Word Origins – Weekend

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It’s a Saturday, finally. After going through a rough week, this weekend was the most awaited one. A whole two days off from work, in which I can do what I please.

But why two days? Why not three? and why two days in succession? If you think about it, this arbitrary concept of the weekend is a very recent phenomenon. Chances are that our forefathers didn’t have the privilege of spending two days of leisure.

Because It is a Saturday, I’ve put together a short history of the weekend to get you in the right mindset to make the most of your own.

A short history of the week

Counting days in chunks of seven comes so naturally nowadays that we forget that it is unusual way to think. The 24 hour days measures the duration between one dawn and the next, the months measures the time required for the moon to wax, become full and wane; and the year counts one full cycle of the seasons. The week measures nothing – nothing happens to the sun, moon or even the stars. Therefore, it quite easy to deduce that it is a man-made interval.

Now why seven? It goes all the way back to the Babylonian calendar in the third millennium BC. And the idea of “Sabbath” to rest one day out of every seven, is well cemented in the Old Testament.

From Day off to Days off

Throughout the eighteenth century, the workweek ended on Saturday evening and Sunday was the weekly off. But even then, how can you contract fairs, Christmas celebrations, sporting events in one single day – they used to last for several days at a stretch. Since Sunday was the only holiday, a custom was born to refrain from work on Monday. This practice became so common that it was called “keeping Saint Monday“.

Saturday half-off – Factory initiative

It is unlikely that the Saturday half-holiday would have spread as rapidly as it did if it not had been for the support of factory owners. Many few workers used to come on Saturday, so their output affected anyways and they had to close down. The Saturday half-holiday was a way out, so that they come on Monday with fresh energy and perspective.

Jewish Sabbath and Two day Weekend

In 1908, the first of the weekends came. It was firstly adopted by a New England spinning mill to accommodate its Jewish workers, as they celebrated Sabbath on Saturday, unlike Christians.

Henry Ford vision for the Weekend

In 1914, the great Henry Ford reduced the working hours in his plants from nine to eight and in 1926, he announced his factories to be closed on Saturday too, as he believed that an increase in the leisure time would support an increase in consumer spending, not least on automobiles and automobile travel.

The Great Depression

The final nail in the one-and-a-half day weekend was the Great Depression which begun in 1930’s and affected economies worldwide and sent unemployment in many countries as high as 20 percent. In such an environment, shorter work days came to be regarded as a remedy for unemployment: each person would work less, but more people would have jobs.

That’s more or less where we are today. However, It is interesting that the Great Depression did not led to any further expansion on the weekend. but who says the weekend has stopped evolving? There must be something in store for weekend in the future, But I don’t plan to think about it until Monday.

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Six Survival Techniques for Translators during a Slump

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Since freelance translation came into existence, there has been no recurring topic than surviving during a “slump” or a “dry spell” in the life of a freelance translator. Since the beginning of my career, I have been challenged by many people to find a suitable way to escape from this problem, and I have always said that “you have to go through this throughout your career.” I have always read translators having more than 15-20 years of experience going through this too. It doesn’t mean they are any less efficient or effective than others. Neither it means they are poor in business skills or are unable to attract new clients.

Like any other businessman or self-employed professional, a translator also has his “highs” and “lows”. The idea is to change your paradigm. I have always seen this period as an opportunity to make the best use of my time by following some simple techniques:

  1. Keep learning: Having fewer projects means lesser confidence in yourself. As the period extends, you may also feel bored and may resort to idleness like unnecessary TV watching or unwanted sleep or never ending useless phone calls. This is the way most of us deal with the stress of having no work. Instead of doing this, you could learn a new software which could help you later in your business (like software related to DTP which is a value add skill for a translator) or any other skill which could add into your existing repertoire and help in attracting new clients and retaining the old ones. The idea is to always be a student.
  2. Feed the mind: If we want our bodies to remain healthy, we have to eat good food. Similarly, if we want our minds to remain alert, healthy and active, we have to feed it with “good thoughts”. A dry spell could really affect the nutrition of your mind. You may feel “no longer required” in this industry. This is the right time to feed your mind with some inspiring literature like reading biographies or people who have gone from “rags to riches” in their life such as Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Harrison Ford, etc. Though these people were not in the same profession, but you will observe that they have also faced many hardships to reach to the top.
  3. Revisit your mission statement: At the start of the career, everyone develops a mission statement or goal statement which defines the self-made path of a translator to achieve success. But in the midst of generating leads, landing on potential clients, adhering to client’s deadlines, doing projects continuously for months, one may tend to forget to think long-run and just gobbles up the opportunity right in front. Having some time off projects provides you the opportunity to revisit your mission, your goals and measure up your success so far. Furthermore, it may give you some great ideas to take your career further, to diversify yourself, to challenge yourself, etc.
  4. Spending time with your loved ones: When we are feeling low about ourselves, opening up to someone who loves you, who believes in you not only helps but also makes the bond stronger. I always discuss with my brother during these times because I know he always believes in me, even when I do not. It’s time to have a friend or a family member by your side to help you stay on track.
  5. Diverse your interests/income streams – Although freelancing is quite an enjoyable and lucrative business in itself, but in order to make the most out of your slump period, it is good to develop diverse interests. I personally teach French language at some institutes near my place at a very reasonable price and I blog too. Not only these activities are useful alternatives to mindless activities, these also develop your language skills and give an opportunity to meet new people.
  6. Go on a vacation: May be this slump period is here to remind you that it has been a long time since you have gone for a vacation. Go to a nice place with family and friends and rejuvenate your mind and body.

