My Translating Trick (Which Doesn’t Work)

When I’m translating and come across a specific term not listed in a general dictionary, I use Wikipedia. The same Wikipedia that I would tell my students never to use (or should they still feel the compulsion, to limit this activity to the privacy of their home, much like masturbation). I input the term in the English Wikipedia and then look for a Czech mutation of the page. Sometimes I get lucky and get a hit.¬†More often I don’t get lucky, which is where mutations of the page in other languages come in.

First I check other Slavic languages, when available. Slovak is supposed to be the closest language to Czech, but it’s a lie. It has letter accents I don’t recognise and spellings which would be so wrong in Czech. The Slovak equivalent of the term I’m looking for is usually just a bunch of nonsense letters which don’t mean anything to me. Time for Polish, which is supposed to be pretty similar to Czech. Not really. Polish sounds like someone was poking fun at Czech.

Gibberish

In the depths of utmost despair, I turn to Russian. I learned Russian for a few years but what remains from my Russian is a few random words and a limited ability to read the Cyrillic alphabet. It looks like this: I read it out aloud, letter by letter, so that I could hear the result. I also tilt my head like a dog or an idiot because looking at print from an unnatural angle apparently facilitates reading. Typically I end up nodding my head, fascinated but not enlightened.

For the sake of practice, I sometimes skim what other languages are available and click randomly for possible inspiration. Sometimes there’s a version in Latin. What the heck. Are these the Middle Ages? There are also African languages, which I’m sure are thrilling, but not particularly helpful. What’s missing is Klingon. That might have been useful. If you have a more intelligent and effective method for tackling terms in translation, do tell me please.

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Dear Sleeping Pill, You Had One Job

In the night

My mind is up and around

Alive, awake, awhirl

Churning out stuff

That happened

That didn’t

That should have

 

Heyou, mind,

Cut the crap

Stop the swirl

Let me rest 

Brain dead

RIP

 

My sleeping pill is taking long to kick in, so I fingered a poem on the WordPress mobile app. It was horrendous. Both using the app and the poem. I think I’ve broken a finger or two.

Also I just shot the shot below from the app, zero editing. I can’t see how people can use the mobile app for posting stuff. I’m pissed off with it and this stupid idea of posting a pseudo poem hasn’t helped my sleeping at all. Eff that.

That’s what I can see right now. Find the cat! ūüźą

Don’t Read the Urban Dictionary

I’ve warned against the evil that is the Urban Dictionary before. Well, I told you not to go and read the definition of BBC, so what probably happened is that everyone promptly stopped reading my post and went to Google it. (If you didn’t, please raise your hand in the comments below. Also if you didn’t, just don’t. Not this one. It pretty much ruined my life and rendered me incapable of ever looking at BBC News the same.)

Since I don’t exercise what I preach, I recently turned to said dictionary to double-check on¬†DILF¬†(That’s comparatively safe to read, hence feel free to click the link provided‚ÄĒbut wait! Only as long as you realise that this is not the kind of dictionary you’d want your kids or kittens to read and that it’s NSFW.) Don’t even ask me how I came up with DILF (and don’t dare ask me how I knew the meaning before checking it. I know things. I know terrible things, apparently.)

Okay, so since you’re asking so nicely, it all happened absolutely innocently when I was procrastinating on Instagram and was amusing myself with actually reading the profile blurbs of people out there. One of them included said abbreviation. Obviously, that inspired me (besides checking if the claim is correct) to delve head first into the depths of the Urban Dictionary to try to find if there’s a nice abbreviation I could use for my profile.

These cat paws are so relevant, read on!

There indeed are many abbreviations I could use but none of them is nice. Hey, Urban Dictionary, be gender fair! I want something sassy in my profile too! Alright, maybe I don’t, but I have no clue what I want, so whatever. The point of this free-writing exercise is that I found for myself a perfect definition. It’s a gem because it’s a¬†fair definition of the cat lady!

