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For a few years now, we’ve been hearing politically-correct season’s greetings such as Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, Holidays, and probably more!

It is all, may I propose, crap.

Christmas has nothing to do with anybody real or mythological named Christ. Even less so Christianity. The character and religion have become irrelevant to the issue.

How many of you suffer qualms, nay, Doubts, or other metaphysical tantrums when you hear or, forbid, say “Goodbye!”? Really?

Let’s take a look at some common terms originally related to religious belief and see where they’ve gone. There are three main etymological sources

  1. God
  2. Jesus
  3. Christ

Godson, -mother, etc.

OK, some of you in such situations, more of the parent species, may still actually believe in God, but you’re a dying breed. This relationship is more one of emotional family.


Surprisingly, ditto! From Old English godsibb, “sponsor” or “godparent”, from God + sibb, the latter related to (pun intended) “sibling”. Terms later expanded to include people invited to attend a birth, then “anyone engaging in familiar or idle talk” up until the actual talk itself.


And when as the last time you said that? Or Gosh! Both are euphemisms for “God”.


OK, for the singing and dancing, maybe. But this goes the other way: originally Old English godspel, or “good spell” from god, “good” (not God), and spel, “story, saying, tale, etc.” which also gives us the Harry Potter type spell. And given the whimsy of the New Testament’s Gospels, saying “gospel truth” is a bit of a contradiction in terms… But let us not be divisive and move on.


From Old English gidig / gydig, “insane, mad, stupid” and possibly from Proto-Germanic *gud-iga-, possessed by a god / spirit.


Beloved by Irish-accent imitators, and old Anglo-Irish version of the expletive “By God!”


Cloaked version of “God rot!”

Blimey! Gor blimey!

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Samedi 4 juin, crue au maximum, espère-t-on... Néanmoins, ce sera une crue record : 4,28 cm ! Quelques millimètres avant inondation, la montée d'eau s'est arrêtée. Cet après-midi, petit voyage autour de la maison en canoë :o)
Saturday 4th June, the flood seems to have reached it maximum, a record year nevertheless: 4.28 cm. Just a couple of millimeters before the uberwash. This afternoon, a quick trip around the property in canoe :o)

Graphique de la montée des eaux sur 7 jours
Graph showing water rise over past 7 days

La Maison Éclusière, pas tout à fait sous l'eau
The lock-keeper's house, not quite under water

Vue sur les voisins
Overlooking the neighbors

Bief sous la maison, le grand lavage
Millrace beneath the house given a late spring-cleaning

Derrière la maison, les pieds dans l'eau
Behind the house, getting close


Bruno s'en va faire des courses
Bruno goes shopping

Vue à partir des voisins
View from the neighbors


À suivre
More news anon

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Aujourd'hui, tout va bien... Du moins, il nous restent qu'une dizaine de centimètres avant d'être inondé. L'accès du bâtiment est sous l'eau et nous devons attendre la décrue d'ici quelques jours avant de pouvoir sortir. Pour l'instant, quelques photos...
So far so good, sorta... We still have six inches or so to go before the water gets in. The building now has its own private moat and we'll have to wait a couple of days before the waters recede and let us out. For now, some photos...

Rue de la Plage

Rue de la Plage

Rue de la Plage

Rue de la Plage

Access road leading to house
Route d'accès qui mène à la maison

Millrace behind the house
Le bief derrière la maison

Millrace behind the house
Le bief derrière la maison

The locals are fleeing as fast as they can
Les résidents locaux s'enfuient aussi rapidement que possible

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I regularly receive emails from spammers offering their services as translator (see my previous post), and almost every time with mistakes and howlers. They go into my ScammerTranslators folder.

Today, I got an interesting one:

I’m Estrella Beetle from Oregon, USA.
In October 25, 2015 I translated for your agency a document (birth certificate) from French to English. The price for this work was $ 25.
Unfortunately I got ill (tuberculosis - TB - caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which affected my lungs) and I stayed hospitalized 6 months in Waverly Hills Sanatorium - 1600 Clifton Rd, MailStop E-90, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A.
Now I came home and I checked my PayPal account, but the amount of $ 25 is not entered my PAYPAL account.
Please send me the amount of $ 25 by PayPal into account:

as soon as possible.
I hope you are understanding and kind.
If you will not send me the amount of $25 as soon as possible:
- I will inform the websites:
that you are an incorrect translation agency which steals the work of honest translators;
- I have a list of 1 million email addresses of your country and a professional bulk email sender. During 5 days I will send messages to these 1 million email addresses and 1 million people in your country will learn that you are an incorrect translation agency which steals the work of honest translators;
- also I will inform all the newspapers in your country that you are an incorrect translation agency which steals the work of honest translators;
- also I will inform the police in your city about this situation;
- I will post a message on youtube ( that you are an incorrect translation agency which steals the work of honest translators;
You reputation and your honor are more important than $ 25.
Please send me as soon as possible $ 25 through PayPal.
Kind regards
Estrella Beetle

What’s interesting is that the scammer has taken the time to get an actual address (close, but false, it belongs to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and the Waverly Hills Sanatorium is a ghost!

Just so you know:
• I do not do birth certificates
• I do not know and have never worked with #EstrellaBeetle, but “she’s” listed on

“Kind regards” indeed!

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En 1549, Robert Estienne, imprimeur et grammairien d’influence édite son livre pour aider les enfants à apprendre le latin[i]. Il y donne la conjugaison d’aimer, amâre, ainsi :

Amo, I’aime
Amas, Tu aimes,
Amat, Il aime.
Amâmus, Nous aimons,
Amâtis, Vous aimez
Amant, Ils aiment

Tout va bien. C’est un verbe flexionnel classique. On voit l’inflexion, -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez & -ent, et on n’a quasiment pas besoin des pronoms pour savoir qui est l’acteur. C’est un verbe en filiation direct de sa langue mère, le latin. Quand il vient aux substantifs, par contre, il persiste à considérer le français comme une langue pleinement flexionnelle et en donne une déclinaison (ici, singulier) :

In nominatíuo Gallîna, Poule, la poule, une poule.
Genitíuo gallínæ, De la poule, d’une poule.
Datíuo gallínæ, A la poule, a une poule.
Accuſatíuo gallînam, La poule, une poule
Vocatíuo gallîna, Poule.
Ablatíuo gallîna, De la poule d’une poule.

Comme on voit, le mot « poule » ne change pas d’une plume. Il n’est plus flexionnel. Huit ans et 20 plus tard, il récidive :

Exemple du ſingulier maſculin.

Le nominatif, Le maiſtre.
Genitif, De maiſtre, du maiſtre.
Datif, A maiſtre, au maiſtre.
Accuſatif, Le maiſtre.
Vocatif, Maiſtre, ſans article.
Ablatif, De maiſtre, du maiſtre.[ii]

Et pourquoi pas l’inessif tant qu’on y est, dans le maiſtre, ou le comitatif, avec le maiſtre ? Le « nominatif », etc., n’existe plus. Il n’y a aucune inflexion. Le fait que tous (hors pluriels en s) soient identiques et nécessitent article et/ou préposition montre que la notion de déclinaison des substantifs en français est déjà obsolète…

En soi, ce n’est pas très important. Le livre d’Estienne est excellent, malgré l’effet contraignant qu’il a eu sur l’évolution de la langue. Mais ce qui me travaille ici est cette différence assez marquée entre l’anglais et le français dans la plus grande utilisation de verbes dans les phrases anglaises :

using far more la plus grande utilisation
I like swimming J’aime me baigner
I hate walking Je déteste la marche
Smoking is bad for you Fumer nuit à la santé
They run every day Ils font un footing tous les jours
Reading-room Salle de lecture
He cooks Il fait la cuisine (il est cuisinier)
She really knows a lot Son savoir est impressionnant
Give me a kiss Donne-moi un baiser[iii]

Ce dernier exemple est intéressant. Alors que les deux substantifs, anglais et français, sont des exemples de « substantivation », ou la création d’un nom à partir d’un verbe, ce phénomène me semble beaucoup plus courant en français qu’en anglais : le vouloir, le lâcher, le goûter, etc.

Alors, à votre avis : l’anglais est-il plus une langue d’action là où le français serait une langue d’état ou de situation ?


[i] Robert Estienne ; Les Déclinaisons des noms et verbes que doibvent sçavoir entièrement par cueur les enfans ausquelz on veult bailler entrée à la langue latine. Ensemble la manière de tourner les noms, prénoms, verbes... Des huict parties d'oraison. La manière d'exercer les enfans à décliner les noms et les verbes ; 1549

[ii] Robert Estienne ; Traicté de la grammaire francoise ; 1557, et Robert Estienne ; Traicté de la grammaire françoise ; 1569

[iii] Pour tout renseignement :

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A constitutional amendment is an alteration to existing principles or precedents. Let’s call them laws. The 2nd Amendment protects the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms. This implies that the right was not legally assured before.

Laws are time-related: with the advent of cars, new laws were written to account for the change. At that time, there were no laws limiting speeds to 70 mph or 130 kph. The laws were amended later as a response to the increasing danger of more powerful vehicles. So where is the logic in not amending laws on gun-ownership and taking the increasing danger of more powerful arms into account?