Ten Common Myths about Translation Quality

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The world of translation can be a quite confusing place, especially when you are the one buying the translation. Due to the invisibility factor of our business, coupled with less face-face conversation, it can be a tedious job for the buyer to select the best vendor for his/her translation needs. It’s like when I go to the mechanic to get my car fixed. As I have very little knowledge of the workings of an internal combustion engine, I feel absolutely blank when the mechanic tells me about the details of the problem.

This confusion leads to the perpetuation of some tactics which the buyers usually employ when they choose their translation partner. Though these may seem logical to them, but often it does more harm then good. Here are ten widespread misconceptions related to translation that can actually get in the way of ensuring the best quality.

Word Origins – Baguette

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In honor of Bastille Day (14th July), I have decided to discuss about one of my favorite French exports: the French bread, which refers to baguette.

For those still unknown to this fact, baguette refers to a long thin loaf of French bread, which is distinguishable by its length and crisp crust. During my visit to Paris some two years ago, I found this emblem of the French cuisine at all places. Today, baguette is synonymous to bread, but that was not the case, earlier.

Linguistically, the word is often translated as “wand” (from the Latin bacillus), and before the bread appeared, it was often used to refer to a magic wand (baguette magique), as well as a glass rod (used in chemistry) or a baton (as in the expression “to lead by the baguette” or baguette de direction which means conductor’s baton). The word also has a host of other meanings, most of which imply a stick-like object: a small thin stick, often flexible (that is, a switch); an emblem of authority; a (musician’s) drumstick; a chopstick; a ramrod; various costume and architectural embellishments; an astrological table; a type of diamond cut; or (slang) legs.

As it happens, it is just possible that the original baguette did resemble a wand (as today’s does not). Still, in English, it seems most appropriate to choose the meaning of “stick”, and in fact common usage has favored this choice.

Image source: Parisiensalon

Happy Bastille Day

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Bastille Day, the French national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on 14 July 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th’s Ancient Regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king’s power was no longer absolute: power should be based on the Nation and be limited by a separation of powers.

Although the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens; like the Tricolor flag, it symbolized the Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens.

It marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792. Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6 July 1880.

 

Happy Bastille Day to all!!!

Nine myths about the profession of a translator

Translation is a sunrise industry in India. Here, supply outweighs demand. But the nature of the work is such that the professionals remain invisible to the general layman. When somebody looks at a catalog describing the working specifications of a mobile phone, which is given is 6 different languages, he/she never thinks of the origin of these translations.

True ignorance of the working methodologies of a translator together with the invisibility nature of our profession leads to cropping-up of several myths among the general public. Here are some of them which have been busted in this blog post (nine-myths-about-the-profession-of-a-translator).

Word Origins – Ketchup

Last weekend, I was at a KFC, eating my favorite burger along with some fries and admiring the recipes of Colonel Harland Sanders (the man who founded KFC). As it was a weekend, the place was filled with people, eating their favorite delicacies and slurping their favorite Krushers.

So when I was returning the unused condiments  – ketchups, I realized how swell it is? It goes with everything; burgers, fries, wraps, wedges, chicken shotz and many other foods including our good old Indian delicacies; pakodas, samosas, paranthas and the likes.