A woman who is fond of cats so much that she decides to live her life with cats all around her than being with chauvinistic male. The catladies are independent women who know how to take care of their cats. They are proud, highly intellectual beings having a behavior resembling that of a cat itself.

I’m only slightly concerned that the definition seems to suggest that all males are chauvinists, but let’s not overthink it. It’s not like it’s the Oxford Dictionary (whose definition of the same phrase is, as could be expected of the classic dictionary, boringly unadventurous). So, being defined as a smartass catty lady is cool and I subscribe to it.

Finding Everyday Inspiration: An Aha Moment

Part of WordPress’s writing course Finding Everyday Inspiration.

Remember my yesterday’s post when I was wrapping up this writing challenge? It turns out I was a day early. I did think it curious that the twenty-day challenge lasted nineteen days, but I deemed it safe to assume that either I or WordPress couldn’t count.¬†I was somewhat surprised to receive the final prompt after I’d called it a day. Appropriately, the last prompt is about aha moments. Obviously, my most recent aha moment is being prompted to write something for the twentieth time, literally.

The exciting thing about being a clueless idiot is the number of aha moments you have every single day. For example, the word¬†aha. My aha moment when the aha prompt arrived in my mailbox was, besides the sheer fact of its existence, that the word¬†aha¬†is even used in English. Since I’m Slavic-centred, I believed it was a Slavic thing. In my language, when you want to say you’ve had an aha moment, you literally say Aha, whereas in English, I understand you say¬†I see. You see? Aha!

Slavic, specifically Czech interjections, like¬†aha, are otherwise completely different from English ones. You ejaculate differently in different languages. (Or you¬†interject? Whichever. Get your mind out of the gutter if it’s ejaculating there.) For example, when you’re in pain, you don’t scream¬†ouch but au¬†(a shout-out to AUstralians). When you’re in the opposite of pain, you don’t scream¬†Oh my god¬†but just¬†√°√°√°¬†(individual variations may occur). And when you see a kitten, you don’t go aww but j√©√©. So when I comment¬†j√©√©¬†on your kitten photo, don’t go Google Translate.

See the hugging kittens top right? Aww! (or, Jéé!)

What I Hated the Least Today 265/365: My Mother Tongue

Her mother-tongue clung to her mouth’s roof
in terror, dumbing her and he came with a name
that was none of her making.
‚ÄĒLiz Lochhead, “Dreaming Frankenstein”

Yesterday I wrote about the priceless confusions of English, today I’ll do the same for my mother tongue: Czech. It also has a huge potential for comic situations and so many things about it are just plain weird. Looking at it from a foreigner’s perspective as I imagine it, it must come across as staggeringly confusing. It’s a complex language on all levels, including the bloated grammar and devilish pronunciation.

A Czech-Czech dictionary (of loan words)

To start with, how many letters in the alphabet does your language have? English has 26, Czech has 42. Yep. We think that the more, the better. We have twice the number of vowels because each vowel comes also in a variant with an accent (and the u vowel comes with two versions of accents, √ļ and ŇĮ). Cool, isn’t it? But wait, that’s not all! Some consonants come with accents too, when it comes to it. (My least favourite are ńŹ,¬†Ňą and¬†Ň•¬†¬†because the poor things don’t have a keyboard key of their own and you have to press two keys to create them.) Oh, and also, ch is a letter of its own.

To make it more fun, we have decided that each noun will be either a he, a she or an it. I’m talking about grammatical gender. If you wish to use a noun, you need to know its gender so you could pick the correct ending. Have I mentioned yet that all nouns and verbs and some other words are assigned a plethora of different endings, based on how they’re used in a sentence? Czech is an excessively inflected language. (Inflected, not¬†infected, but maybe¬†infected with inflection?)