The American Constitutional has already been amended 27 times. One more would do no harm.

#28thAmendment, #NoHarm

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It started as a simple retweet to @Languagebandit’s post that “Modern forms of "to be" are a mishmash of 3 different Old English stems + conjugations, which is why "be", "is" & "were" seem so different”.

I copied and pasted a line from my (soon to be published) book Pour en finir avec la langue française suggesting that the present tense of the verb to be comes from four separate roots: bēon → be ; eom → am ; earun → are ; and is → is and got more retweets and likes than ever before. Which is interesting but not as interesting as the roots of the principle itself. When a verb develops out of originally different verbs, it is called suppletion, a relatively common phenomenon in Indo-European languages. In English, it is the present tense of ‘to be’ that gets the juices flowing, deriving from 4 Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots:
*h1es- (the copula is) → am and is
*bʰuH- (‘to grow’ or ‘to become’) → be and been
*wes- (possibly ‘to live’) → was and were
*h1er- (possible alternative to *h1es-, via Old Norse) → art and are

Which don’t exactly match the examples given earlier (bēon → be, etc.) because they correspond to different stages of language development, but still show the potential for various roots of different meanings coming together into a single verb. We find similar situations in languages such as Gothic, German, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Old Slavonic, Polish and so on.

Another verb that likes to mix and match is ‘to go’. While in English we stick to the relatively vanilla ‘I go’ vs ‘I went’ (from ‘wend’, the current past of which is ‘wended’), Latin-based languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese tend to be derived from three (or, questionably, four) Latin verbs : vadere and ire (both to walk, go, or move forward) & ambulare (come and go, walk, walk away from, go for a walk) → *amlare*allare). The present, for example, uses ambulare / *allare (and no-one’s really sure about this development from ambulare or ambitare into aller) for the infinitive aller and most tenses plus the 1st and 2nd persons plural of the present, vadere for the rest of the present, je vais (I go, etc), and ire for the future j’irai (I will go). Why Romanian chose ‘a merge’ from Latin mergĕre for to dive, plunge or penetrate into is another kettle of fish.

But what we do see here are the traces of the difficulties earlier speakers had of expressing or interpreting intensity or subtlety of meaning with the words they had available. Suggestions have been made that the allare form existed in France in the 2nd C CE and might have resulted from a familiar military order: go! (Allez! from imperative ambulā́te with emphasis on its long final ‘a’ to allate with emphasis on its final ‘e’). And while ‘I go’ could be understood as a simple expression of personal choice and movement, the inclusive 1st and 2nd persons plural – Allons! and Allez! – could understandably be conceived of as a more coercive version of movement.

These are just ideas, tiny pieces of the massive jigsaw attempting to explain how language originates. One day, maybe, I might take a look at it more seriously.

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Pour tous ceux qui apprennent l’anglais, d’abord – je vous félicite ! Dans mon livre, Français ! Hors de France ! je parle de temps en temps de Si vous n’y êtes jamais allé, faites-le, cela vaut le détour. Évidemment, je vais aussi suggérer que vous vous éloigniez des discours francophones, non pas parce qu’ils ne sont pas bien, loin de là, mais nous parlons de l’apprentissage de l’anglais et tant que vous ne vous jetiez pas à la mer, vous ne l’apprendrez pas.

Je viens de télécharger, un peu au hasard, l’un des derniers discours TED. Il n’est pas parfait, loin s’en faut (construction fautive selon l’Académie française mais on s’en fout ; il faut s’affranchir de ce perfectionnisme prétentieux qui nuit tant à la spontanéité) et c’est aussi à cause des ses imperfections qu’il est intéressant : personne ne parle une langue parfaitement. Maîtriser une langue passe par une familiarité avec ses travers…

Si cela vous chante, allez sur mon site et regardez Sharks in the dark. j’espère que cela vous intéresse. Si tout n’est pas clair, si vous voulez plus d’explications, faites-moi signe ! Bon visionnement et bonne lecture!

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One of the arguments the French put forward when vaunting their language is its precision. In many respects it is. In the phrase: “nous sommes allées”, it is unarguable that the number is plural, they tell you so three times: 1) nous, or we, the plural pronoun, 2) sommes, the plural auxiliary, and 3) allées, the plural s ending. So there is absolutely no ambiguity there, quite the contrary. Not only that, it also tells you that the people in question going are women, by the extra e after the past participle allé. But in common speech most people would have just said on est allé and left it at that, leaving you to guess who and how many, although usually indicated by the context.

What happens when they say “nous sommes allés”? Well, you’re buggered. It could be male, female or in between. And if there are 99 women and 1 man, it’s still “nous sommes allés”. So what? If anything, it reflects spoken speech when half the time you cannot tell number (how many) by sound (allé/e/s) anyway. But what happens with other types of verb? Take apprendre, meaning either to teach or to learn, precisely… and you’re buggered again: “nous avons appris”… seems to give you the same threefold confirmation of plurality, but you get the same plurality in the singular too: j’ai appris. And since “we saw” is nous avons vu, with narry an s in sight, it’s clear that the s of appris is not a plural. So much for precision… So participle agreement only matters in verbs conjugated with être. And you never know if the learners are women, nous avons appris applies to both genders. If a verb wants to specify the sex, it has to be the 3rd person: elle a appris or elles ont appris, she/they learnt. Note too that il l’a apprise means he learnt (or taught) it where the it is something feminine…

Yes, French is precise. Sometimes.

One of their complaints about English is its vagueness, which may be true. What is, after all a “unit”? Who are “they”? But one of the beauties of English is precisely its unanal flexibility. French, with its rules and regulations, its pedanticisms and archaicisms, its hallowed sense of correctness, is not a vernacular, it is a language of bureaucrats, and not this year’s either. It is a modern-day Latin, basically, a dead language.

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Cartoon image of Jane teaching Tarzan English

There is a happy little meme bobbing optimistically around the web. Apparently originating from the Natixis bank, it soon spread to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and thence to all lovers of French. It goes like this: by 2050 the number of French-speakers in the world will reach 750 million, ousting English, Chinese, Arabic and Gaelic all together. Most of its growth will come from Africa.

It is, of course, nonsense.

The French are past masters at marketing and mythology but this is almost certainly wrong.


Despite one glaring, and tragic, exception, that of AIDS with a penetration rate of 10.09% among 15-49 year-olds in English-speaking Africa compared to 1.85% in French-, francophone countries lag behind their English-speaking counterparts by an average of about 20% on just about every criterion you care to examine. Take a look at the following list where English-speaking countries come out on top every single time:

Criteria English-speaking Francophone
Corruption ( 2013): 37.88 27.76
Literacy 15-24 yo’s, 2006-2011 (UNICEF) 78.65 63.66
No. doctors / 1000 (WHO: 2007-2008): 0.17 0.10
Improved access to water (UNICEF): 76.71 68.63
“Open defecation” (UNICEF): 18.94 29.38
Under-5 mortality rate (IFPRI, 2014): 7.91 10.24
Global Hunger Index (IFPRI, 2014): 15.29 17.61
Human Development Index (UNDP, 2014): 0.51 0.45
Mean growth in GDP 2004-12 (AEO) 5.31 4.68
Growth in GDP 2013 (CIA Factbook) 5.63 3.59
Global Competitiveness Index (WEF, 2013*): 108.24 126.64
Democracy (CSP, Polity IV, 2013): 4.00 2.00

* Figures perhaps biased (up or down) by the fact that of the 34 countries used the GCI did not include Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Republic of the Congo & Togo, all francophone… Why? Your guess is as good as mine…

Again and again, item after item – hunger, mortality, corruption, growth, etc. – francophone Africa loses out. If it were a game, they would have quit years ago, but it’s not, it’s human lives and human deaths. Instead, invited to Paris for prestigious conferences on “real culture”, the people of Africa allow themselves to be subjugated by the dazzling lights of French mystique, and lap the leftovers of former French glory.

Whether it is a question of language or culture is another debate. Either way, France – more right-wing than monarchical England despite its screeching liberté, égalité, fraternité – has trapped its Africa inside a fantasy realm of equality and rights of man while linguistically bogging it down in an antiquated language inappropriate for modern use and maintaining it in cultural servitude. Essentially, as long as Africa speaks French, it’s fucked. If it’s not culture per se, then language does the trick. While little children spend hours and weeks trying to understand the incoherent junk of French grammar, they are deprived of time learning the basic essentials of modern life.

For Africa to grow, it must switch to English.

The shift has already begun, with Rwanda, which some call the “ultimate turnaround”, switching to English for education in 2003 and continuing to advance in leaps and bounds. Then came Gabon in October 2012, initially adopting English as second official language and main foreign language in schools. How long before it discreetly drops French remains open. Burundi applied to become part of the Commonwealth in 2012, as did Mozambique in 1995. The snowball is moving.

To progress, Africa needs information, and it’s in English.





For further details, references, etc., please see Français hors de France!, in press, review copies available, just ask (click to go back to where you were).

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Bonjour tout le monde !

