Archive for the 'Language' Category

Keeping labels in synch

April 1st, 2005

This fuel station, in my city, that I often use has recently did some
re-arrangement, and moved some of its fuel pumps. As part of the
changes they also took advantage of the opportunity, and upgraded some
of the equipment.

But they didn’t make sure that the upgrades fit together. Oh, technically everything works. It’s more of an interface problem.

The way it goes now, on several instances during the process (passing
the credit card, entering car number, choosing to limit amount of fuel,
and so on) the screen on the system now instructs the user to press the
"Proceed" button.

Which wouldn’t be bad by itself, if it weren’t for the fact that the keypad
doesn’t have such a button. There’s one labelled "Confirm", though, which works well enough.

So, yes, it’s simple, and quite easy to make the connection.
Heck, I managed to do it myself. It’s still a problem, though. And
considering that many people tend to be very cautions and literal when
they deal with computers, I won’t be surprised to know that some people
actually have to call for help saying that they can’t find the button.

Hebrew on the TV series JAG

February 27th, 2005

The lead character (or the second lead, depends on who you ask) in the series JAG, Sarah MacKenzie (played by the excellent actress Catherine Bell), is fluent in many languages, including supposedly Hebrew.

In the recent episode "Straits of Malacca", when searching for
information on a captured pirate, one of the characters gets
information from a contact in Israel. But the information is in Hebrew.
He asks Mac how is her Hebrew, to which she answers "Not as good as my
Farsi" (The character, and the actress, speaks very fluent Farsi), but that she can
handle it.

She then stands in front of a computer screen, and with a look of
concentration starts to translate the information contained in the
email about the pirate.

They showed the computer screen, and the email. And it wasn’t even close to the alleged content.

First of all, the text was reversed, in a LTR direction instead of the Hebrew RTL
one. So when I tried reading it, it took more more time than it took
her to "translate" it. She must be a very fast reader. To illustrate, try reading the following:

noitcerid gnorw eht ni si ecnetnes siht

Fun, right? Very legible.

Second, it wasn’t a personal dossier, it was a news bulletin, copied from the website of the Israeli government.

And it doesn’t talk about a pirate. It is an announcement that the
site of the Ministry of Health has opened a new on-line forum on
paediatric preventive medicine. The text on the bulletin, and in the
email shown on screen on the show, talks about childcare: vaccines,
nutrition, and so on.

I do have to hand it to her, Catherine Bell is a very good actress.
The translation scene looked very convincing. She made all the right
facial expressions and gestures of someone reading a text in a foreign
Of course, not being able to actually read what’s on the
screen, she probably didn’t find it harder than any other acting chore.
Someone who can read Hebrew would have had an hell of a time trying to avoid
bursting out in laughter.

And I really don’t get it. JAG has a huge amount of viewers, both in
the US and worldwide. They know some of them can actually read Hebrew.
They went to the effort of finding text in actual Hebrew letters, but
not of getting relevant text.
I’m not sure how they did it. Did they
just found someone, told him "Go find a text, any text, in Hebrew" and
he went and found something? Decided that the likeliest place is the
government’s website, and picked the first news link there?
If the
episode was shot on Jan 4th (the date in the news bulletin, which is also
visible in the email message on the show), it could be. But it’s just
dumb. It’s too dangerous to show random real text. If you don’t care that the text is
totally unrelated, it’s safer to make a random jumble of letters.

But why have unrelated text? It seems very unlikely that they
couldn’t find anyone who can read and write Hebrew. Hebrew speaking
people are not that rare. How much would someone possibly charge to
write an actual page of text that looks like the beginning of a
personal dossier? Heck, they can turn to some fan of the show in
Israel, and have it done for the price of a name in the credits.

Hey, DPB :  I’d do it myself if you need any Hebrew text for future episodes. No problems. Seriously.
If you don’t like me, I can find other people here who will.

Putting a not-relevant text, and letting a main character treat it
as something else, looks very ridiculous and unprofessional. I don’t
like to use words like pathetic, but, well, if it quacks like a duck…
And if the text was indeed picked without any screening (which must be
true, since why use it if you have someone capable of screening it?)
that’s just poor judgement. You might have gotten a text about
anything. That’s very very risky. For a new low-budget home indie film,
that would have been understandable. But for a very serious,
successful, and high-profile series?!

TsunAMI, not TsunMA

February 4th, 2005

Lately I started to get a large number of
hits from various search engines, by people searching for "Tsunma" of
all things. Some alone, some together with "tidal wave" or "disaster"
or other things of the sort. So I assume it’s not some ancient Japanese folk hero that they’re looking for…

So just to make it clear to the poor people that look for info and can’t find it: You spell it Tsunami, not tsunma.

Go that?