For example, the neutral word for¬†cat¬†in Czech is końćka. It refers to cats of any sex. The word itself, however, is feminine‚ÄĒfor grammar purposes, this word is a girl. There’s another word for the tom cat (kocour), however, there is no special word for a pussy cat. We just use the basic neutral form. So when I want to say,¬†My cat is a pussy cat, I’d say,¬†Moje końćka je końćka, which sounds obviously like a tautology.

Here comes the real twist though. You know personal pronouns? It’s¬†he,¬†she, they and others. So, when talking about the female cat, we use the pronoun she (ona). Pretty straightforward. When talking about the male cat, we use the pronoun he¬†(on). However, when talking about¬†kittens¬†(koŇ•ata), do you think that we use the pronoun they¬†(oni)? Nope. We use the exact same word that we use to refer to females (ona). So, in Czech, when you have a bunch of kittens, they’re all female to our grammar.

Did it blow your mind?

Daily Post: English is Priceless

17-09-03-priceless
It’s really beverage, not beaverage *sigh*

Everyone knows that English is weird. English is also priceless. Since English is my second language, I’ve learned the hard (and hilarious) way.

I discovered just today that the word¬†beverage¬†is not only not spelled¬†beaverage, as I’d thought, but is also not pronounced¬†bee-ver-age. Until now, every time I ordered a beaverage, I was really ordering a drink made out of beavers. I also thought it funny that when you ask for a beaver-age, you’re apparently asking for the beaver’s age. Its being¬†beverage in fact explains it somewhat (and also takes some of the beaver magic out of it).

Mousse¬†came to English by the way of French, which might explain my ignorance (or not). Again, I was mispronouncing¬†mousse¬†as¬†mouse. So, when I was telling a waiter with a serious face that I’d like a coffee with¬†mouse, I was literally ordering a hot¬†beaverage¬†with a beaver and a mouse on top of it. The waiter and my company of two native English speakers maintained their poker faces. I wanted to hide under the table and die when I realised my mistake. But I just drank my hot¬†beverage¬†with¬†mousse, ashamed.

Being a lifelong learner of English really brings you in priceless situations.

All the Same, All the Time

Loosely inspired by a recent somewhat heart-breaking post by Cardinal Guzman, I decided that the world needs more bad poetry.

At peace,
At home.
Alone.
Quiet, but not quite.
The kettle boiling,
Coffee brewing‚ÄĒ
Another day, another night.

What I Hated the Least Today 179/365: Night Owl

An early riser
An early riser

I’m a convinced night owl. (Isn’t¬†night owl a tautology? Not if there is a day owl, but is there such a thing?) That means, among other dis/advantages, that I get in contact with early birds. (Again, is it a tautology or is there a late bird? And isn’t late bird an¬†owl?)¬†I constantly stumble upon early birds at my usual bedtime, which is early morning. (Are you confused yet? I’m starting¬†to be.)

I have regular dealings with actual early birds, which start twittering noisily at four a.m. the latest at this time of the year, as if they had no nest to sleep in quietly so as not to disturb night owls who are trying to get some work done. I also regularly observe human early birds, who start at about the same time, at four a.m., at any time of the year. If I had a heart, it would be breaking at the sight of those unlucky people getting up at a time when I’m not even asleep yet and plodding to their day jobs. I’m lucky to have a night job. Or a day job that can be performed at night.

I’m on first-name terms with the guy who pre-delivers post, driving a van and distributing packages of mail among the post utility boxes from where the actual postman picks them for individual delivery. The guy is a sore sight: he’s ancient¬†and he limps so badly that he shouldn’t be even driving a car, let alone drag heavy loads on a weekdaily basis. I’m also familiar with the grocery van which arrives at dawn to stock the shop on the ground floor of my building. The vans come the first, and then the foot walkers come out. (Foot walker¬†is certainly a tautology and I have no idea how I came up with this ridiculous phrase.)