Après 2 années d'activité molle, le site web ferme ses portails. Véritable usine à gaz, sa gestion est devenue trop chronophage pour trop peu d'intérêt.

Néanmoins, pour ne pas tuer tout le travail, j'ai sauvegardé les coordonnées des «loueurs de salles» et les ai transférées sur le présent site :

France, hors Paris

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Le but des abréviations est de raccourcir des mots, principalement lors de réutilisation fréquente. Dans un document scientifique ou technique, l’étiquette ou la règle veut que l’on définit une abréviation la première fois qu’on l’utilise (TEG : Taux effectif global, etc.). Comme on voit – etc. – pas toutes les abréviations se valent. Certaines sont tellement courantes qu’on peut s’en servir sans spécifier le sens, c.-à-d. SVP, TVA, NB, BP…, d’autres, telles op. cit, f° ou adj., sont plus spécialisées, mais facilement comprises dans leurs domaines habituels. Les cas des acronymes – CAF, OTAN, laser, etc. – est intéressant. Ce que nous voyons ici est le désir très humain de rendre une désignation familière et facile à prononcer. Le monde des essais médicaux en est particulièrement friand, avec des noms allant du basique, ACCORD : Action To Control Cardiovascular Risk In Diabetes, à l’humoristique, BBC ONE : British Bifurcation Coronary Study: Old, New, And Evolving Strategies, jusqu’au franchement barjo : BATMAN : Biodivysio 'Bat'Imastat Sv Stent Versus Balloon Angioplasty For The Reduction Of Restenosis In Small Coronary Arteries. En dehors d’être MMMMM : a major malady of modern medical miscommunication, le but est néanmoins de simplifier et de rendre plus mémorable. L’abréviation est donc une fonction d’économie naturelle. Dans beaucoup voire la majorité de langues, les mots les plus fréquents sont aussi les plus courts : mère, père, eau, pain, caca. Il semble alors que l’essence d’une abréviation « réussie » et d’être à la fois courte et facile à lire et à dire. Un échange récent sur Twitter (avec @Horreurstypo et ‏@sderrot) tournait autour de la « mauvaise » abréviation « 13ième », là où celle-ci devait être « 13e ». @Horreurstypo a parfaitement raison de rappeler la forme correcte, mais si la forme dite « correcte » est en retrait par rapport à la version plus intuitive « 13ème » comme suggère la comparaison suivante sur Google…

7e art
7ème art
7ième art
5e république
5ème république
5ième république
3e Reich
3ème Reich
3ième Reich
IIe Guerre
IIème Guerre
IIième Guerre

… peut-être la règle peut-elle être changée ? D’autant plus que a) la version « correcte » du dernier exemple (espérons-nous), IIde Guerre, n’obtient que 232 résultats, et b) 6e, 10e, 12e et 15e veulent aussi dire demi-douzaine, dizaine, douzaine et quinzaine. L’argument « Si personne ne rappelle les règles et recommandations, un usage (fautif) continuera son cours » est certes juste mais en même temps il freine l’évolution naturelle de la langue. L’histoire du français et de son évolution à partir du latin est précisément le non suivi des règles. Et quant on lit que « Seuls les ordinaux indéfinis formés à partir des lettres N et X s'écrivent Nièmes et Xièmes » on se dit, ils inventent… Pour moi, bien qu'elle n’est pas la formulation préférée des Français (loin de là), « 13ième » réunit assez de qualités pour le rendre parfaitement acceptable comme abréviation : il est clair et sans ambiguïté, il reflète la prononciation, il est court. Mais ça c’est mon avis :o)

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Flag_of_Esperanto.pngEsperanto is what’s known as a conlang, or constructed language, invented by L. L. Zamenhof in the 1870s/1880s. Living in a divided community of Russians, Poles, Germans, Old Believers, Catholics, Protestants and Jews, where everyone hated everyone else, Zamenhof believed a common language could bring people together.

In itself, it was a good idea but, as various other conlangs have discovered, it doesn’t really work. Esperanto may boast the greatest number of speakers, about 2,000,000, but in its 125-odd years of existence has only spread to about 0.03% of the world population. Today, it might have a couple of hundred native speakers (poor buggers).

What other qualities does it not bring to the table?:
• Other than the occasional novel or poem, it has nothing written in it. Everything has to be translated
• Based on Western European languages, it is of no help to Asians, Africans…
• Where place names help us understand the Celts or Etruscans, Esperanto has none
• Where probably every driver in the world recognizes “Stop!”, who the hell knows “Ĉesu!”?
• Where 80% of scientific papers are published in English (, Esperanto has essentially none
• Where 80% of websites are in English, there are at least 19 in Esperanto
• Where the world population has gone from an approximate 1.325 billion in 1875 to some 7.350 billion today (up 550%) and the English-speaking world from about 50 million to 1 billion (up 2000%), it is clear that Esperanto has no future other than that of a tiny group of learners who have failed to understand the concept of sunk cost fallacy…

So, to reiterate what I said in a recent tweet: “Esperanto is a game”. It’s a Lego house compared to a capital city, a stick man compared to Rembrandt. It is useless.

Nice flag though.


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Just been reading Robert A. Day’s How to write and publish a scientific paper. Still a good book despite it age, although not to every reviewers’ taste, as one commented: “Day is a writer for the ages–for the ages of four to eight”.

Here’s a passage I loved about a foreign student arriving in the US:

Unfortunately, he had had few opportunities to speak the language. Soon after his arrival in this country, the dean of the school invited a number of the students and faculty to an afternoon tea. Some of the faculty members soon engaged the new foreign student in conversation. One of the first questions asked was “Are you married?” The student said, “Oh, yes, I am most entrancingly married to one of the most exquisite belles of my country, who will soon be arriving here in the United States, ending our temporary bifurcation.” The faculty members exchanged questioning glances, then came the next question: “Do you have children?” The student answered “No.” After some thought, the student decided this answer needed some amplification, so he said, “You see, my wife is inconceivable.” At this, his questioners could not hide their smiles. So the student, realizing he had committed a faux pas, decided to try again. He said, “Perhaps I should have said that my wife is impregnable.” When this comment was greeted with open laughter, the student decided to try one more time: “I guess I should have said my wife is unbearable.”

Funny, but not very helpful. As the saying goes, “don’t laugh at foreigners’ mistakes, especially if you don’t speak a foreign language yourself”. What might be helpful is a social sharing website I recently discovered called (from Heyse Li’s Amazon Kindle book Hack Your Language Learning: The Simple Starter Guide for Beginners on How to Learn and Remember Any Language, which has a couple of good tips in it) which allows people to submit sentences in a given language and have foreign natives correct it.

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image of Neo Espresso podNow I have no particular axe to grind here, but come on...

This brand of coffee pods to fit the Nespresso machines has come up with the wonderfully stupid idea of over-packaging its product in what must be the most imbecilic attempt to convince consumers that it keeps the coffee flavor in... Yes, you tear open the plastic, wasteful and probably hard-to-recycle pouch and out pours a smell of coffee. “You see, it tries to say, if we didn’t do this all the coffee flavor would disappear! Aren’t we clever?!”

If anything, it’s the opposite that happens: if the coffee can be smelled before the pod is inserted into the machine and made, it means you’re getting less flavor going into the coffee drink itself (whether to any significant degree or not is another kettle of fish). Of course, it’s also possible that both the original and the copycat brand have pods that release an odor, but the only one that tells you that the odor once inside the pod is no longer there is the copycat.

English-speakers with poor taste in jokes will understand the title...

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image of GurneyThe change is pretty simple. First, take a look at the average bed/gurney: What’s wrong?

At first glance: nothing – they do their job: frame, wheels, handles, mattress, drip holders, etc. They’re fine.

Except for one tiny detail.

We live (and, in hospitals, recover, or occasionally die) in a modern, rectilinear world. And so do gurneys. When wheeling a patient along a corridor (or sidewalk), the rectilinear, unit structure results in joins perpendicular to the direction of movement. Usually, the floor of each room will be tiled separately to the rest of the ward, each passage into a separate unit ditto. The separator could be a simple door plate / bar / threshold, or just a change from plastic to ceramic floor tiles, Elsewhere there may be cable covers. As to entering the elevator (lift)!...

The result is a series of changes in floor height, each one a jolt to the patient on the bed. Whatever it is, the jolt could be significantly decreased by staggering the wheels.

image of gurney wheelplan

In the drawing on the left, A represents the present layout. B & C are alternatives. Which  would be better (I suspect B), I leave to engineers.

Just an idea.

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Depuis 20-24 mois, si je me suis un peu absenté des études, c’est pour me consacrer à un projet qui me tient à cœur : la langue. Après ma traduction/adaptation en anglais et en français du dictionnaire brésilien de Beto Bertagno, le Vocabulário Popular de Porto Velho, j’ai attaqué à une autre lubie : l’onomastique, ou l’étude des origines des noms de lieux ou, plus précisément, l’odonymie, l’étude des origines des noms de rues : A Rambling Dictionary of Tallinn Street Names, c’est-à-dire un dictionnaire aléatoire des noms de rues de Tallinn, Estonie.