And my curiosity gear kicked in. Why it is called a ketchup, what is the history of this word and how it came into being. Well, as I found out, answering these questions is a lot harder than posing them. But I’ll try:

The word “ketchup’ comes from keochiap (Amoy Dialect) meaning ‘brine of fish’. Yes, you read it right. The history of the word has nothing to do with tomatoes. Ketchup used to be made with something other than tomatoes. The recipe for ketchup has changed quite dramatically over time; tomatoes were only added to the recipe around 1800, and sugar even later, well after the Civil War.

In 1750-1850, ketchup meant a thin dark sauce made of fermented walnuts or sometimes fermented mushrooms. Mushroom ketchup is still produced by old-fashioned grocers. But walnut or mushroom aren’t the original ingredients of ketchup either. As Samuel Johnson tells us in his great Dictionary in 1755, English mushroom ketchups were just an attempt to imitate the taste of an earlier original sauce that came from Asia.

What was this Asian sauce? It’s clear from the earliest English recipes that the original ketchup was fish sauce, the stinky cooking sauce called nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pla in Thailand, patis in the Philippines, and made from salting and fermenting anchovies.Fermented food products have a long tradition in Asia. The first fermented condiments were thick pastes made of fermented meat or fish used as a flavoring for dishes like roast suckling pig. As widely known in the food industry, the Chinese have a longstanding habit of celebrating their food products in their poetry, and fermented sauces appear in the Elegies of the Chu State (楚辞), dating from before 300 BC.

The fermentation process, which was used for making fish pastes, was soon applied for fermenting other products like beans, and indeed fermented soy beans and soy bean pastes (from which soy sauce developed) were a major trade commodity throughout the Chinese empire by the late Han Dynasty (i.e. by 50 BCE or 100 BCE). Over the next millenium the popularity of fermented fish and meat products drastically declined in China while fermented soy bean products became more and more popular, possibly because soy products were cheaper to make, easier to transport, and allowed for a wider variety of possible tastes.

Thus in general, fish sauce either never really developed in China, or more likely died out, and is no longer mentioned in food histories and dictionaries by the Ming dynasty. Nonetheless, in modern times fish sauce is manufactured and eaten in China

Two chinese culinary historians, H.T Huang and Naomichi Ishige, argue that during the 17th and 18th centuries, fish sauce entered China by migration, carried by Chinese sea traders from Vietnam or Cambodia up the southeastern coast of China, into Canton and Fujian provinces and the cities of Guanggong (Canton), Chaozhou (Teochew), Xiamen (Amoy) and Fuzhou.

What was this fish sauce called? In modern Chinese, in Mandarin, it’s often called yu lu 鱼露 (‘fish dew’). But yu lu is a modern name, and these Chinese sailors, traders, and settlers weren’t speaking modern Mandarin. Many of them were speakers of Southern Min, a Chinese language (or dialect) of 46 million speakers, spoken in both Fujian and Guangdong provinces as well as in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia (and whose variants and subdialects are called Hokkien, Taiwanese, Teochiu, and Amoy dialect, among other names).

So what was this fish sauce called in the Southern Min dialect in the 18th century? It turns out it was called something like “ke-tchup”, “ge-tchup”, or “kue-chiap”, depending on the dialect. Here’s the entry for kôe-chiap 鲑汁 from a Southern Min to English dictionary compiled by missionaries in 1873, that gives pronunciations in various Southern Min subdialects:

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The word is pronounced kôe-chiap in Quanzhou (listed above as Cn.) and kê-chiap in Zhangzhou (listed above as C.), two large Hokkien-speaking cities near Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian province. Those of you who speak Southern Min or Cantonese dialects will recognize the last syllable of the word, chiap or tchup, as the word for ‘sauce’, written 汁 and pronounced zhi in Mandarin.

A modern (1982) dictionary, Mandarin to Southern-Min, confirms our evidence from the missionary dictionary, telling us that the first syllable 鲑 is an archaic word, pronounced “gué” in spoken Southern Min, and meaning a preserved fish. Over the years this character has changed its meaning and in modern times often means ‘salmon’.

It was James Murray, the famous editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, who wrote the OED entry for this word in the Scriptorium in his back garden in 1889.

To know more about the modern story of how tomatoes became popular in the 19th century, how they were added to ketchup, how even later the recipe changed to replace fermentation by lots of vinegar and sugar to result in a kind of sweet and sour chutney has been nicely told in Andrew Smith’s Pure Ketchup.

It is quite bizarre now to know that a condiment, made from tomatoes today, comes packaged with a green label (signalling that it is vegetarian and consumable by vegetarians) has a history which includes fermented fish pastes made from fish entrails. But that’s the way languages work.