Category Archives: Words

Cor blimey, guv’nor… in translation

Just in case any of my non-UK readers did not understand the Cockney rhyming slang in my previous post, there follows an annotated version below.

Me old china [My old china plate = mate] was just telling the trouble and strife [= wife] that now you can go dahn [down] the ole rattle and tank [= bank] to get a speckled hen [ten (pound note)] – or any amount of sausage and mash [= cash] as it ‘appens – no Lady Godivas [= fivers (five pound notes) though – if you just enter your Huckleberry Finn [= PIN] in the machine.  Might go dahn for a butcher’s [butcher’s hook = look]  meself alligator [= later].
This was to note the fact that a bank has equipped its ATMs in east London with spoken instructions in Cockney.  They may have opened the floodgates for requests for ATMs in all sorts of other languages, east London being the traditional initial first stop over the centuries for immigrants – Jews from Russia and Poland, Hugenots from France, and more recently Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Interestingly, most of the immigrants move on within a few generations but the Cockneys remain.  I wonder why?

Cor blimey, guv’nor!

Me old china was just telling the trouble and strife that now you can go dahn the ole rattle and tank to get a speckled hen – or any amount of sausage and mash as it ‘appens – no Lady Godivas though – if you just enter your Huckleberry Finn in the machine.  Might go dahn for a butcher’s meself alligator.

Quick catch up

Before any more of July passes by, I feel compelled to record what I can remember of June.

After the very quiet months of April and May from a work point of view, June arrived with pleasant weather, the prospect of replenishing the elderflower cordial stocks and a general question mark about work levels.

Curiously, a couple of friends who visited from Manchester at cordial-making season last year turned up on the doorstep again this year. You may remember that last year’s efforts involved a mad dash around the locality to locate stocks of citric acid (the same day as they arrived). This time, being well stocked with the requisite quantities, the friends happened to arrive as the flowers were soaking in their sugar solution. The kitchen smelled lovely!

Workwise at this time last year, you may remember my being engaged on the Education assignment. If you don’t, then I clearly didn’t moan on about it as much as it deserved. It was an uphill slog of a rather tedious nature. This year I was treated to a customer survey for a cold remedy. Gentle reader, there were 3,500 responses to “What did you like about this product?”  Let me tell you now, there were about 7 possible responses to this question ranging from “You won’t catch me buying this muck” to “This is the world’s answer to runny noses, stuffy heads and hacking coughs. Thank you for developing it – I am forever indebted to your company and I can’t wait to spread the good news of your product.”  There were the occasional “I like the picture on the packaging” and “Eucalyptus is my least/favourite flavour” to (ahem) break the tedium – which lasted for about 10 working days.

It would not fall into the category of great works of literature (naturally, the translation was a vast improvement on the original mis-spelled, ungrammatical and plainly impenetrable prose) but there were a couple of gems hidden in there.  Some people (not my gentle readers, of course) believe that translation is “just” a question of replacing text word for word.  A certain amount of interpreting is required to make the original writer’s intentions clear if s/he is not expressing her/himself as clearly as s/he might.  One answer was a classic. What do you like about this product ?  “it replaces inhaling and is resealable”. What this person meant (I assume) was that it was not necessary to use a steam inhalation and that they liked the fact that the product was in resealable packaging. (I didn’t ever get to see a picture or read a description of said packaging – it may have been some sort of box or perhaps a bag with a zip-style closure or of course anything else. Nobody ever thinks that translators might like to see what they’re trying to describe). I admit it doesn’t seem terribly amusing now… but believe me… at answer 3,004 lots of things can easily lighten the mood and seem absolutely hilarious.

Following this marathon, I had two jobs both from companies which had an exclamation mark after their Name! I found this unbelievably irritating because every time I had to write their Name! I had to insert the punctuation. Not a problem until your computer decides that the Name! is the end of the sentence and starts the next word with an initial capital. It also causes a bit of problem when you are trying to write sentences such as “Name!’s marvellous acheivements are..”   So if you are thinking of starting a dynamic new company, consider leaving the exclamation mark out of your Name! please. It gets in the way.

I was then offered a couple of (thankfully) short assignments in French. It’s so long since I did French my eye kept whizzing to the end of the sentences to find the verb. Marie-France came to my aid for a couple of sentences. Huzzah!