Il est presque inévitable qu’un traducteur aime les jeux de mots, c’est un peu le métier, presque un sine qua non. Ici, le « rambling » se réfère à la fois à randonner (et quoi de plus approprié pour de balades en ville ?) et à « s’épivarder » comme disent nos ami canadiens ou encore, si vous écoutiez ma sœur à mon sujet, à radoter :o)

Bref, les deux sont terminés (« tous » les sous que je gagnerai du second seront reversés à la Fondation de l’hôpital des enfants de Tallinn), et je passe au suivant.

Celui-ci, « French out of France » (titre à peaufiner : « Français – Hors de France ! » ?), est bien plus émotionnel. Mon premier amour (celle de mes trois ans pour une cousine ne compte pas) était bien la langue française. Dès mon enfance, la beauté de sa musique m’a enchantée et, à l’école je suis resté fidèle au point d’être premier (enfin, pas toujours, presque...) de la classe pendant cinq années. Je me rappelle toujours la délicieuse découverte de la déclinaison du verbe « tenir » et j’y tiens. Apprendre une langue n’est pas simplement apprendre des mots et des phrases, c’est s’introduire dans une culture différente et nouvelle, s’approprier de nouvelles manières de vivre, appartenir à un nouvel ensemble. Chaque mot vous y entraîne un peu plus, chaque semaine vous vêtit de quelques fils supplémentaires de votre nouvelle personnalité.


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Warning: some of these images are offensive. It is intentional. Please read article first.

Image of filthy Daech / ISIS

Type ISIS or Daech into Google Image and this is what you get:

Image of waste of humanity, aka ISIS

Each time they see an image of themselves on the web, they see tough, warlike macho men with knives, guns and power. They love the attention they’re getting. This is what gives them a hard-on.

Us calling them vile, inhumane, murderers and so on is music to their ears. I'is exactly how they want to be seen, because it tells them they’re hurting us.

They do not share our values of modern, civilized human beings. They do not care that we think negatively about them. Their brand image is violence.

So let’s change their brand image, let’s show them in another light.

Like this:

1) Copy the most offensive image you can find (e.g. excrement, hemorrhoids, parasites, etc. try googling “parasitic infestation” or “tropical disease” for some repulsive images. NB: do not choose a pig, they’re nice animals and nice people like them too, see my examples below).

2) Name or rename the file something like “Daech_ISIS.png”, “Boko_Haram.jpg”. Make sure it contains words people might use in search terms.

3) Add "Daech", "ISIS", etc., to the photo title or legend (+ alt or title if html). For example, these two are coded thus: <img title="ISIS Leader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud" src="/ISIS_leader.jpg" alt="Image of ISIS leader" /> and <img title="Daech ISIS" src="/Anatomy of a Daech ISIS killer.jpg" alt="Image of Daech ISIS" />. For information, if you feel them personally offensive, as you should, they can be reduced for usual display by html tagging them as width="25" height="25". This keeps them small enough to be discreet on your website, while retaining thsir original size when reposted.

Image of ISIS leader Image of Daech ISIS (click to enlarge)

This is the sort of image we want them to see associated with themselves every time they type their name.

Or you could go one step further and post this (click to enlarge): Image of ISIS Daech

Remember: it is important not to use material offensive to Muslims in general. Part of Daech propaganda is to increase Western islamophobia and increase recruitment of alienated Muslims youth.

4) Post your image on websites, tumblr, flickr, facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest and so on. Scatterbomb the internet with these images and send them back the shit they’re sending us

As the mass of images build up, searching for Daech etc., will show them what they are.

Please share!

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La France à l’œuvre : « En adoptant le 21 juillet dernier le projet de loi constitutionnelle de modernisation des institutions de la Ve République, le Congrès du Parlement a, au terme d’un débat exemplaire auquel la société civile a pris toute sa part, choisi d’inscrire les langues régionales dans le patrimoine de notre pays. Ce faisant, la représentation parlementaire a consacré la place de ces langues dans l’histoire culturelle de la France et dans l’identité plurielle de ses habitants »…

Qu’est ce que cela veut dire ? Quel progrès y a-t-il dans la promotion et formation des langues régionales en France. À l’entrée de Toulouse, par exemple, on peut voir des panneaux routiers indiquant Tolosa. Très utile.

Les « États généraux du multilinguisme, organisés le 26 septembre 2008 par la France avec le soutien de la Commission européenne, dans le cadre de la Présidence française du Conseil de l’Union européenne, le commissaire Leonard Orban, chargé du multilinguisme, a présenté son plan d’action dont l’objectif est de permettre aux citoyens européens de communiquer en deux langues étrangères en plus de leur langue maternelle ».

Initiative admirable, et parfaitement voué à l’échec. Pourquoi la France la propose-t-elle ?

« Ces États généraux prennent également place dans un agenda politique qui a conduit la France à faire adopter […] une résolution sur le multilinguisme […] à davantage promouvoir la traduction en Europe […] une voie privilégiée pour permettre aux citoyens d’accéder aux œuvres et aux savoirs. »
1) Le multilinguisme ? La France ?
2) Promouvoir la traduction ? Pour quel pays principalement ? Et qui paie ?
3) La traduction, une voie privilégiée ? Plus qu’apprendre une langue, peut-être ?

Pour plus d'information, lire le Rapport au Parlement sur l’emploi de la langue française - Synthèse 2008

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b2ap3_thumbnail_00_Azincourt_D71.jpgToday is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, which the French call Azincourt.

Following Crecy 70 years before (26/10/1346) whose English victory was part due to the Italian mercenaries' crossbows ill-suited to the weather and their far slower rate of fire (about 4 bolts per minute compared to the longbow's 10 or 12 arrows), Azincourt was another disaster for the French.

Fortunately, the weather held up beautifully, and the day went well. Concluding a summerful of festivities and events, the big day was, well, not quite that big. Soothing speeches on either side and a memorial stele for both. Bands played anthems, guards stood to attention, and French and British soldiers laid the odd wreath and all seemed well with the world.

If nothing else it was good to see English and French all together in a positive mood to review a battle of little importance to today

The only shadow on the day was the lack of catering... About 2500 probably hungry and certainly thirsty mouths, and the local café booked (for local notables?) with everyone else wondering where the sandwiches were... And for some odd reason the museum was closed too.


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Supernova, image of Crab nebulaIn 1604, 411 years ago today, Kepler, former assistant to Tycho Brahe whose own supernova, SN 1572, was discovered in, well, 1572, discovered his supernova (SN 1604) in the foot of Ophiuchus, incidentally the 13th of the 12 astronomical constellations...

Which raises the question: if we add Kepler’s supernova to the up-dated name of Brahe’s stella nova, or new star, do we get two supernovae, supernovas or even supernova?

There is an obscure bunch of people “we” call “purists”. Who are they? Well, they don’t actually exist outside the argument from authority when people say that “purists prefer the term…” or “if you’re a purist, then…” But what sort of purist would one call upon to decide the plural of “learnèd” terms? Well, for Latin-derived terms, a Latinist, obviously. So one syllabus, two syllabi (oh dear, no, no…); one ignoramus (Latin verb for “we do not know” and loads of ignorami; one octopus and?... and octopus doesn’t come from the Latin but the Greek so the plural “should” be “octopodes”. And why do we go to see an opera, which is the plural of opus “work of art”? And do your kids get really excited when you tell them “we’re going to see two circi today”?

Purism, schmurism, it’s just a plain old form of hypercorrection where we’re not really sure and, to prevent being accused of philistinism, throw in a Latin-sounding term to make us seem smart. Well, it might work on the less educated, but probably has the opposite effect on the better.

So stick to English, almost every single word we have comes from “somewhere else”. Anyone know how to pluralize Hindi पैजामा, pyjama? Or Arabic قَهْوَة ‎(qahwa, “coffee, brew”)? Or Yakut мамонт (mammoth)?

I don’t have a clue and am perfectly happy with pyjamas, coffees and mammoths, although not necessarily all in bed at the same time. So, it’s supernovas, right?!

(For an interesting article from which some of this was plagiarized [read the bit about syllabuses], see Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum’s Language Log.)

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Photo of Donald TrumpThis is a rarity for me, because I don’t do politics, and for a very good reason: I don’t understand it and, in general, it doesn’t interest me.

But Trump...

As a President of America, he will do an excellent job. He will send out a strong message, loud and clear, to all peoples of the world, that America has gone totally stupid.

A large proportion of the shrill American political news has little to do with news: it might talk about it, but it’s entertainment, on par with wrestling and reality-show histrionics. Lots of noise, lots of posturing, lots of obvious fakery, and empty.

Despite their intelligence, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are vicious and stupid, match the bigoted, below-average American mind they cater to. Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Megyn Kelly are news porn. It’s sad. Kelly is actually very intelligent and possibly a closet Democrat, but that ain’t good for business.

Donald is business. And he probably means it too. To him, it all may even be a glorious, provocative, self-congratulatory rich man’s joke. But let’s see if he, and the rest of the world, get hoisted by his own petard.

