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 Lost in translation

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 13:37

I'm in the process of getting some legal documents translated from French to be sent to England, and I was rummaging around to see if I already had the translations done, when I came across an old 'certified' translation of a rental agreement that had rendered the clause, "the renter  can continue to live in the property only if he pays the rent by the stated date", as, "the renter can continue to live in the property if he doesn't pay by the stated date". So almost the complete opposite. Oh the joys of the French quasi-negative (eg. il ne parle que de brexit, meaning he only speaks about brexit, ... as opposed to il ne parle pas de brexit, meaning he doesn't speak about brexit).

But this got me thinking about the trips, traps, tropes and simple pratfalls of translation.

Over the centuries there must have been many occasions - some entertaining, some more serious - when dubious translation has gone completely against what was actually meant. Just from memory I recall a speech made by Winston Churchill to the French National Assemby, where he began by attempting to say, "When I look back over my past I see it divides into two equal halves ... ", but which unfortunately he rendered as, "Quand je regarde mon derrière, je vois qu'il est divisé en deux parties égales ...”, ie, "When I look at my backside I see it is divided into two equal parts... ".

So what other examples can we think of where something was lost, or maybe added, during translation? And were there any unexpected repercussions?


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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 13:56

Not a funny example, but a terribly sad and revealing one.

Professor Constantin Héger taught Charlotte Bronte during her stay in Brussels: she fell hopelessly and humiliatingly in love with him. He later wrote to the Brontë biographer, Mrs. Gaskell, of her subject's "pauvre coeur malade" - "poor, sick heart".  This was translated as "pauvre coeur blessé" - "poor wounded heart".

Sick or wounded? There's a heck of a difference.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:08

One mistaken example is the urban legend about JFK's speech in Berlin in 1963:

I am a jelly doughnut
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:29

Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described features he had observed on Mars during the opposition of 1877 as canali, meaning channels. This was however, translated as canals, leading many people including astronomer Percy Lowell to believe there was intelligent life on Mars.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:56

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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 15:26

Not as good as Trike's example but (paraphrasing - it is more than 40 years ago) when I purchased the descant recorder that I taught myself to play on (more like play at - I'm not very good at it), it was I think from Japan and part of the instructions said something like "The blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended".
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 15:51

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
... when I purchased the descant recorder that I taught myself to play on, it was I think from Japan and part of the instructions said something like "The blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended".

But that just sounds like very good advice to me, whether given in Japanese or English.

As a recorder, tin-whistle, crumhorn, shawm and rauschpfiefe player  ... I fully concur with the Japanese and I don't think that's a misleadingly translation. In short, "blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended", is indeed in my experience, very good advice. Simple wooden flutes and recorders (transverse flutes and flutes à bec) rarely have "spit-keys", and are simply left to drain out the end, which is not always entirely satisfactory: they often need a shake or flick to help things along ... but all modern brass instruments, like trumpets, trombones, horns, euphoniums and whatevems, and also many modern woodwind instruments, especially the more convoluted ones like bassoons and saxophones  ... all have a drain key (or indeed several), to drain condensed moisture out of the instrument's tubes. It's a well-known problem when they block.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 16:22

It probably isn't true that the Britons got all worked up and kicked him out when Caesar arrived and immediately called them "weeny, weedy and weaky"?

I learnt British history first and foremost from "1066 And All That!", which probably wasn't a great idea ...
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 16:48

That'll teach me MM!!

At school we always pronounced Latin with a v words with a v i.e. venny viddy vikky but that's probably wrong - a lot of the time we learned church Latin (well it was a convent school).  I think they pronounced the v as a w at my brother's school.  My late mother said her teacher of Latin made his pupils inwardly groan with

"Caesar adsum iam forte"

which he translated as "Caesar 'ad some jam for tea"

but in those days it wasn't the done thing to cringe to the teacher's face.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 14:07

I'm surprised Caro hasn't been in yet and mentioned the Treaty of Waitangi - where a loose translation of "sovereignty" so that it could be understood as "governance" led to a constitutional and legal argument which still persists to this day. When the Maoris signed up to ceding "to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty" they claim they had been given to understand they were retaining self-rule but simply agreeing to adopt Her Madge's legal system. And to be fair to them, in their tongue this is in fact also what their copy of the treaty said too in black and white.