Other people’s misery is good for appreciating that I don’t have to get up early. (I don’t have to get up, even, provided I could work from bed, which I can’t because I find it uncomfortable and inconvenient.)¬†An early bird catches the worm, they say.¬†An early bird catches the worms, if anything, I maintain. (Provided that birds have worms, which is too unsavoury an idea for me to Google. On second thought‚ÄĒI did Google to satisfy my curiosity and guess what. Yes, birds do get worms. Another reason for not wanting to be an early bird. It might give you worms.)

What I Hated the Least Today 154/365: Papers

#amwriting
#amwriting

I spent the last few days doing what existentialists who aren’t nihilists (yet) do: persisting in so-called meaningful activities which they know to be meaningless. In other words, I’ve been pursuing my academic pursuits. (Or, oops, I did it again.) In a matter of four or five days, I churned out two abstracts (as in conference presentation proposals) and two full-length papers (as in literature analyses for publication).

As a result of these pointless accomplishments I feel pointless and accomplished. I’m perversely proud of myself for having met the deadlines and completed what I set out to complete. I’m also plagued by a sense of purposelessness now that I’ve done my purposeless task,¬†which¬†was nevertheless successfully distracting me from getting depressed. (Oh, of course, I’m also depressed.)

Doesn’t this post read as though I’ve recently spent a prolonged period of time writing something literary and academic? It does, doesn’t it. Apart from¬†the contractions. (Not contractions as in labour, though labouring is indeed¬†involved, but contractions as in contracted forms‚ÄĒlike I’m). Academics don’t contract their papers‚ÄĒbecause word count. Also, apart from the sentence fragments (‚Üź like this one).

The fragmented feel of this post is however deliberate. So is the monotonous style. And the play on words. This is to draw attention to the language. My field of research, literature, reduces to language. My work, by extension, also reduces to language. (Guess what this post reduces to.) I should probably go write something normal for a change. Like a shopping list.


Update: Today’s Daily Post prompt just popped up in my Reader, offering¬†the keyword¬†purpose‚ÄĒwhich is what I accidentally blogged about above. That illustrates that I’m not only mental, I’m also psychic.

What I Hated the Least Today 142/365: Deadpan

Dead inside out (and a curious choice of bra padding)
Dead inside out (and a curious choice of bra padding)

I cultivate a deadpan face at all times because I maintain that showing emotion makes one open to abuse. Unfortunately, my deadpan skills cause some confusion when dealing with people who are less dead inside out than me. It’s especially difficult to get my humour across with my straight face‚ÄĒthough my sense of humour, which is often somewhat less digestible, might be to blame.

My students are incredibly credulous. Something in their education is apparently amiss since they take everything at face value. The other day when I distributed their final tests, I advised them to write their name on the paper and their student number. I added that should they fail to include their student number, I would award penalty points. There was deathly silence in response. I had to explain the joke, which made it somewhat less charming.

During oral exams, I made a point of looking encouraging, though anything that was still alive inside me was being slaughtered at the moment by the assault of incredibly bad English I was forced to sit through. This considerate approach turned out to be poorly thought through, in keeping with the law that each good deed shall be punished accordingly.

Several¬†days after the oral exam, I received an email from a student who wanted me to explain why she got such a poor grade when I “looked content”. I doubt that I ever look content, but I can’t say, and I certainly have no recollection of this particular student‚ÄĒI examined about forty candidates within two days, plus I’m consciously working on suppressing this traumatic experience. I wrote a polite response suggesting that next time the student might want to raise questions on the spot.

On a more cheerful note, I learned a lot of interesting details about the students during the oral exam. One student intimated that he was¬†looking forward to feeling the virginity of the forest in Romania, where he was going for holiday. I didn’t pry for details. Another student explained that while he thought¬†domestic animals were¬†sometimes abused, he couldn’t envision a cow living on its own and enjoying its freedom somewhere in the woods. I couldn’t envision it either. I managed to keep a serious face, though with utmost effort.