Thank you, and better luck on the next search. Glad I could help.

Politically Correct

January 31st, 2005

It has been quite a few years ago since I’ve seen this, but I was
reminded of it again right now, and think I didn’t post about it
previously (searches agree, but I recall wanting to post it in the
past, so sorry if I did and am just repeating myself).

An acquaintance of mine that spent a few years in the US came back
and had with him some nice brochures from leading universities.

One these includes pictures of students, and a sentence explaining why they wanted to go to this specific university.

There were many that detailed the high academic level, how prestigious the university is, and so on and so forth.

And then there was this nice girl that said (University name may not
be correct, I don’t remember which one it was, so am picking one at

I wanted to go to Harvard because I wanted to be mentally challenged

This was during the time when PC
speech issue was hot. Everybody was running around complaining that
they are metabolically challenged, visually challenged, emotionally
challenged, and the like (instead of fat, blind, and sociopathic. Well,
maybe the sociopaths didn’t exactly came out in an outcry, but you get
the point, I trust)….

So all in all, I’d say she succeeded admirably. But that she came
like that from home, and the university probably didn’t deserve much of
the credit.

I didn’t like these exaggeration of PC speech to begin with, but I think this incident really cinched it for me.

Self Explanatory Ad

January 11th, 2005

It’s so nice when people botch up translations.

I just logged into my Hotmail account, went to the inbox, and on the top of the page there appeared an ad from Microsoft. The ad was for the MSN Toolbar, and in Hebrew.

I think what they wanted to say was along the lines of "The pop-up blocker is one click away", or something of the sort. What they did say was "The ad blocker is one click away"… In their banner ad…

Which is a good point, I don’t want to see this ad. It’s quite refreshing to see simple ads that can not only describe a product, but also demonstrate that you really need it.

I have my doubts that the MSN Toolbar will work on my Firefox browser, though. But I do have the (quite wonderful) AdBlock extension, so I’m proud to report that I will now no longer need to see this ad. And they were perfectly right, it was just one click away… Thanks for the reminder.

BTW, I am aware that using the free service without seeing the ads is not very nice. But if they can discriminate against me just because I don’t live in the US or in Puerto Rico, then I’m allowed to be pissed off and not see their ads.

More on Well-Wishing in Different Languages

January 10th, 2005

In a previous post I mentioned that due to high usage of English I mistakenly wished a friend good luck using an inappropriate Hebrew phrase (Using a literally translation instead of the correct semantic one).

It recently occurred to me that not only me, but many other people
as well, are routinely guilty of a very similar mistake. The situation
is the same one where one would like, using English, to wish "Good
Luck". If the relevant activity is one that depends, even to a small
extent, upon the abilities of the person, it is quite common to add
something along the lines of "any may you won’t need it". This
expresses the hope that the person’s abilities are up to the task, and
that success would be achieved even without luck.

The good-luck semantic (though not literally) equivalent in Hebrew,
"Behatzlacha", does not talk about luck, it rather just wishes a
success. And yet it becomes a more and more frequent occurrence to hear
people follow it by what literally means and may you won’t need it.
The phrase and usage from English has entered the used Hebrew language
to such an extent that it seems natural to people. Nobody ever notices
that it makes very little sense to wish someone a success and that they
won’t need that success. It’s understood that the second part refers to
luck even though the first part has nothing to do with it.

I find it funny that there’s a common Hebrew phrase that only makes
sense if you replace half of it with a semantic equivalent in English.

Idioms and Well-Wishing

January 4th, 2005

Living in a country speaking one language, and spending lots of time dealing with another one, has it’s problems. Like the tendency to borrow phrases and idioms.

I have a friend who has a big university test tomorrow. So naturally I wanted to wish my friend good luck. I speak Hebrew with this friend, like I do with most of them. But I read in English all the time, write in English a lot, and get to speak a decent amount of time in English.

The result of which was that during conversation I wished my friend "Mazal Tov". "Mazal" is the Hebrew word for luck, and "Tov" is good. It felt very natural to say good luck during the conversation.

There is one big problem, though. In Hebrew the "Mazal Tov" combination is chiefly, heck – always, used in a meaning equivalent to congratulations. Wishing someone a good luck is done by saying "Behatzlacha", which can be roughly translated as with success.

My friend was understandably miffed that instead of wishing good luck, I gave congratulations for success. Since it’s a hard test, and success is not assured, this was not taken very nicely.

Of course once I explained everything was alright… Now I just need to decide if it means I’m using too much English, or if it means I should just pay more attention to what I say…

Bad Translations

December 3rd, 2004

Most books and movies are made in English. Yet the main language here in Israel is Hebrew, and there is some percentage (small, but not negligible) of the population that cannot understand or read English.