The immediate effect of this poor (or maybe even mischievous and mendacious) attempt at translating was a war between the signatories, and then many years of the victor in that war ignoring the articles of the treaty anyway. Only in 1975 was it deemed prudent to set up a tribunal to interpret the thing properly for once and for all. The "once" in that aim appears to have been slightly optimistic, and the "for all" may be even more optimistic still. But at least the dictionaries are being more carefully scrutinised by everyone concerned this time.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 19:05

People in other countries sometimes go out of their way to communicate with their English-speaking tourists.

 Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always get communicated as planned. Here is a list of mistranslated signs seen around the world.
Here are some translations from their  local language into English
 As you can see, there is no shortage of them.


  • Cocktail lounge, Norway: “Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar”
  • At a Budapest zoo: “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty”
  • Hotel in Acapulco: “The Manager has Personally Passed All the Water Served Here”
  • Car rental brochure, Tokyo: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”
  • On an Athi River highway: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”
  • Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations: “Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviors in bed.”
  • In an East African newspaper: “A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.”
  • Hotel lobby, Bucharest: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.:
  • In Nairobi restaurant: “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.”
  • In a New Zealand restaurant: “Open seven days a week, and weekends too.”
  • Restaurant window: “Don’t stand there and be hungry. Come on in and get fed up.”
  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”
  • Hotel elevator, Paris: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”
  • A menu in Vienna: “Fried milk, children sandwiches, roast cattle and boiled sheep.”
  • Hotel in Japan: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”
  • At a Korean restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand: “We do not re-use the food.”
  • Supermarket, Hong Kong: “For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.”
  • Outside Paris dress shop: “Dresses for street walking.”
  • In a Rhodes tailor shop: “Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.”
  • A sign on a car in Manila, Philippines: “Car and owner for sale.”
  • Hotel in Zurich: “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, is it suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”
  • Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
  • War museum on the River Kwai, Thailand: “The Museum is building now — sorry for the visitor”
  • Outside of Hong Kong: “Ladies may have a fit upstairs.”
  • In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s: “Drop your trousers here for best results.”
  • In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.”
  • Doctor’s office, Rome: “Specialists in women and other diseases.”
  • Instructions for a soap bubble gun: “While solution is not toxic it will not make child edible.”
  • In an Italian cemetery: “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”
  • Detour sign in Kyushu, Japan: “Stop: Drive Sideways.”
  • Sign at Mexican disco: “Members and non-members only.”
  • A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest: “It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.”
  • Japanese hotel room: “Please to bathe inside the tub.”
  • On a South African building: “Mental health prevention centre.”
  • From Soviet Weekly: “There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.”
  • Instructions on a Korean flight: “Upon arrival at Kimpo and Kimahie Airport, please wear your clothes.”
  • Aeroflot advert: “Introducing wide boiled aircraft for your comfort.”
  • Belgrade hotel elevator: “To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.”
  • Athens hotel: “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.”
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 21:24

@Triceratops wrote:
One mistaken example is the urban legend about JFK's speech in Berlin in 1963:

I am a jelly doughnut

Triceratops,

it seems that JFK was right with: "Ich bin ein  Berliner" I am an inhabitant of Berlin...

And he can be right if he pronounced the new spelling of Latin as in his "civis", as we had to do 15 years old in the Latin class, before it was César new spelling: Kaisar. Cicero new spelling Kikero as in Greek Kikeroon (oo is pronounced as the Greek omega)
The year the spelling was changed, we had an odd teacher of Latin, nicknamed I don't know why "the Czech". We had as it was a Catholic school, to pronounce the Ave Maria before each lesson of Latin and of course in new spelling. Maria, qui es in coelum, pronounced before I guess in English something like "chealum" with the ea of I think "bread" and in the new spelling it became quite otherwise pronounced as something like "koilum" I guess as in "boiling".

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Sat 24 Mar 2018, 23:03

The Balkans are sometimes prone to mistranslations. In one instance in 1788 during the Habsburg-Ottoman War the Habsburg army was encamped around the town of Karansebes in the Rumanian Banat. As night fell the camp settled down while camp followers sold food and drink to the troops. 