Because he is a joker, not a comedian. He sure has his good ole rough and ready unapolegiticism, has rudimentary demagogic jingoism, but essentially, he’s pretty witless as to politics, diplomacy and international affairs. He can entertain the news looking for the hype and excitement, but in questions of world affairs, even the Faroese Minister for Sheep-shearing would eat him for breakfast.

But then again, America needs him, the world needs him.

We need him to become President of the world’s most powerful nation to wake the fuck its people up, to raise awareness that shock value and entertainment are neither politics nor leadership, they are cheap, vulgar tricks that play the pipes of democracy. And take its populace for rats.

America makes some pretty weird choices, and often for the press. When McCain realized he was going down, he took on Palin the palpable pixie of Alaskan idiocy to scatter a barrel of red herrings to the crowd. He would not go down as losing to Obama, he would quietly disappear behind the imbecile antics of a rodeo cheerleader and be saved, almost revered for escaping such an embarrassing association.

Trump is more dangerous because he could become president. He has every media sniffing his arse for the slightest whiff of scandal and offence, he has the money to pay for the spectacle the voting public need, he is the Clint Eastwood of modern-day America who can say “Make my day” to anyone, and buy them dead. Is that the sort of power we want in the world’s most powerful person?

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b2ap3_thumbnail_windfall.pngHad a big day sweeping up the drive this weekend after the recent storms. The road was covered in broken branches and twigs. Most of it went onto the pile for the barbecue. A windfall, literally that which falls due to the wind, whether fruit such as apples or more mundane but valuable pickings as kindling, has now become understood as an unexpected gain or profit. Both terms co-exist, and are yet one more of the million examples of language change, this time due to new and related concepts grafted onto old, moribund terms, breathing new life into language as has always been the case...

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Oignies.pngL’attentat du train Thalys le 21 août 2015 a eu lieu sur le territoire de la commune d’Oignies dans le Pas-de-Calais, homonyme d’une autre ville, en Wallonie, source d’une autre variété de terrorisme, plus antique, et catholique.

Sainte Marie d’Oignies était une hystérique religieuse de la pire espèce dont les actes de martyre sont décrits dans la biographie qu’a rédigé Jacques de Vitry en 1215.

En dehors de ses silences et ses cilices, ses veillées répétées et ses jeûnes des quatre à quarante jours ou repas de pain noir tellement sec et rassis qu’il faisait saigner son œsophage pour lui rappeler le sang de Jésus, Marie d’Oignies s’est aussi fait connaître pour sa férocité à la prière : par exemple, les six cents génuflexions, « se frappant trois cents fois avec sa verge de discipline à chaque génuflexion » à faire « jaillir le sang en abondance »… Ailleurs, poussant encore plus loin sa frénésie masochiste, ou son « ravissement d’extase », « elle s’empara d’un couteau et se mutila en plusieurs endroits, très profondément. Puis elle eut honte et enterra les parties amputées ». Si ce n’était que cela… Un jour « elle traversait le centre de Nivelles lors qu’elle se rappela les péchés et les abominations que les gens du siècle commettent fréquemment dans cette ville. Elle en conçut tant d’indignation et d’horreur qu’elle se mit à crier de douleur. Et une fois à l’extérieur de la ville, elle demanda un couteau à sa servante et voulut s’arracher la peau des pieds ».

Qu’une personne souffrant de troubles psychiatriques graves se comporte ainsi, on peut le comprendre, mais une réaction normale serait la plaindre, vouloir l’aider, voire même l’hospitaliser. Homme de son époque, de Vitry l’élève en graal de comportement humain. Et là où il la prend en parangon de l’abdication intellectuelle, il n’épargne pas les autres dans ses vulgaires manipulations financières. S’agissant d’une certaine dame, « [a]près que le corps de la veuve eut été mis au tombeau, la servante du Christ [Marie] vit que son âme, qui n’avait pas été pleinement purifiée en ce monde, achevait d’expier ses fautes au purgatoire. La raison en était la suivante : son mari avait été marchand, et, – comme c’est souvent le cas dans sa corporation – il avait acquis frauduleusement certains biens […]. Or sa veuve n’avait pas complètement restitué les richesses ainsi accumulées. Et c’est pourquoi elle se trouvait retenue au purgatoire, disait-elle. On annonça la nouvelle à sa fille, une vierge dévote, Marguerite de Willambroux, ainsi qu’aux sœurs de cette dernière. Elles obtinrent pour leur mère de nombreuses prières et firent leur possible pour restituer le reste des biens. Peu après, l’âme de la veuve […] pure que le verre, plus blanche que la neige… » et patata.

800 ans plus tard exactement, nous rencontrons les mêmes excès, les mêmes interprétations idiotes de livres idiots, et nous cherchons les causes dans la proximité, dans un monde compréhensible, moderne, rationnel. Ce n’est pas là qu’il nous faut les chercher, c’est dans une pensée médiévale, celle noircie et aveuglée par la peur, l’ignorance et la fermeture, celle réduite à un langage de 300 mots, à une prison de la tête où le garde-chiourme est un dieu mesquin, mythomane et sadique.

Et non, ce n’est pas pareil aux attentats des djihadistes, loin de là. Mais si. Sa cocotte morte, Jacques de Vitry évolue pour devenir prédicateur de la croisade contre les Albigeois puis de la cinquième croisade. Combien d’assassinés ? Cette même mentalité qui se borne à croire plutôt qu’à penser, qui tourne en rond dans une religion incohérente et amorale plutôt que d’avancer dans le rationnel et le réfléchi, la science et l’humanisme est bien celle qui va sans broncher de la contemplation pure, la prière personnelle à la haine de tout qui sème l’incertitude sur son château de sable fragile, infantilisant et étriqué.

Il y a des violences au nom de la science, l’expérimentation animale et d’autres accidents de la recherche du savoir, mais dès qu’un modèle plus humain devient disponible, on change. Et elles sont rares. Combien de morts au nom d’une croyance ? Et on ne croît que ce que l’on ignore. C’est intelligent, ça ?

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Debaters.pngDo you enjoy debating? We are looking for people with a good command of the English language, without necessarily being native speakers, who love a good argument!

The topics will be business, economics, politics, marketing, negotiation, and others, and you'll even get paid...

Interested? Contact Mouche by email!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_working-party.pngLike most industries, market research has its own particular jargon, and a lot of French market-research speak is cluttered with anglicisms, modified to a greater or lesser degree. As words get dragged across the planet, they undergo what I call the “Brussels effect”. An example will make this clear.

Many – oh, too many – years ago when I was a young virgin translator, a client chastised me for mistranslating groupe de travail by working-party... Shame on me. We’re not here to have fun. “It’s working-group” they told me. And, true enough, it wasn’t. The correct term (in those days) was indeed working-party, but Euro-babble, Globish or just plain lowest-common-denominatorism had screamed for simplification to harmonize it with other European languages, as in German Arbeitsgruppe, Italian gruppo di lavoro, Portuguese grupo de trabalho, and so on. And today, perhaps, working-group it may well be.

The French make quite a to do about their language’s gradual disappearance from international exchange (brazen advertisement coming up: see my soon-to-be-forthcoming book French out of France) while belly-aching just as loudly about the decline in grammar, spelling, etc., among the population at large. At the same time, they fail perhaps to appreciate that that which maintains a certain static complexity of language disappears when the language become widely used. This is the inevitable result of a language evolving into a lingua franca. Now, French wants to have its brioche, as well as eat it. And while they may legitimately complain about their sloppy writing, it is nothing to the carnage visited upon that most sacred of tongues, namely English.

One of French’s most egregious examples of market-research speak is their use of “learnings”. Firstly, typically, it is the present participle of the verb to learn (and not a noun), and rarely used before the mid-20th century. Secondly, to many English speakers, its plural offends the ear, but presumably not the one that’s perfectly used to teachings or hearings. In fact its pedigree goes as far back as Shakespeare who used it in Cymbeline (1611) and even Caxton (1483) in his translation of Geoffrey IV de la Tour Landry’s Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles (“The Book of the Knight in the Tower”), written for the education of his daughters. So if it’s good enough for the head-splitting cavaliers of the Hundred Years War, it’s good enough for the hair-splitters of 600 years later…

Language changes. Is it for the better or for the worse? I don’t know, but neither Brits nor the French would be speaking what we do today if we’d always been perfect. Our languages have become what they are due in part to thousands, millions, of careless mistakes and sloppy writing.

But it doesn’t mean you have to :o)

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b2ap3_thumbnail_UnlockVision.pngAfter 9 months of grand promises, #UnlockVision will close. #Creditors #Debts #Unpaids #BenMitchell

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b2ap3_thumbnail_UnlockVision.pngAprès 9 mois de belles promesses, #UnlockVision fermera. #Créanciers #Dettes #Impayées #BenMitchell

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The English nickname for the French as we all know is Frog or Froggy. It is intended to be a humorous take on their tendency to eat things the average Brit would prefer not to. Their name for us is Rosbif (roastbeef) and perhaps also reflects the stereotype Englishman bloated with meat, cholesterol, gout and wine of George Cruikshank, James Gillray and other. But these are national stereotypes and therefore different.

