Thinking “Around” the Concept

I recently read a great blog post by Avi Kallenbach of Academic Language Experts on the greatest challenge facing translators. That challenge, as he sees it, is avoiding literalism. While the meaning of the source text should be expressed as accurately as possible, linguistic features such as vocabulary and sentence structure should sound absolutely natural in the…

Taking It Literally

Keds is a classic brand known worldwide. It’s been around for exactly one hundred years, having been founded in 1916, and its original shoe design was the first mass-marketed canvas-top sneaker (see photo above). But their slogans in French could use a little work. Keds shoe boxes have these English-language phrases with corresponding French translations: Take on the…

Word Choice 2: Thanksgiving Edition

With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve been thinking about a confusing situation: the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. At the grocery store recently, I saw root vegetables with orange flesh and brown skin (which I’ve always known as sweet potatoes) identified as yams. Next to them, similar root vegetables with purple skin and white flesh were called…

Louvre Abu Dhabi Has Commissioned an Installation from Jenny Holzer

I reported recently for Le Journal des Arts that conceptual artist Jenny Holzer is completing an installation commissioned by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, according to her gallery Cheim & Read. The Abu Dhabi museum is scheduled to open in December 2015. The Paris Louvre is currently hosting an exhibition called “Birth of a Museum” (up through…

Word Choice 1

(Part 1 of a series on sharing thoughts on words and their meanings.) I happened to be thinking recently of the English term “ne’er-do-well,” and how I like the old-fashioned word “ne’er.” Wondering how I would translate it into French, I thought of “bon à rien,” which corresponds to “good-for-nothing.” This got me thinking: is…

What Does a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Art Look Like?

In the New York Times yesterday, economist Robert H. Frank attempts to apply a cost-benefit analysis to one of the most iconic works in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He thinks it would be great idea to sell it. But this approach is wrong —…

How Bad is Buzzfeed in Translation?

For the past four months, Buzzfeed has been using students from the language-learning site Duolingo to translate its content into French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The bottom line, naturally, is that it’s cheaper: Duolingo (which claims to teach languages better than universities — a college education is really superfluous now that we have the Internet!) translates…

“Hot. Cool. Yours.” Really?

The Sochi Olympics begin today, with the official slogan “Hot. Cool. Yours.” Really? It sounds like those old ads for the McDLT. What were they thinking? According to the Sochi 2014 website, the word “Hot” represents “the intensity of sporting battle and the passion of the spectators, and it emphasizes the location of the Games, the…

City as Canvas, the Portrait of an Era

Seeing “City as Canvas” at the Museum of the City of New York, which opened yesterday and is up through August 24, was an unexpectedly rewarding, and even moving, experience. Not so much because of the quality of the art, some of which I was disappointed by, but because the show is so clearly a…