So there are translators, doing things like writing movie subtitles, or translating whole books. And usually they do very badly.

I’ll start with a somewhat long, but very funny (or terribly tragic, depending on your point of view) story, then proceed with the general rant and samples.

This is a real story, about the level of people getting into the profession. Our school system naturally includes English classes in several levels. It’s possible to take the highest ("five points", or whatever the way to translate this is. Yes, the irony of the previous sentence isn’t lost on me) level of the final "bagrut" tests a year earlier. And if you do that, proving that your English level is way above the norm (And these are not small kids, but 16-17 years old… kids), then you can do a "two points" course in Translation. Where they teach you how to translate English texts to Hebrew texts properly.

Personal note brutally injected in the middle of the story: I could have, but the school wanted to send me with their half of the grade at 95/100, so I declined, and did it the following year with a full 100/100. During that last year I mostly spent my English class time sitting in the classroom and reading a book while the other pupils had to pay attention to the teacher. A book in English of course. OK, back to the story.

About two years ago I got to see one of those final bagrut tests in Translation. Or at least a part of the test, I’m not sure if it was the whole of it. In this part, the pupils where presented with a text in English, and they had to translate it into correct and comprehensible Hebrew. There was free access to dictionaries (English-English-Hebrew), since the point was not to check for vocabulary but for aptitude and general ability to comprehend the texts. One of the rare cases where the Department of Education actually admits real-world uses of the knowledge will come with access to references.

And this specific text was about ice cream. Manufacturing, selling, whatever. It included a paragraph discussing some of the more esoteric flavours ice cream is made of, such as various strange fruits (Note: Culinary level in this country being what it is, any fruity ice cream taste beside banana and strawberry was, and is, exotic and esoteric). The list of strange fruits that can be used to make ice cream included figs. Yep, figs. Not that complicated, surely.

Let me translate back into English, accurately, the Hebrew translation on that test:"… ice cream in fruit flavours of… pig…". Anybody noticed the different letter there? Spot the difference : pig – fig. Well, our translator, one who, as I mentioned, had an English level far superior to most of her (It was a her, I’m not making a gender-based joke, or using this as a PC term) classmates, didn’t when reading the original text. Seemed obvious to her that figs are pork. She didn’t have any problem with classifying a pig as a fruit (Maybe she thought it was a gay pig? This begs the question of what did she think about the other fruits there).

Then these people go looking for a job to match their talents. Such as translating books and movies for the rest of us.

Did I mention that they had full and free access to lots and lots of dictionaries? I’m sure I did. So this was not a I’m not sure what this word means sort of thing. This was a certainty that ham-flavoured ice creams are the next big thing in fruity ice creams.

Being a meat person myself, I’ve been looking for that elusive pig ice cream ever since. But I can’t seem to find it even in the likelier places. Oh, well, maybe some day…

Here ends the story, going on to general rant, accompanied by a few examples, on the subject of these translations.

What prompted this post was a bit from a movie, where someone uttered a line with "wide-open beach". The translations in the subtitles was for "a wide and open beach". Meaning that the translator just didn’t know wide-open has a meaning different than "being wide, and also being open". This got me back into the mood of badmouthing translators everywhere, and recollecting past problems.

Actually, the reason I started to read books in English was the horrible translations. Growing up in a Hebrew speaking country my preferred reading language was obviously Hebrew. In fact I had a very hard time starting to read in English at grade school. I still remember valiantly fighting against a certain Road-Runner book and a certain Bugs Bunny book. Of the highly illustrated with 1-5 words per page variety.

But as time passed I read more and more real (mostly SF and thrillers) books in Hebrew, all translated from English. And found myself staring at some sentences and paragraphs not having a clue what the heck is the book talking about. Usually the solution for these incomprehension problems was to translate the sentence back into English. It became easily apparent just what word was mistranslated, and I could get a sane meaning.

Most of the early examples I don’t recall by now. So here’s a more recent one from about 5-7 years ago. I think the book was "The Rings of Charon" by Roger McBride Allen, but I’m not sure, and am not about to read it again just to make certain. Nice book if you’re into SF. In any case, I got it in Hebrew. And at one point some character was looking through a telescope and apparently watching some killer (Hebrew word "Mechasel", better English translation coming soon) slowly making it’s way across the moon. This didn’t make any sense, and there was no such killer mentioned anywhere earlier in the book. And then it hit me. Terminator. The man was watching the terminator on the moon, as in the dividing line between the illuminated and the unilluminated part of the moon.

