Monthly Archives: June 2014

Conjugate the verb “Done good”

Unless, by some miracle, you hadn’t noticed, the World Cup is being contested in Brazil just now. That’s great for football fans, but what does it mean for those of us who make a living from language interpretation and translation?

Well, with the caveat that this blog is not to be taken too seriously, one of the key areas where translators perhaps should be employed in greater numbers is the football TV studio, especially those with former footballers who are now acting as pundits for the BBC and ITV (other stations are available).

What’s particularly embarrassing about some of these individuals is that they are invariably sitting alongside someone from another country whose command of the English language is, in relative and sometimes absolute terms, much better than the native Englishman’s.

Now to be fair, while accurate use of grammar and syntax is important in translation, especially technical translation, it’s not a prerequisite for anyone hoping to be a professional footballer. Moreover, most professional footballers, as anyone who has spent time in their company knows, tend to struggle to put together a sentence without at least one swear word. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they don’t sound bright on the radio or TV: they are concentrating so hard on not using an expletive that they forget what they are trying to say?

That said, for an ex-footballer hoping to make it into punditry, a refresher course on the basics of English grammar might be a good idea.   After all, who was it who said, “can you conjugate the verb ‘done good?”.   It goes, in case you didn’t know, “I done good, you done good, the boy Lineker done good…..”




There was a great article* by Lucy Greaves in the Guardian earlier this year, entitled ‘Is any word untranslatable?’. In it, she gives the example of the Spanish word, cursilería, “a noun derived from the adjective cursi, which means twee, naff, tacky, corny”. She also introduces us to the marvellous phrase “cursi como un repollo con lazo“, which translates as “twee as a cabbage with a ribbon”.

For interpreters and translators, there are, obviously, lots of words which can be translated in different ways, depending on the circumstances and the degree of nuance required. However, there are indeed many words from across the globe that are simply untranslatable.

There is a great blog** that has lots of these ‘untranslatable’ words and where you can spend many happy hours trying to work out what the equivalent in your language might be.   This blog/website, invites readers to tweet their own examples to @freewordcentre and they’ll publish the best of them and spread the word.   Here, for your entertainment, are a few of our favourites with some additional comments from us!
Kummerspeck (German) – “Grief Bacon”, or the weight you put on from comfort eating. We have all been there!
с легким паром / s legkim parom – (Russian) “With a light steam”: a friendly remark made to someone who’s just come from the bath. This sounds like something James Bond might say…
Neidbau (German) – A building constructed with the sole purpose of inconveniencing a neighbour in some way. Planning laws have a lot to answer for!
Oppholdsvær (Norwegian) – The weather when it’s not raining; a dry spell. This would not be used much in Scotland!
Tsundoku (Japanese)The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books. This is a great word!
Tushka (Ukrainian)Literally, “the body of a dead animal”. Used of an elected official who has changed his political affiliation. Sadly, this is very topical at present.
Jayus (Indonesian) – A joke so poorly-told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh. We’re sure you can all think of examples!



Translation: man versus machine

Try translating the English word “banter” or the Scottish word “dreich” into Spanish via a machine (I used Google Translation). Google comes up with three alternatives for ‘banter’ as a noun, but also offers some verbs as well. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that in English we use ‘banter’ as a verb. Not only that, but Google doesn’t, of course, give you any idea of the context in which you might use one of the three nouns: it offers (broma, guasa, chanza). Our colleagues at our Spanish School (Lorca Spanish) gave us ‘chachareo’ but noted they had not heard it used. Not surprisingly, Google fails with ‘dreich’, even though that word is often considered many English speakers ‘favourite’ Scottish word. There are words in Spanish for ‘wet’ or ‘soaked’, but nothing that compares to ‘dreich’. It is, I am fairly sure, the same in other languages.

And of course, it’s not just English. There are lots of foreign words that English can’t easily translate (the subject of another blog!). For example, to return to Spanish, if we put the idiomatic phrase ‘estar de un humor de perros’ (usually understood to mean ‘in a bad/angry mood/humour) into SpanishDict, one of the well-known pieces of online translation software, it comes up with ‘being in a mood of dogs’, ‘be a humour of dogs’ or ‘to be of a dogs’ (sic) humour/Mood’.

Yet if you search Google looking for help with translation you often come up with articles suggesting that with “a high-quality language translation program, you can effortlessly translate your website into dozens of different languages at once and avoid having to deal with so many personalities—and paychecks!” Inevitably, these articles are written by a human who, surprise surprise, just happens to work for one of these ‘high quality language translation programs’!

Does it matter? Yes it does. Imagine in a court, or a non-English speaking refugee seeking help, and you can only communicate via a computer…. Will the non-English speaker be happy with what is being ‘said’ on their behalf?   Or will they be in ‘un humor de perros’?

We know that we have a vested interest in promoting translation and interpretation, but even if you use one of our competitors, make sure you get a human who can interpret nuance and culture – and not a machine which wouldn’t recognise these if …. and you can insert your own English idiom here!




Haud yer wheesht – who says translation is easy!

Global Connects has three major Schools of English as well as its foreign language translating/interpreting/training service for UK and international companies.   One of the interesting things about working in Scotland of course is that, while it’s often said that the Scots have the nicest English accent (true – although there are various competing claims from different parts of Scotland for that one!), we also have a lot of dialect, ranging from the occasionally impenetrable (Doric) to the frequently hard to decipher (Glaswegian).

With that in mind, and in a purely jocular spirit, we offer this little (or ‘wee’) website which we came across recently. It’s and it too stresses that it’s just for entertainment.   For example, we keyed the following English phrases in and got the Scottish equivalents, as shown below.


Be quiet                                         =         Haud yer wheest

He is not very bright                      =       He insae gey bricht

I’m going to Spain for a holiday    =      A’m aff tae Spain fur a fair

Call the police!                               =       Ca’ th’ polis!

When will it stop raining?              =      Whin wull it stoap dreich?

This website does seem to be somewhat biased towards Glaswegian ‘Scottish’, but it’s good fun. We’re not sure whether this confuses our students of English, but it all goes to show the immense richness and diversity of language in every part of the country and, indeed the world!