Particular popular was the strong moonshine being sold by local gypsies. The Rumanian word for brandy or schnapps is țuică. Some Hungarian hussars got rapidly drunk on this and rowdily began calling for more. More soldiers arrived to join the party and more bottles and barrels were produced. One particularly inebriated fellow, impatient with the speed at which the barrels were being opened, took it upon himself to shoot a barrel with his musket in order to open it. 

The shouts of “țuică! țuică!”, now coupled with the sound of gunfire, caused others in the vicinity to mishear the cry as being one of “Turci! Turci!” and interpreted this as meaning that the Turks were attacking. Panic spread through the entire Habsburg camp and the cry of “alarm!’ alarm!” went up as troops began fleeing in all directions. Officers tried to regain control by shouting “halt! halt!” but the combined cacophony of this was again misheard as being “Allah! Allah!” thus reinforcing the belief that a Moslem army was attacking. In the darkness various units of the Habsburg army then began fighting each other with each believing the other to be the enemy. This included an artillery corps blindly firing into the melee.

By the time dawn arrived and order was restored, the army had badly mauled itself, was understandably demoralised and so forced to withdraw. Thus a couple of days later when the real Ottoman army arrived it was able to take Karansebes virtually unopposed.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Sun 25 Mar 2018, 10:38

I like that tale Viz ... and it wouldn't have helped if the Hungarian hussars, rather than relying on the Romanian gypsies for their hooch, had brought with them their own favourite booze; the sweet, very alcoholic, Hungarian wine, Tokay ... which I can envisage being equally misheard at "Turci!"
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Mon 26 Mar 2018, 11:03

Though sometimes it can be an advantage:

Gaelic speaking soldiers escape Nazis.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Tue 27 Mar 2018, 16:03

Here's one for all you keen Biblical scholars out there. I have been reading - like you do - about the Book of Job. I have learned that Job, in his anger with his comforters, asserts that he has a Defender, or an Avenger - a go'el - who will eventually establish his innocence. Whether poor old Job is referring to God or to some Celestial demiurge, is a matter of debate among scholars (who clearly have nothing better to do with their time), but the mistranslation of the phrase in the Authorised Version of the Bible is interesting. It is "I know that my Redeemer liveth", a phrase which Christian piety has applied to Jesus of Nazareth in his Resurrected form. It must surely, particularly when set to music by Handel, be the most inspired and glorious mistranslation in the history of literature.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 28 Mar 2018, 11:29

I seem to have a vague memory of MM mentioning on another thread that Cinderella's glass slipper was a fur slipper in a French version.  Of course, there have been lots of Cinderella versions over the years - I think the story predates Perrault's version (that may have been mentioned in the original thread).  Now I'm not sure if MM mentioned this before, so apologies MM if I'm nicking your idea, but in the French version of "Sleeping Beauty" - "La Belle au Bois Dormant" it was the woods that were sleeping rather than the princess.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Fri 30 Mar 2018, 20:43

Yes indeed, it has long been suggested that Perrault originally intended the "glass slipper" (pantoufle de verre) to have been a "squirrel fur slipper" (pantoufle de vair), perhaps in some as yet unidentified earlier version of the tale, and that Perrault or one of his sources confused the words. However it could well be the glass slipper was a deliberate piece of fantastic and improbable poetic invention on Perrault's part ... clear crystal glass then being very expensive and as well as completely impractical for a shoe, so just the sort of thing a fairytale princess would wear. In the Brothers Grimm version, Aschenbroedel, it's a gold slipper: again very expensive and completely impractical as footwear.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Mon 30 Apr 2018, 21:28

Seeing that the Bible was originally written by many different people, in several languages, thousands of years ago, the numerous translations into ‘modern’ languages must contain many misleading or uncertain phrases. However off the top of my head I can only think of (in the King James Version):

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18).

In the KJV, in common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek and the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic. The key word here in Exodus 22 is the Hebrew word kashaph, which in the KJV is translated as 'witch' and in some other modern versions as 'sorceress',

But as I understand it kashaph is of very ambiguous meaning, being either from a root meaning mutter, and so perhaps one who utters charms or makes prophicies; or from a compound of the words kash (herb) and hapalah (using) - hence meaning a herb user of some sort. The Greek Septuagint renders the same phrase clearly as pharmakia (poison) hence the line refers to "a poisoner".

So did the phrase mean witch, soothsayer, or simply poisoner?