On a completely different topic: a friend of mine announced a couple of weeks ago that she and her partner had decided they were going to get married next month. She doesn’t want a big fuss and so the marriage ceremony is going to be for close family only.  However, she did want her friends to be able to mark the occasion so she was going to have a hen night.  Feeling that this might overwhelm her with attention, she remarked to me, “I haven’t really invited many people yet because I’m thinking of chickening out of my hen night.”

Well, I thought it was funny…but I was in the middle of the product survey at the time. Did I mention it had 3,500 responses?

You will be pleased to know she went ahead with the event and we enjoyed a pleasant evening in an Italian restaurant yesterday.

And now I’m off to strain my elderflower vinegar which has been steeping for three weeks.


I forgot to mention to my gentle readers that when I was telling my friends about my trip to the German church service, I mentioned that I had not been able to hear all of the sermon.

Kerensa: …but the general theme was Jesus and the vine

Friend:… Jesus and the what?

Kerensa: You know, that bit in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I am the vine’.

Friend: Huh??

Kerensa (beginning to doubt herself): You know, there’s a chapter in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I am the vine…and you are the branches’.

Friend: Oh…VINE. I thought you were saying ‘Rhein’. I was going to say, ‘that’s a new one on me…did the Germans reckon that Jesus had been to the Rhein?’

😉 It’s not always easy to hear everything clearly…even when you are sitting about a metre apart!

It had struck me in the sermon that when the minister said that Jesus used examples based on his audience’s everyday experience that using the vine and the branches would resonate clearly with a German audience – Germany being a wine-producing country… particularly as it happens, along the Rhein (or Rhine… I never know how to spell such words these days).

In awe

I am currently working on a job with a colleague. I am quaking in my boots because he will be proofreading my work before submitting it to his client. I am translating  an area I am not really that comfortable with and I feel sure I’m making tons of mistakes.

But the real reason I am in utter awe of him is that he is truly bi-lingual, whereas I am merely “relatively fluent”. There is a huge difference – he can write equally authoritatively in both English and German as he has been educated and has lived for extensive periods in both cultures. I would never dare translate into German for fear of making some horrendous howler without even noticing.

He sent me an email earlier – in English – but at one point used a German phrase. He wrote in brackets what a relief it was to be able to use both his languages with someone who understands.  There are times when German can express something much more concisely and succinctly or colourfully than English and such phrases sometimes come to mind – leaving one looking like a gibbering idiot when in conversation because one is desperately trying to think of another way of expressing oneself.

In this particular case, however, although I understood the meaning of the phrase he used, I hadn’t seen it before. I decided to look it up to find out the “official” translation. Nowhere, gentle reader, could I find  a translation. So, is this a very unusual phrase, or has he perhaps mixed up two idioms to make a new one, or what?

Such is my awe of him, I don’t feel at liberty to ask!

Learning the language

This afternoon I visited my neighbour, Mrs Cupcake, for a cup of tea and a chat. Her 3 year-old son, Master Cupcake, was drawing a picture at the table as we chatted and occasionally would interrupt us.

I said somebody “was going through an unhappy phase”. Master Cupcake said, “What’s an unhappy phase?” As he said this in his unbelievably cute little way, it suddenly dawned on me that there were two words he might possibly have heard: phase and face.

I explained ‘phase’ and he seemed satisfied (phew!). He didn’t seem to think that there was any contradiction with his understanding of the word ‘face’ so I left it at that.  How amazing that he had distinguished the two words which are so incredibly close in pronunciation!

It also reminded Mrs Cupcake and me that although he seemed to be entirely absorbed in creating a multi-coloured fish he was in fact taking in every word and that we might have to be careful about the subjects we discuss in his presence!

Hi and goodbye

…it was nice knowing you…

In some languages there are words which mean both hello and goodbye. I can’t think of an equivalent in English (except perhaps “Cheers” which in some contexts can mean “Hello” “Goodbye” and “Goodbye and thank you”). For example, in Austrian German “Servus” can be said both on meeting someone and leaving again.  In Danish there is “Hej” – pronounced “Hi”. I feel sure I’ve heard my Danish friends and family say “Hej, Hej” as they leave – but don’t quote me on that… Italian has “Ciao” and no doubt there are other examples.

