yours?
Please feel invited to my trip.
I will keep you in the loop with pictures and news (whenever I find WiFi connection), so…
My faithful Personal Assistant, Mr. Siri.
He is British and although we had some initial issues with our accents (my pronunciation of “Maria” is “Midea” to him), we are mates now 🙂
With some inspiration from: http://siri-jokes.com/, there we had a nice conversation (mhm, yep, the window was open. Now my neighbours assume I have a bit slow Englishman at home (not that far from the truth)):
Ok, ok, I’ll get some sleep (for I most certainly need it),
No, not the Queen! You cannot buy her, decorate her roof with an union jack (in lieu of the crown) and proudly drive her down the streets of..anywhere. Even constructing that sentence was nonsensical. I said you cannot, do not even think about it 🙂
Not even this young gentleman:
No, no, no….
Let me introduce you to one of my loves.
A true baby, a sweetheart, a dream.
The Mini has won many awards over the years, perhaps the most notable include: “Car of the Century” (Autocar magazine 1995), “Number One Classic Car of All Time” (Classic & Sports Car magazine 1996) and “European Car of the Century” in a worldwide Internet poll run by the prestigious Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999. The Mini managed second place (behind the Model T Ford) for “Global Car of the Century” in that same poll.
The Mini is not another motor vehicle. It is … a statement. A toy. A delight for the soul and the senses.
Plenty has been said and written about the world famous and well-known tradition of the British tea-time and the most beloved Cuppa tea.
I shall not invent the wheel here.
From the astonishing work of Henry James’s early period, The Portrait of a lady.
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not–some people of course never do,–the situation is in itself delightful.
Barmy – If someone tells you that you’re barmy they mean you have gone mad or crazy. For example you’d have to be barmy to visit England without trying black pudding!
Bees Knees – This is the polite version of the dog’s bollocks. So if you are in polite company and want to say that something was fabulous, this phrase might come in handy.
Biggie – This is unusual. A biggie is what a child calls his poo! Hence the reason Wendy’s Hamburgers has never really taken off in England – who would buy “biggie fries”? Yuck – I’m sure you wouldn’t buy poo fries! The other meaning of Biggie is erection. It just gets worse!
Blimey – Another exclamation of surprise. My Dad used to say “Gawd Blimey” or “Gor Blimey” or even “Cor Blimey”. It is all a corruption of the oath God Blind Me.
Blinkered – Someone who is blinkered is narrow minded or narrow sighted – they only see one view on a subject. It comes from when horses that pulled carriages wore blinkers to stop them seeing to the side or behind them which stopped them from being startled and only let them see where they were going.
Bob’s your uncle – This is a well used phrase. It is added to the end of sentences a bit like and that’s it! For example if you are telling someone how to make that fabulous banoffee pie you just served them, you would tell them to boil the condensed milk for three hours, spread it onto a basic cheesecake base, slice bananas on top, add some whipped double cream, another layer of banana and Bob’s your uncle!
Box your ears – Many young chaps heard their dads threaten to box their ears when I was a littlun. Generally meant a slap around the head for misbehaving. Probably illegal these days!
Budge up – If you want to sit down and someone is taking up too much space, you’d ask them to budge up – move and make some space.
Bugger all – If something costs bugger all, it means that it costs nothing. Meaning it is cheap. If you have bugger all, it means you have nothing.
Butchers – To have a butchers at something is to have a look. This is a cockney rhyming slang word that has become common. The reason “butchers” means a look even though it doesn’t rhyme is because it is short for “butchers hook” and “hook” of course, does rhyme.
A cat may look at a king.
It certainly can and it most probably may, why not? But if you are not a native speaker and/or you are reading the magnificent “Through the looking glass” there is a good chance that you miss the figurative meaning of the phrase.
‘Who are you talking to?’ said the King, going up to Alice, and looking at the Cat’s head with great curiosity.
‘It’s a friend of mine — a Cheshire Cat,’ said Alice: ‘allow me to introduce it.’
‘I don’t like the look of it at all,’ said the King: ‘however, it may kiss my hand if it likes.’
‘I’d rather not,’ the Cat remarked.
‘Don’t be impertinent,’ said the King, ‘and don’t look at me like that!’ He got behind Alice as he spoke.
‘A cat may look at a king,’ said Alice. ‘I’ve read that in some book, but I don’t remember where.‘
‘Well, it must be removed,’ said the King very decidedly, and he called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, ‘My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!’
What it actually means is “An inferior isn’t completely restricted in what they may do in the presence of a superior. “,
or the proverb in simpler words: “even a person of low status or importance has rights.”
A little bit but now you know it 🙂
Wandering through Englishland,