But why English “turkey” (the bird) and French “dinde”? It all dates back to the bird’s discovery in America and Mexico the 16th century, following various routes back to Europe. And given the multiple rabbit holes available the present article will be necessarily short and lacking in depth.

In brief, the turkey was believed (wrongly) to be a guineafowl, and these were believed to come from Turkey, so from Turkey bird to turkey was no great leap. Why then the French dinde, or poulle d’Inde, chicken of India? All the more so since they already had one of these dating back at least as far as 1380. The then poulle d’Ynde was the guinea fowl and Ynde was used to designate Abyssinia where it did come from. By 1600 dinde referred to the turkey and the guinea fowl was renamed from the Portuguese pintada (for “painted” bird) as pintade and the Portuguese itself shifted to galinha-d’angola, but I digress.

So far we have two “origins”: Turkey and India. Let’s assume that “India” is that vague otherwhereness which might be influenced from east or west, but doesn’t actually reach the country we know now. Why then the Scandinavian “Kalkun”esque names: Kalkun (Danish, Norwegian, Votic…), Kalkunlane (Estonian), Kalkkuna (Finnish), Kalkon (Swedish), Kalkoen (Dutch) and Kalakutas (Lithuanian)? Because they presumably adopted it from mid-16th-C German Indianisch / Kalekuttisch / Welsch hün (the latter exporting to Pennsylvania Dutch as welschhinkel or foreign chicken!), before they dropped it themselves and, after a brief flirt with turkische henne, opted for Truthuhn, said to come from the trut-trut call hens use to call their chicks (ditto put for its other name of Pute, but I remain sceptical about both these explanations), the resulting muddle of which possibly influenced Latvian’s Tītars where Latvian linguists hint it might have gone the way of “turcēni” but was waylaid. No comment. And what about the bizarre Bavarian Kaudara? Your guess is as good as mine. However, the hint was there: Kalkun < Kalekutt < কলিকাতা, or, for those who’ve forgotten their Bengali, Kôlikata or Calcutta. Which is not where they come from.

Nor do they come from Peru, which is what the Brazilians call it. The Spanish take a different tack: pavo, derived from Latin Pavus, meaning peacock, which it ain’t.

So roughly speaking, we have the northern part of Europe calling it Calcutta, an area of historically non-Protestant influence using India – Polish indyk, Russian индейка (indeyka), Georgian ინდაურ (indaur), Breton: yar-indez (Indian chicken); Catalan: gall dindi salvatge (wild Indian chicken); Basque: indioilo (Indian chicken); Sicilian: tacchinu (whatever that means, but possibly related to the Emiliano-Romagnolo tòch) or jaddu d'India (Indian cock), Armenian: Հնդկահավեր (Hndkahaver, where the first three letters seem to represent India), Sardinian dindu – and only one Turkey.

Only? There’s Welsh and Gaelic, obviously, with Twrci and Turcaí, and then the bloody Scots have to come up with Bubbly-jock, followed dubiously by Bosnian ćurka (pronounced kurka, are they on the fence?) and Czech krocan (have they fallen off?) which aren’t really convincing either way. But there is one more: Hindi-speakers call it तुर्की (turkī) and, of course, Turks call it hindi

To the homelands then: Mexico (and Ignoring north America with its hundreds of Indian languages vying for confusion: Navajo tązhii, Cherokee ᎬᎾ [pronounced gvna, as if you hadn’t guessed], Cheyenne Ma'xêhë'ne…) with the Nāhuatl language where it’s called huehxōlōtl and, incidentally, producing the Mexican name guajolote. Were things that easy… anyone looking at the name will automatically think of axolotls, as well they should, because I suspect we have a whammy coming up… Axōlōtl is traditionally understood to come from atl meaning water and xolotl meaning monster but since we (they) also have Xōlōtl, a god of miscellaneous manifestations including that of duality, the “monster” might simply be the “otherness” of its surprising metamorphosis from aquatic larval form to terrestrial adult land salamander... Back to the beast: huehxōlōtl. Related to the god Xōlōtl or not? His name has many associations: twin, dog, slave, double ear of corn, from one of his dodgy disguises at a critical point in creation; he was hunchbacked, god of fire and lightning, protector of albinos and hairless dogs, occasional axolotl himself and also a hint of a bat. What to make of the name though? Let’s imagine that the term xōlōtl does represent some combination of duality, monstrosity, deformity, let’s also imagine a familiarity with turkey sexuality. During the breeding season, the snood, the fleshy flap of tissue on top of the beak will engorge with blood and swell like a penis. Could this, along with the saggy “chin” or wattle (which might or might not look like a double ear of corn) be the monstrous duality? Another track is an alternative (plural) of the turkey’s name: huehhuehxōlōtl, and since huehue can also mean "old", maybe it’s simple the mass of wrinkles that represents old age?

I don’t know, and I’ll probably never find out. So don’t take this too seriously, it was just for fun.

One more: Ligurian: bibbin… Where on earth did they get that one?

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Think back to your French verbs and how to say you don’t <insert verb here> something. Je ne sais pas, je ne veux pas, etc. Anyone learning French sooner or later comes across alternatives replacing pas under various circumstances: je ne vois personne, for I see nobody, je ne pense guère for I hardly think. This, as I explain in my French out of France, is a result of what is known as the Jesperson Cycle, a switch in negativization which, in both Old French and Old English, began around about the year 1000.

In the good old days, verbs were negated by putting a ne in front of it. This was done in both French and English, for example:
• French: jeo ne dije ne dis pasje dis pas
• English: ic ne secgeI ne seye not → I say not (English has taken yet another step, borrowing the “do” verb from Welsh, but that’s a tale for another night, children)

However, the ne often weakened and a curious addition was glommed onto the end as a stronger, reiterating negation (and not a double negative: language is not math). Over several hundred years, the initial ne weakened further still until the second negation remained the only one. Interestingly, the second negation was not originally negative, but positive, or “something”. Some examples will explain the transformation. While French pas, literally step, in je ne marche pas may need a bit of arm-twisting to be understood as I [can]not walk a[nother] step, others are more obvious: je ne bois goutte, or I can’t drink another drop; je ne mange mie, or I can’t eat another crumb; and je ne vois point, or I don’t see at all (i.e. the tiniest dot). Some terms are borrowed from other languages, such as guère, as in guère utilisé, or not used much, from Frankish *waigaro, lots, and rien, nothing, from Latin res < rem, a thing.

The Jesperson Cycle, affecting languages such as Old Norse, Finnish, ancient Greek and others, is but one fascinating example of language shift over time, and what is “wrong” today is interesting for its implications tomorrow. Oddly, various languages have been simplifying for centuries, raising the question of why they were complicated in the first place, but highlighting what would seem to be a need for fluid, effective and economical communication in the more international and/or “advanced” societies.

So the anality of French insisting that we should use the ne when nobody does unless someone is looking has its legitimate reasons, but they are anal, as anal as the French Academy insisting that since prieure and supérieure derive from Latin comparatives, neologisms such as auteure or professeure should be proscribed. This is as idiotic as saying we shouldn’t say “sofa” because Turkish sofa originally designated a raised stone or wooden platform covered with cushions and such and they don’t sell them at Ikea.

Language is one of humanity’s richest mish-mashes, built piecemeal over centuries by everyday pignorami, a collection of accidental noises forced into a haphazard and often ambiguous communication system but one oftentimes striving for sense and logic. Some, English, Mandarin and Swahili, have simplified considerably compared to their peers to account for mass influxes into the relevant language pool of adult and language-hybrid offspring.

Basically, complicated or “esoteric” languages – and no prizes for guessing which one I might be referring to here – are harder to learn as adults, or even for children without regular and easy access to materials than simpler or “exoteric” ones.

English should be compulsory learning for all European children from a very young age, and all other languages should be abolished from the European Parliament.

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Among the more infuriating features of the iPhone is its blunt refusal to let you download the voice memos you've recorded.

It can be done. Forget iTunes, don't even think of using the Windows Start button, there is a simple way to do it:

1) Install Dropbox on your PC and iPhone (note that this might work with other cloud storages but this is what I use)

2) Tap the audio file on your iPhone to upload and select Dropbox

3) Select destination folder

4) Confirm

5) Wait

6) Done


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b2ap3_thumbnail_scams.pngAmong the various spam I reap in my inbox every day is one variety that particularly annoys me: bloody translators.

Because they are not translators. What happens is this: they sign into legitimate translation sites, hunt out CVs which they then download. Using the translator’s name and CV as template, with an added combination of cooked-up details, they change the address and delete the telephone number, inject a specious email copying the essence of the translator’s name and send it off. Sometimes the switch is laughable, such as the one where the guy was unable to change his keyboard language and the Swedish address displayed in Arabic, for example:copy of fake Swedish address with Arabic numerals

It seems to work both ways: either “agencies” offering jobs then cheating on payment or, and this is what I see most, translators offering, for example, their aircraft-engineering skills in horse-breeding and “Voice-over talent with an educated trained alto voice” to my “esteemed company”…

Generally, the email is laughable. They understand the basics of deliverability (max 80 chars/line for text-only) but get everything else wrong. They promise perfect translations in utterly imperfect English and combinations that make the mind boggle: Swedish-Danish-Indonesian, or Finnish-Urdu-Japanese… They seem to be under the belief that including a Scandinavian language will automatically trigger a sense of trust, as may well it might. They often have more degrees than a thermometer – from harp-playing to nuclear physics – and specialize in everything from – this just in: “Technical, Law, Marketing, Engineering, Computer, Media, finance , cooking , Literature and Novels , legal, etc.” (notice the judicious use of spaces before the commas, both Law and legal, and the rest…) – which makes one wonder why they’re hawking their multiple skills instead of lecturing at Harvard.

