Monday, 24 June 2013

Wise words for anyone who writes in English

I have been reading George Orwell again and think his advice for writers (in Politics and the English Language) is as valid now as it was when written.

He writes,

"I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short word will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous."

We would all do well to keep to these rules when we write, and anyone translating into English should bear them in mind to avoid sounding wooly or pompous.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Wine terminology: when is a chai not a chai?

When translating wine terminology from French to English you sometimes need to do a bit of detective work to be sure of what the original French-language author meant.

An example is when writers refer to the word 'chai'.

In the Bordeaux area, this often means a place where wine is stored, usually in barrel, usually a ground floor affair rather than an underground cellar.

By extension, and perhaps erroneously, it can also be the place where the wine is fermented in vats before moving on to the 'chai'...

This place can also go by the name of 'cuverie'. In other places it might be known as simply 'cave', which can be a winery, or a cellar.

In English one could be lazy and just go for a generic 'winery', but it is often better to make the distinction, because a barrel cellar or hall is a very different place to a vat room.

Similarly, when confronted in a viticultural text by fairly regional terms such as 'épillonnage' or 'esbroutignage', there is little to be gained from consulting dictionaries or glossaries.

One's best bet is to ask the author, or someone who is a vine grower in the particular region, what particular vineyard operation is being described.

More often than not they won't know exactly what is meant because they use a slightly different variation, but will be able to suggest a logical meaning from the context, which you will probably have guessed anyway. Very often in English this will lead to a simple translation (for the sort of terms mentioned above), such as 'shoot removal' or some such.

The English language of viticulture, at least in England, is not rich in confusing regional variations. A spade is usually called a spade, or an earth moving implement, if you want to sound pompous.  

The moral of this tale is probably that one often needs to go beyond the words to find the true meaning, which will, in turn lead to a good translation.