I have just translated a letter from a company with such a name as described. The letter is to the company’s clients saying that they have been bought out by a larger company and so now all their dealings will be transferred to the latter.  It just struck me as slightly ironic that the liquidated company’s name was saying both “hello and goodbye… .

For my part, it has been a very brief* relationship. I haven’t translated for the departing company before and more work seems unlikely. They have been taken over by a monster company which may even have its own in-house translation department.

* little linguistic joke there. Brief in English means short… in German it means “letter” (as in correspondence).

Telephone tutorials

A friend of mine here in the village earns her living as an actress (and when that work is thin on the ground she runs childrens’ drama workshops in one of the theatres here.) She phoned me earlier this evening with a request: she is going for an audition in London tomorrow and needs to know how to speak English with a German accent.

It’s not easy trying to get your ear attuned to different vowels and making the consonants generally harder in five minutes but I think we made a reasonable attempt. I’ll let you know if she gets the part. I’m going to see if I can persuade the director to take me on as the voice coach 😉


I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with the word “companion”. On the one hand, it conjures up a rather dowdy and spinsterish sort of image of an impoverised unmarried woman in her 30s condemned to spending her life being put upon by a demanding crotchety older woman with nothing better to do than be irritable.*

On the other hand, it is a lovely word when pared back to its Latin roots: con = with and panis = bread therefore meaning the one with whom you share bread.

This past weekend I shared a lot of bread and other delicious foodstuffs with some dear friends. I returned to Manchester (where I once lived for four and a half years) for a quick visit. I stayed overnight on Friday with M who cooked a delicious shepherd’s pie, had breakfast and lunch with C1, afternoon tea with my German friend H, and J and C2 (tomato soup, brie pastry puffs, German cheesecake, lemon cake and cherry cake – all with Schlagsahne) on Saturday, breakfast (smoked salmon with scrambled egg on toasted bagel) with D+M on Sunday morning, and after the Christening we were treated to lasagne, treacle pudding with butterscotch sauce or fresh fruit salad on Sunday.

It was a great weekend with a short walk, chatting and meeting three new little people (there’s been a bit of a baby boom in my absence!) and lots of companionship.

*I may have been influenced by reading too many Barbara Pym novels!

Not the Feiertag Feiertag

On the theme of losing it…

As you know, I am at my desk today (see below as to why) and so have answered the phone to a couple of clients. As politely as I could, I told them that today is a Feiertag in England (and Wales but not Scotland) and so I am officially not here.

One conversation went like this:
Client: what are you celebrating?
Me: Well, nothing really…it’s not connected to a Saint’s day or Church festival… we just have the day off. [General reluctance on my part to get involved in a discussion as to what exactly is a *bank* holiday… especially as it applies to almost every area of business – except mine, apparently.]
Client: That’s interesting. Is it your national day?
Me: Ah no. We don’t have a national day – although this is currently a matter of some debate.
Client: No national day??
Me: No. We’ve never had one and now it’s a bit complicated to agree on when it would be, what we would be celebrating and what “Britishness” is anyway….
Client [laughing]: You could perhaps celebrate when you allowed Ireland its independence.
Me: Hmmm. I think I could see a few problems with that idea. And we would end up with rather a lot of holidays if we celebrated everyone else’s independence days…. we had rather a lot of colonies at one point.
Client:[light goes on] This is very true.
Me: So it’s just a general holiday – and I’m not really working ….although I am, in fact, but that’s nearly as complicated to explain as the concept of a holiday which is not a holy day…. and the fact that we don’t have a national day…..


And all this reminded me of the time when I was once in the USA. Conversation with an 18-year old American on July 4th:
Him: Do you celebrate July 4?
Me: No, we don’t celebrate your independence day.
Him: But EVERYONE celebrates independence day.
Me: Well, we don’t. Think about it for a moment, Matt. Exactly who are you celebrating your independence from?
Him: Errrr….. [light] Ahhhhhh….
Me: Exactly.

And now gentle reader, I must get back to the cocoa beans used in a particular chocolate bar which is square and sporty – the deadline loometh.