Sometimes it can be quite sick, for example, the recent proposal by a Dutch translator called Anne Frank.

If ever the bait is taken, there are various tactics such as the overpayment scam or corporate impersonation if they’re “buying” or, if “selling”, they simply paste your job into Google Translate (which ain’t actually that bad, but still needs serious revising which they’d never do), then bill you and get paid before your relevant counterpart gets round to querying you about the meaningless drivel he’s been sent. For a fuller exposé from the viewpoint of actual translators who get cheated, read this article by Carola F. Berger writing for the American Translators Association, which you can find on a website that one time-courageous person has put up about them:

As they say, it might cost a bit having it done by a professional, but not half as much as by an amateur, or worse…

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Dear Sir,

Thank you for your transcription. Regrettably, I cannot use it. It is, and I flatter you, gibberish.

• You do not capitalize correctly, your punctuation is staggering and your spelling atrocious. Were that the only issue…

• You did not seem to have referred to the vocabulary I provided: “methotrexate”, a common drug listed there, is not spelled “methrpoxil”, “metrppoxil”, “metroplexate” nor even “amotril”. Likewise, an “anti-TNF” is not “anti tss”, “ants eff”, “anti tns”, “ati tfff”, nor any of the other sultry variations thereof you managed to insert, hoping to conceal your ignorance beneath a tissue of sneezes.

• There is no such thing as “algegic”, “algggirc” or “anagegic”; the term you might have been seeking in your bewildered brain is “analgesic”.

• “Cytokines” are not spelled “sitochine”; “dMARDs are not “demods”; patients are neither “siro positive” nor “siro negative”; and even with the greatest of generosity, not even a Shakespearean chimpanzee would spell “opioid” as “oppooo”. Lastly, and I really must stop here, despite the known benefits of cod-liver oil, an ad hoc treatment is never given on a “haddock basis”.

Nevertheless, you have tried, and for that you deserve payment. Given the inevitable complications in advising me of your correct IBAN and BIC, please ask your keeper to send me your institution’s address and I will pop a peanut in the post.

Yours, etc., etc.

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One of the names that intrigued me in my early days in France was Castelnau-le-Lez. "Couldn't they decide?" I wondered. When I moved to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse and dutifully entered the correct address into my computer, I started receiving letters to Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuses. Nothing major in the grand scheme of things, this is how names and words change over time. Luckily, otherwise English would not exist.

But wrong. It is not Saint-Rémy-the-female-goatherds but Saint-Rémy-outside-Chevreuse, the latter being its neighboring town, once <i>château</i>. It comes from Latin latus, beside (in French au large de or près de and is spelled in as many ways as possible. The name with the most variants seems to be Auchy, all in the northern corner of France, with Auchy-lès-Hesdin, just 10 ENE of Hesdin (and 6 km south of Agincourt!) and Auchy-lez-Orchies, some 4 km WNW of Orchies (which has nothing to do with testicles as its name would seem to suggest, but comes from Flemish), both clearly reflecting their respective proximity. Further north there's Auchy-les-Mines, probably named after local mining industry like so many other municipalities in France (some 30-odd all told) and where the les could also just mean the, as it does in names like Aix-les-Bains, although this is obviously not the rule. Another "beside" name is Auchy-la-Montagne, which, at 177 m above sea level does not suggest craggy heights and may be associated with nearby (30 km) Montagne de Frémontiers, where the suffix -montiers often suggested a monastery, and the ascension from mont (hill, mountain) to montagne (real mountain) begins with but one small step. Auchy-au-Bois, or Auchy in the woods, just shows France's charming tendency towards the decorative. The le of Castelnau-le-Lez occurs in at least one hundred castle neighbors (Whatnot-le-Château/Châtel/Castel/Châtelet) and the only one missing, seems to have disappeared in the 16th C.

And some towns just leave you bemused: Choqueuse-les-Bénards – trouser shocker?...

Once again, France's famous credo, "Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français" (if it ain’t clear, it ain’t French), comes a-tumbling down.

There is however a simple rule to make sure you get it right (if you can be bothered): look it up!

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Just spotted on the motorway (talk about captive clients...).
That’s right, €48.75 per kilo... And to give you an idea, the average volume of common European trucks is about 90 m³, which means that a full load of Pringles (pack height = 8.6 cm, width = 8 cm, plus about 10% for packing and palleting, or about 1650 packs / m³) is worth just under €300,000.
Expensive. Three times the price of steak, say a faux-filet @ €15.99 / kg (bought from the farmer at €3.80). But only one fifth of the price of Beluga caviar (or 1/200th if you buy essentially the same at Petrossian for €9800), although the comparison’s slightly unfair. What about smoked salmon? Yep, that’s right, Auchan on-line does it at €44.64! But since you’re not going to eat all that at one sitting, let’s get a couple of slices each (€6), throw in a lemon (€0.50), a steak or two (€10), some veg (€4), a decent bottle of wine (€12), a selection of cheese (€10), a box of After Eights (€3.5) and a couple of coffees (€0.60), and you’re done at €46.60.
Alternative: potato starch, grease, flatulence, halitosis, burping, skyrocketing cholesterol, enough salt to clear your path for an entire winter and the mother of all thirsts…
OK, you could also buy it in larger packs or even in bulk, but that’s not very refined, is it? :o)

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While the recent and seemingly non-unexpected assassination of students in Kenya is repugnant, the 2009 discovery of 54 decapitated Vikings in Ridgeway Hill, England, presumed collectively executed by Anglo-Saxons, is exciting. The fundamental difference is time: today and yesterday.
What it tells us, or rather what it can tell us if we put our fear on hold for five minutes, is that things will probably get better. The descendents of Scandinavia and Britain enjoy the most “boring” of peaceful and cooperative relations today. So too will the descendents of Somalian Muslims and Kenyan Christians.
World War III has begun. It is a different type of war to ones with which we are familiar. It will be long, sickening, repulsive, shameful and utterly evil, but we will survive. Not only will we survive, we will learn and grow from it.
Returning to our Viking raiders, those who settled in Iceland at the turn of the 1st Millennium were at times as violent to each other as they were to outsiders, they also used slaves, worshiped wacko gods, and happily sailed away for a summer season of rape and pillage, although the former is largely exaggerated. Back home, however, once A had killed B, and B’s brother had killed A, and A’s sworn-brother had killed B’s brother whose nephew set fire to the house of B’s grandson, they realized they weren’t really getting anywhere. So they invented a legal system. It worked and Iceland is today one of the world’s most socially advanced nations on earth.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki told us that atom bombs were a bit more dangerous than we thought. Despite lots of saber-rattling around the world, we have still so far refrained from reminding us of this truth. It may well happen again, a fool and his big red button may be hard to keep apart, and if it does, the viral evidence will almost certainly force us to agree that this is not a good thing, and it may well be the last time we do so. This is not a question of hope, but of common sense.
But does the world have enough common sense?
No, but it will do one day. Learning and progress are almost impossible to prevent.
Muslim rage will flare up to a degree the “West” or “North” can probably not imagine. We are if not Liberals then at least essentially rational people with the common misconception that we can all sit round a table and talk about this. We cannot, and it will not happen.
What seems today to be either stealth propaganda inflaming passions between the various Muslim sects and hence encouraging internecine destruction rather than anti-Western, or the plain bloody-mindedness that comes from religious short-sightedness, the current spate of local bickering will spread.
It is inevitable. Of this I am as certain as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, as with Viking raiders and the sons of Anglo-Saxon raiders, there is always an aftermath, and the grass will grow again.

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For those with a linguistic bent, would you consider French an esoteric or an exoteric language?

Answers on a comments page please.

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Geoffroy Tory Logo

As a long-time admirer of 16th-C French typographers, I have often wondered about the signification of Geoffroy Tory’s logo. He is said to have described the broken urn (pot cassé) as representing himself after the death of his young daughter (the urn is sometimes interpreted as that containing his daughter’s ashes, of doubtful symbolism given the obvious spillage and Tory’s sense of accuracy).

However, as often with Tory, perverse punsmith and wreaker of rebuses, there may be another side to the story. Tory was writing at an exciting time in western history, a period as creative, innovative and transformative – relatively – as today’s computer revolution. The Western discovery of printing and resulting bandwagon of type-casters and publishing was as anarchic as the Gatesian first-to-market rush. Tory’s sense of style and order, setting the stage for a future standard in which he, as printer, would also hold pole position with all its financial rewards, was not without commercial intent.

