Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A luxury attic

Not long ago, a friend of mine was moving to Germany and looking for flats. She complained, on facebook, that the only kind of apartment to rent was Dachgeschosswohnung. I'm not great at German yet, so I let facebook translate it for me and it said that this word meant 'penthouse'. I took this to mean that she couldn't afford anywhere, as they were all luxury places and out of her budget, as this is the connotation of 'penthouse' in English.

What the word actually means is 'top floor flat', literally, and it's basically an attic. Now, while a penthouse is a top floor flat, it's not at all the same as an attic, which has a sloping roof and is small and non-luxurious, which is exactly what she meant when she made her complaint. Literal translation, yes, but a very different interpretation of the type of accommodation it refers to.

Monday, 22 May 2017

I like the part where it goes

There's a Simpsons episode where Marge is 'admiring' a sculpture made by Groundskeeper Willie out of kids' braces. It's hideous, obviously, and she is trying to be nice, so she says "I like this part in here, the way it, um, it goes".

She's struggling to find a word, and none seems right. She can't find anything positive to say. So she reaches for a completely neutral word, one that doesn't mean anything, one that has basically no meaning at all. We see this again when we use go in phrases like How's it going, It goes well with that outfit, It's all going well, and so on. None of these has any sense of go in its full lexical sense, of movement away, as in I'm going to Italy on Monday. It's almost being used as a 'light' verb. These are verbs that are bleached of their meaning and just have a linking function, just making the sentence hold together. Chinese uses hit to make a noun work as a verb - where in English you can say I telephoned him, in Chinese you have to say I hit the telephone to him, or effectively I used the telephone to him. In some languages throw is used a lot - in Georgian you say that you throw a gun at someone rather than shooting them, and in Spanish I think (I overheard this so may be wrong) you'd more likely say that you throw juice at someone rather than squirt juice at them.