The word Kashaph appears 6 times in the Bible:
Exodus 7:11, in reference to the Pharoah's magicians.
Exodus 22:18, the verse in question.
Deuteronomy 18:10, where it is put in with the likes of divination, enchanting, and consulting ghosts and spirits, or seeking oracles from the dead.
2 Chronicle 33:6, where it is put again with enchanters, wizards, "observing times" (divination?) and consulting with familiar spirits.
Daniel 2:2, puts in with astrologers and magicians
Malachi 3:5, the only other time it is not paired with supernatural workers but with other "sinners" including adulterers, liars, swearers of false oaths and those that oppress widows and orphans.

So did the phrase really mean witches should be executed, or did it originally mean simply, and not unreasonably, that poisoners should be executed? And how much, I wonder, was the committee charged with producing the King James Bible influenced by James VI’s well known personal fear and genuine belief in the malign power of witchcraft?

Over the centuries this one line, in translation or mis-translation, must have accounted for the execution of thousands of slightly dotty cat-loving old ladies, impressionable insecure teenagers, and unorthodox herbal healers.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 09:33

@Meles meles wrote:

And how much, I wonder, was the committee charged with producing the King James Bible influenced by James VI’s well known personal fear and genuine belief in the malign power of witchcraft?

I suppose I could have looked at earlier English translations.

John Wycliffe's late 14th century translation to Middle English has;
"Thou schalt not suffre witchis to lyue."

Tyndale's translation, which appeared in Coverdale's 'Great Bible', as authorised by Henry VIII in 1541 has;
"Thou shalt not suffre a witch to lyue."

While the 1599 'Geneva Bible' has;
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to liue."

So it looks like it wasn't just James VI who had it in for all those slightly-dotty cat-loving old ladies.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 10:23

The English version of the bible is littered with such semantic aberrations, many of which are currently being steered into even more weird and wonderful directions as American English and "plain" English are being employed to "spread the word" (one wonders just how thin a word can be "spread" before it dissolves semantically altogether). However many of the aberrations such as the "witch" reference can be traced to earlier aberrations that occurred as the bible's vulgate Latin version became the most popular vehicle for its dissemination to the masses (pardon the pun). The original Greek rendition of the Hebrew text had been "φαρμακούς", which ID will instantly recognise as pharmakos - the dispenser of medicine, corn plasters, nit combs and personal hygiene aids still found on every second street corner. However even the Greeks knew that this directive "φαρμακους ου περιποιησετε" (do not procure things from the pharmacy) seemed a little harsh, even by the weirdest Jewish standards, so they later substituted "μάγισσα" (magissa) for pharmacist, indicating not only a seller of potions used for superstitious rites and spells but a female one at that, though the original Hebrew term implied no specific gender at all. This was the first inkling of doom for the cat-loving old biddies of the future. When the text was then transcribed into Latin "magissa" became "maleficos", which in fact gave the little old ladies a stay of execution as this now actually and quite specifically implied a male (which in fact probably reflected the actual competition to the Christian authors' own trade in superstitious sales at the time and was meant to single out the male officials of the other competing religions). At around the same time the Greek "peripoiísete" from the original translation was also unfortunately undergoing a bit of semantic alteration, where it went from "procure" to "adopt" and then to "care about". By the time the Latin version was being cobbled together it was the latter interpretation which was presumed so the directive now read "Thou shalt not care about male sellers of potions", still more a mild bit of cautionary advice regarding handing money over to them than it was a directive to actually murder the poor bastards.

The cat lovers came a cropper as the Vulgate became popular. Now "maleficos" - thanks to the sibilant end of the word having lost its accusative male grammatical function - tended to be replaced with "maleficam" which actually and explicitly implied a woman, not a man, and now implied something much more than simply selling herbs and stuff. Even worse, the Greek instruction "not to care about" had - for no semantic reason I know of - been totally replaced with "non patieris vivere" which in no uncertain terms indicated that they should now be put to death, despite the grammatical and linguistic contortions which had been employed to place these unfortunate victims of religious zeal and hatred in the same sentence as the order to murder them.