In his Champ Fleury (1529), Tiers Livre, folio XLIII, Tory gives part of the explanation…

The motto (the others need not concern us here), NON PLUS (observed interestingly by Tory as being both French and Latin), he quotes as Pittacus, but is apparently from an inscription at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Μηδὲν ἄγαν, and means “nothing in excess”, perhaps reflecting his usually simple typographical stylistics. So far so good.

The urn he describes as the bodily vessel of life, the rod or spindle is a toret, or a drill or device for piercing (the skull among other things) and since he designates it as Fatŭ which my very shaky Latin suggests might be a supine form of the obscure verb for, to speak or say, it could be another rebus reference to the word of God penetrating the human frame (or skull), or just as likely dog Latin for fate which, as he says, passes through strong and weak alike, and indeed perhaps knocking out his daughter and leaving a fractured Tory behind. A pot cassé also designates the bill one pays for damage caused by someone else; in this instance his suffering due to God’s cruelty? The flowers and sunlight represent the virtues and good deeds inspired by the warming rays of God’s good sun. Perhaps (and without any clear-cut evidence at all, I strongly suspect Tory of being a closet atheist), but toret is too close to Tory for things to be that simple.

Beneath, the book of life, closed and chained down by two ordinary padlocks and one combination lock, which is tantalizingly described in two ways: one hinting that the metaphorical book of life (experience, intelligence, learning?...) can only be opened by he who can work out the combination, in other words who can read (and what more important to a printer of books?); the other more mundane reader being God, whose legitimacy must have been sorely tested by his murdering Tory’s daughter. The chains and locks are the three Fates, or goddesses of death, in Greek Μοῖραι, the apportioners, with later Latin moira meaning a part or portion. Tory, a pedant like myself, liked to pile complications on top of red herrings and multilingual puns.

So my interpretation is this: I, Geoffroy Tory, hereby pierce (I couldn’t really get away with “shaft”) the printing profession by punching through the pot / vessel / collective wisdom and knocking a part or portion out, a worthless sherd, the dross. In Ancient Greece, an ostracon, or potsherd, was a broken piece of pottery upon which a name (usually the “bad guy”) was written to ballot the person off the island, to ostracize him, leaving the remaining body, despite the missing part, as that which is “whole” and good.

In other words, this (Champ Fleury) is how you do it (typography) and I’m the man.

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(And hopefully some misspelled sxs).

Readers may be forgiven for forgetting my riveting post on consonants needing vowels, but for reasons I don't need to go into I was checking the origin of the word Salishan and what did I discover? Yes, it includes languages such as Nuxálk which includes the famous mouthful xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓ (see here, which I now learn means "he had had [in his possession] a bunchberry plant", a useful starter in any language teach-yourself guide…

Now, there's synchronicity and synchronicity... I have long had the "intuition" that this is not simply "things" happening when you want them to, but the mind putting together two or more notions stored, somehow, somewhere, in the nether regions of the brain's memory: the data points are there, out of immediate recall perhaps, but there. Possibly, as I followed the chain of words from sxs's source language, Bella Coola, to its group, Nuxálk, I simply read that it's a Salishan language, and moved on. Later (7 months), spotting the word on a website rang the faintest of bells, but still said: "Stop! You've seen this before".

Incidentally, I am convinced that one of the brain's primary functions is not to actively remember (we'd be incapacitated by junk data) but to screen out information that would interfere with routine survival. Some people, regrettably, are better than this than others... Failing failing memory, we don't forget (everything). The data gets stored, and springs out later, surprising us at the "coincidence" when coincidence there is none other than that of the significance we ascribe to it under our immediate agenda.

Such are the delights of random occurrence, and this is the butterfly from which tropical storms are made.

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Appropriately, OED's word of the day the other day (24/01/2015), was to "perendinate": [To defer until the day after tomorrow; to postpone for a day.]. Although not exactly the same meaning, and given as rare, it offers we procrastinators yet another day to lag behind ;o)

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The Face of Terror, or The Human Bomb
Le Visage de la terreur, ou La Bombe humaine
A Face do Terror ou O Homem Bomba

Painted by Antonino in 2006 during a cynical, sad, realistic moment of time
Peint par Antonino en 2006 lors d'un moment cynique, triste, réaliste.

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Stop Jihad bow

Like so many people, I am deeply disgusted by today's barbarian act of terrorism.

In solidarity (with a newspaper I don't think I've ever read), and like those who signed their names as translators of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses (following an assassination of one of them), I am adding a symbol of freedom of speech on my site: a cover drawing from Charlie Hebdo.

They can find me if they want.

For those who might misundersrtand (I am also concurrently preparing the launch of a book of mine - pure coincidence in time), this is not an advertisement.

Although we cannot all, like the cartoonist Charb, state that we have no children, no partner, we can say that we are scared. In this respect, they've won. But they cannot kill us all.

So I invite everyone - private, freelance or company - to add a symbol of solidarity to your website or blog. If everyone represents "evil" (in their eyes), we will be less targeted individually.

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Stop Jihad bow

Comme beaucoup, je suis profondément répugné par l'acte barbare de terrorisme d'aujourd’hui.

En guise de solidarité (avec un journal que je crois n'avoir jamais lu), et à l'instar de ceux qui se sont désignés traducteurs des Versets Sataniques de Salman Rushdie, je rajoute un symbole de la liberté d'expression sur mon site : un dessin de couverture de Charlie Hebdo.

L'on saurait où me retrouver.

Pour ceux qui n'auraient pas compris (je suis en train de préparer le lancement d'un livre en même temp), aucune intention publicitaire n'est visée.

Si nous ne pouvons pas tous comme Charb dire ne pas avoir d'enfants, de femme/homme, nous pouvons dire que nous avons peur. En ceci, ils ont gagné. Mais ils ne peuvent pas tous nous tuer.

J'invite tous ceux et toutes celles, sociétés y comprises, de rajouter un symbole de solidarité à votre site web ou blog. Si tout le monde représente le "mal" (à leur sens), on est moins visé.

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It's been a busy year... As things wind down for Christmas, it's time to do all those things I've been promising myself for months.

Now the socks are washed, it's back to the website for a few revisions and updates.

The first thing is a sort of "announcement" about my forthcoming book on the French language (in French), but more on that in a few days time. Just don't be surprised if I start "prospecting" you :o)

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Movember badge. Roll over image to see my clean-shaven face, if you really want to...

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Mois du cancer des testicules et de la prostate, je laisse pousser la moustache.       Testicular and prostate cancer month, I'm growing a mustache.
Dans mon travail en tant qu'interprète dans le médical, un élément récurrent est le temps : si seulement le dépistage avait eu lieu plus tôt...   In my work as medical interpreter, one thing I keep on hearing is: if only they'd been screened earlier...
Ainsi, pendant tout le mois de novembre, j'adhère à Movember (voir les programmes financés ici) auxquels ce mois-ci je donne 5% de mes revenus.   So, I've signed up to Movember (see their funded programmes here) and donating 5% of my income.
En même temps, ce mois vous donne libre droit de vous tripoter sous la douche, tout en protégeant votre santé !   At the same time, this is a month where you're free to play with yourself in the shower, while looking after your health!
Pour mieux vous informer :   For more information:
Cancer de la prostate   Prostate cancer
Cancer des testicules   Testicular cancer
Si ça voute chante, vous pouvez inscrivez-vous ici.   If the idea grabs you, you can sign up here.
Sinon, vous pouvez toujours faire un petit don (notez! bien que c'est marqué "donate to me", rien n'est pour moi, tout va directement à Movember).   Or you could just make a quick donation (NB! Although it says "donate to me", it is not for me, everything goes straight to Movember).
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Spurious or false etymology is sometimes known as "folk etymology" (which actually has a different meaning in linguistics) or Sunday etymology. Germans have a lovely term: "Kling-Klang-Etymologie" to indicate pseudo derivations such as Gott (God) deriving from gut (good) due to similar sounds. There ought to be a term "urban etymology" (well, now there is) to describe similar hopefuls. I want to propose the term "prettymology" for explanations that are either "urban etymologies" or legitimate but "nice" and appealing too. An example follows:

Liverpool is said to give senior citizens free bus passes which become valid from 9 am. One subset of the beneficiaries regularly attempt to stretch the envelope by arriving a bit too early with a combination of shopping basket, optimism, a fairly good understanding of human nature, and a nice smile, asking "Are we too early?", earning them the bus crew's nickname of "Twirlies"!

(For non-native English speakers: 'to early" sounds like "twirly", and "twirl" also means "spin" a verb often used in the expression "to take something (often a car) for a spin", the pun being that wheels must spin for a car to move, and a twirl is (thus) often considered as a simple, but enjoyable ride.)

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Legend has it that R. J. Yeatman, co-author of "1066 and All That", had a "cave canem" (Latin for "beware of the dog") sign on his gate to deter burglars. When it was pointed out that some burglars might not be able to read Latin he replied, "They're not the sort of burglars we want".

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Today's wiktionary Foreign word of the day is Korean: 인산인해, figurative term for "a great crowd of people". Its Western transcription is "insaninhae", and a crowd is always partly mad...

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How many of you differentiate "it's" and "its", "they're" and "their", "you're" and "your" when you speak?

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