Friday, November 13, 2009

Things Kuffar Say

Interesting article from Language Log about the twitter trend #thingsdarkiessay, started apparently by black South Africans in self-description, offending Americans black and white alike. Mark Liberman goes on to say:
But there's an obvious problem, from Twitter's point of view. If a term X is harmless in region A but problematic in B, then not only will right-thinking people in B be offended, but not-so-nice people in B may enthusiastically join in. Whether (and to what extent) Twitter ought to police such things is another question, of course.


He also quotes someone mentioning the 'k-word', which South Africans think of as we do the n-word. Now, this k-word is of Arabic derivation, and is also a translator's minefield. I remember back in Secondary School, I (not a Muslim) used the word "infidel" in jest to describe a (non-Muslim) friend, who didn't share my religion. I'd used it similarly to the dictionary definition, as in, someone who doesn't share my religion. Lord knows why. He said something like "Well, I'm not a Muslim, as well you know", though with more rage and schoolboy cuss-words. And, for the life of me, I've never heard 'infidel' used to describe a non-adherent of any religion other than Islam. It seems to have lost a big portion of its meaning, and become imbued with all kinds of ideas of how much Muslims hate us. Translating ‘كافر’/‘kafir’ into English is therefore tricky. Do we translate it into 'infidel', coloured with paranoid Western ideas about Islam, or do we lay our cards on the table and just say 'kafir', at least being a bit more open about the clash-of-civilisations shorthand we're using?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tooth Mouse

I occasionally reminisce about godawful cartoons that I hated as a kid. I hope that's normal. One which I recall was the 'Tooth Mice', and it seems I'm not the only one. The premise was that there were these two mice (husband and wife, I recall), who would come and collect your teeth from under your pillow and leave you a present or some such. Two things annoyed me about this: firstly, the theme tune, which went "Are there tooth-mice?/Here's the proof/Every time you/Lose a tooth/There's a pair of fearless mice/Who fight through rain and snow and ice/To bring you all a nice surprise/So go to bed and close your eyes" and, if you can get over the fact that I still remember that twee drivel a decade and a half later, you'll notice that they follow "here's the proof" with... further details of the same implausible assertion. The second was that MICE DON'T COLLECT TEETH. That's fairy's work. Idiots.

And now I see this, wherein a Frenchwoman tells her English niece that a mouse will collect her milk teeth. This confirms suspicions I've had for a while, that in some eccentric countries, tooth-hungry mice are a normal thing, and one of them sold us this cartoon. This would explain both the mice and the awful, awful song. Kids' TV shows don't normally have massive budgets or require top-notch production values. Poetry is also a proper blighter to translate well, and bad translations often account for all manner of bizarre doggerel. Shakira ("lucky that my breasts are so small and humble so you don't confuse them with mountains") to Bertolt Brecht (most of the Threepenny Opera) it seems nobody is immune. The tooth-mice song, travesty as it is to concepts of truth and evidence, was probably done in about five minutes, by Alan Johnson's science teacher.