Thursday, September 29, 2011



I have been reading (aloud, I hasten to add) The Lion the Witch the Wardrobe (1950), by C.S.Lewis. Remarkably, within the space of half a paragraph (at the end of Chapter 7) the author comes up with three different solutions to the same problem:

(...) Susan drained the potatoes and then put them all back in the empty pot to dry on the side of the range while Lucy was helping Mrs Beaver to dish up the trout, so that in a very few minutes everyone was drawing up their stools ...and preparing to enjoy themselves. There was a jug of creamy milk for the children (Mr Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes, and all the children thought - and I agree with them - that there's nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago. And when they had finished the fish Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle on to the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to be able to lean against the wall and gave a long sigh of contentment.
In real life, I don't know anybody who applies the "rule" of English grammar that the masculine is the generic form, as in

Everybody who brings his lunch put it on top of his desk
which is an instruction given by the (female) narrator's (female) teacher to her class of boys and girls, in Chapter 2 of To Kill A Mocking-Bird (1960). The rule is followed not just by the teacher but also by the narrator. Here, in Chapter 26, for example:

Once a week, we had a Current Events period. Each child was supposed to clip an item from a newspaper, absorb its contents, and reveal them to the class. This practice allegedly overcame a variety of evils: standing in front of his fellows encouraged good posture and gave a child poise; delivering a short talk made him word-conscious; learning his current event strengthened his memory; being singled out made him more than ever anxious to return to the Group
In real life, the they/their option is the one people actually seem to use; he or she/his or her has a certain currency, particularly in writing; and the he/his option is used by virtually nobody.

Nobody, that is, except for translators (see earlier post for particularly egregious example).

I imagine there are two reasons why the rule is popular among translators:

1) it's a rule (you have the authority of the grammar books as a defence),

2) it's convenient (one less thing to think about: it allows a mechanical word-for-word substitution without your having to waste time pondering the underlying meaning).

The translator may also derive some gratification from notions of standing firm against insidious forces of feminism and political correctness.

But more often than not the problem with the practice is not he versus she, but he versus it.

Here is an example from a recent EU invitation to tender, for translators in fact, and itself obviously a translation:

The tenderer shall be bound by his tender throughout the performance of the contract, if the contract is awarded to him
The lack of thought behind the practice is then laid bare:

Each tender must be signed by the tenderer or his legal representative
i.e. if the tenderer is an individual the tender must be signed by the individual concerned and if the tenderer is a company then it must be signed by the person with authority to sign on its behalf.

But a tenderer having a "legal representative" can only ever be an it, never a he.

No doubt the French original had son which can be his, her or its depending on the antecedent. To use his here is mistranslation, pure and simple, under cover of a pseudo-rule of grammar.

Friday, June 17, 2011



For the day that's in it, the Irish Times reports that some spoilsport has gone and used a computer to crack Leopold Bloom's conundrum,“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub”.

Speaking of spoilsports, Bloomsday celebrations have up to now been inhibited by copyright restrictions but that is all set to change, as from next year:
THE EXPIRY of the copyright on James Joyce’s Ulysses next year will liberate the text from the “notoriously restrictive” instincts of his grandson Stephen Joyce, the co-ordinator of the Bloomsday festival has said.
Stacey Herbert said those trying to organise celebrations of the book often found themselves without permission to do so by Joyce’s Paris-based grandson.
To date the only place where public readings of Ulysses are allowed are on Bloomsday in the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street.
As organisations and individuals as diverse as the State, the Abbey Theatre and Cork University Press have found, the Joyce estate, whose main trustee is Stephen Joyce, is fiercely protective of the writer’s work.
Not everything Joyce ever wrote will be coming into the public domain. His letters, for example, may still be subject to copyright. One of these was in the news recently when it sold for a princely £33,600 at auction in Bonhams. The letter was written in 1919, when Joyce was living in Trieste. It was sent to Carlo Linati, who was, according to the lot description
a distinguished Italian writer and translator of Yeats, Synge and LadyGregory, [who] had been asked by Joyce if he would like to translate Portrait of the Artist. Linati instead suggested that Exiles would be more suitable for the Italian public. He afterwards translated 'Arady' from Dubliners and a fragment of Ulysses
Here is an excerpt from the letter (found here)
For which the following translation is offered on the Bonhams website:
“...For the publication of Dubliners I had to struggle for ten years. The whole first edition of 1,000 copies was burnt at Dublin by fraud [some say it was the doing of priests, some of enemies, others of the then Viceroy or his consort, Lady Aberdeen. Altogether it is a mystery]”

Joyce was proficient in Italian and a fine translator so one wonders what he would have made of the hapless translation of
bruciata a Dublino dolosamente
burnt at Dublin by fraud
Bonhams' slice of that £33,600 must have been pretty thin if that was the best translation they could afford.

Even Google Translate manages a passable
intentionally burned in Dublin
Can it be that stately, plump Bonhams (Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers: auctioneers of art, pictures, collectables and motor cars) cannot even afford Google Translate?

Bonhams, in Ireland, share a name with a kind of pig, so for them the Joycean connection goes back way beyond the recent auction: there is an actual mention in Ulysses, in the Circe episode:
He passes, struck by the stare of truculent Wellington but in the con vex mirror grin unstruck the bonham eyes and fatchuck cheekchops of Jollypoldy the rixdix doldy.

At Antonio Babaiotti's door Bloom halts, sweated under the bright arclamps. He disappears. In a moment he reappears and hurries on.)

BLOOM Fish and taters. N. g. Ah!

(He disappears into Olhousen's, the pork butcher's, under the downcoming rollshutter. A few moments later he emerges from under the shutter puffing Poldy, blowing Bloohoom. In each hand he holds a parcel, one containing a lukewarm pig's crubeen, the other a cold sheep's trotter sprinkled with wholepepper He gasps, standing upright. Then bending to one side he presses a parcel against his rib and groans.)

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