While semantics might go a bit of a way towards tracing the development of this rather alarming and murderous piece of text, I think it's fair to presume that there was certainly quite a bit of misogyny prompting the translators along the way, especially as the text entered the Vulgate. Which of course is how it was when Wycliffe et al first set about putting it into English, so in fact they did quite an accurate job of it too - all too bloody accurate for those unfortunate women who were summarily dispatched in their hundreds and thousands afterwards.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 10:26

The Wicked Bible of 1631:


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 10:51

I wonder if I should tell this here or at the pub, but I think there's more relevance here, even if I think it no more than an urban legend, so, here goes.

A monk transferred from one monastery to another, and was given work as a scribe and copier.

After some time he asked the head scribe, if there might be some ways to check whether the old manuscripts always had been copied right, as there seemed to be some wordings that appeared strange to him.

The head scribe agreed, and said he'd ask the monastery's librarian, and perhaps the abbot to how things might be righted.

The librarian asked the abbot who, when having pondered over the problem for some time, decided to descend into the ancient archives himself to decide if wrong transscriptions indeed had happened.

It was decided that instead of going wildly all over the place, he should concentrate on the founding rules of their order, and go back as far as the scripts were readable.

The abbot went to the cellars and wasn't seen or heard for more than a week, then was followed by the head scribe, and found with an ancient manuscript.

"It says 'celebrate' not 'celibate'!"

Edited for spelling mistakes.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:26

That joke is funny, Nielsen.  Somebody told me that Hans Andersen's stories suffered in translation (many of them "freaked" me out when I was a child) and suggested I search out a more modern English translation form the original Danish (I can't speak Danish I fear) - she (the lady who gave me the advice) may well be right but I think I'm a bit old for Hans Anderson stories now.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:33

Re. the witches ...

I've just noticed that Deutronomy 18:10 uses that ambiguous key word, kashaph, to denounce in the same line not only these ambiguous poisoners or naughty herb users, but also those who "consult with familiar spirits".

I'm afraid I have to admit to having a wee glass of Glenlivet whiskey last night, although I didn't have a spliff or cigarette. Does the death penalty still apply, or do you think I could plead that it wasn't that familiar as it was a new bottle that I'd only bought a few days ago? Or course my doctor says its all poison and is not good for me, so if one translates the word as poisoner, rather than herb user, that appears to still demand capital punishment ... although in my defence it's only me that will suffer, and it might well be something else that actually carries me of in the end. What do you think?

Regards,
Worried and confused of Perpignan


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:36

Didn't an artist paint a picture called "Departed Spirits" of an empty bottle that had contained something like whiskey or brandy - sorry I can't remember which.  I'm an ageing lady and will own up to owning a moggy so maybe it's as well I'm living in the 21st century and not back when they had it in for dotty old lasses.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:52

@Meles meles wrote:
Re. the witches ...

I've just noticed that Deutronomy 18:10 uses that ambiguous key word, kashaph, to denounce in the same line not only these ambiguous poisoners or naughty herb users, but also those who "consult with familiar spirits".

I'm afraid I have to admit to having a wee glass of Glenlivet whiskey last night, although I didn't have a spliff or cigarette. Does the death penalty still apply, or do you think I could plead that it wasn't that familiar as it was a new bottle that I'd only bought a few days ago? Or course my doctor says its all poison and is not good for me, so if one translates the word as poisoner, rather than herb user, that appears to still demand capital punishment ... although in my defence it's only me that will suffer, and it might well be something else that actually carries me of in the end. What do you think?

Regards,
Worried and confused of Perpignan

Well, you'll be pleased to know that the Aramaic-Norwegian dictionary translates "kashaph" as "lege" (doctor). In which case you have full Christian permission to stone the bugger to death for giving you such obviously woo-woo advice, at least if you can entice the lad over to Oslo (I've the stones all ready for you, good little God-fearing Christian that - suddenly after reading that entry in the dictionary - I am and therefore not suffering these pesky pedlars of anti-alcoholic advice to live).
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:55

Thankyou you've put my mind at ease.

But going back to messages lost in translation... I've just received this email from a Spanish guest arriving next week:

"Please, we bring a small dog, can we have him for lunch of 2 nights, and a massage. Could be? Thank you."

I'm not sure quite what to respond to that.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation   Wed 02 May 2018, 11:57

You will have to tell them that it certainly depends on how much meat is in the mutt regarding how many dinners he can be made to stretch to, though of course his capabilities in the massage department will necessarily diminish the more of him that is consumed.
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