Making a valid, but wrong in the context, translation of a word, is probably the most common translation problem I encountered. Sometimes it seems that someone translates by opening a dictionary on the word and randomly choosing one of the options, regardless of context. Some cases are so bad that it gives the distinct impression maybe different translators get different sentences. If one was given just a single sentence, it’s quite understandable if the translation doesn’t fit the context of the rest of the text. (Reminds me of the Monty Python sketch "The Funniest Joke in the World", where "They worked on one word each for greater safety" . Since most of these translations can be considered lethal, maybe there’s something to that)

Of course, some translators have a good excuse. Well, not good but understandable. The rest don’t have any excuse and are just boneheaded idiots linguistically challenged (See, I’m getting the hang of this PC thing). The excuse is that basically, as most economists would refuse to tell you while blabbering about supply and demand instead, you get what you pay for. And you don’t pay much for translations in this country.

I had an acquaintance I used to correspond with (didn’t meet the guy in person at this stage), and to exchange books with (loans only, I have a hard time making myself getting rid of books so I don’t try to). One day we talked, and I mentioned some horrible translation in a movie I saw, and started badmouthing translators in general. Which he decided to be the perfect time to tell me what he does for a living. It being making translations.
Luckily I was spared much embarrassment by the fact that he proceed to agree with everything I said about the abysmal level of translators in this country. He just told me that while it’s possible to look up words in dictionaries, or to work one’s brain and pay attention to context, the payment translators get is so low that it’s not worth their while.
I concurred that taking pride in one’s work is harder if one has to feed a family, or oneself, based on the amount rather then the quality, or one’s work.

I still don’t read translated books in Hebrew. Well, the level of translation isn’t the only cause. There is the added effect of writing style, since I buy a book to read the author’s rather than the translator’s. And the issue of selection, since most books, including the good ones, are not translated.

I do tend to try and read movie and TV subtitles occasionally. On the not very interesting movies, that is. Since it hardly ever fails to provide for chuckles.

Don’t even get me started about the sport team "Red Sox" "socks in red". Or about the "armed steel plating" "plates of weapon-bearing steel". Oh, heck, there are just so many examples… Too many examples…


November 25th, 2004

This is just too amusing.

The Guardian has published a correction to an article:

Jonny Wilkinson (Gregan’s Wallabies plot new England fall, page 27, November 23) is recovering from a biceps injury, not a bicep injury. The singular of biceps is biceps. The plural of biceps is biceps.

This doesn’t sound like an explanation, or an attempt to be educational. This rather sounds more like head-bashing.
The scene I imagine is of an editor catching the poor writer of the original article and repeating this to him in an angry what-kind-of-an-idiot-are-you patronizing tone of voice…
All that’s missing in the correction is the end of the quote going like "Now repeat this 100 times until you get it", which caused the writer such a trauma that they automatically also added the mantra to the apology.

And what may be slightly more amusing – while it’s true that The singular of biceps is biceps and not bicep, the plural can be biceps, but can also be bicepses.

Oh, well. As long as mine works.

Looking For Words

November 25th, 2004

A friend called me on the IM the other day, and asked for help spelling a word in English.
The friend, whose English is usually quite good, knew that the word sounded like "satel", and gave me an example case where this word would be used.
The exact example isn’t important here, just that the friend knew what the word meant.

The word wasn’t complex, it was "subtle". Didn’t took more than a second to come up with. The friend said thanks, and that while looking for various possible spellings, sticking a "B" in the middle of it did not came to mind.

And that was that.

But it got me thinking about this in a more general case.
Personally I rarely have the problem of knowing how a word sounds but not how it’s written, since most of my English comes from books, not from speaking or from TV. So if I know a word, it’s quite likely I saw it written, and could come up with something close enough for a dictionary/spell-checker to find. But if it’s a complex word, the problem may still happen. And of course a general solution could also benefit people whose vocabulary comes mostly from watching TV, speaking, or listening to radio/music.

So I decided to see if there’s a tool that can be used to locate a word, when what is known about it is how it’s supposed to sound like, and the general meaning. This is quite a lot of info.

The first attempt was just to run a dictionary search. On-line dictionaries tend to present possible spellings/corrections.

Usually I use services like, since they collect definitions from a large number of dictionaries, increasing the odds of finding the right word. In this case is was not effective, the large number of sources allowed it to actually find a definition for the acronym "SATEL", so I got no spelling suggestions.

Trying to get a correction out of Google proved fruitless as well, it didn’t find any definition, and did not suggest a correction. Surprisingly it seems that Google doesn’t bother suggestion corrections to dictionary searches, only to regular searches. And only to regular searches that return few results. Satel, and variations, have tons of results, so no suggestions.
Several other dictionaries provided suggestions, but none useful.

Merriam Webster provided a list of 14 possible corrections, the 6th being "subtle". In this case it proved helpful, and could have been used.
In a general case it may not help, however, since it doesn’t provide suggestions to words it has a translation for. If the word searched is similar enough to a real word, you’re out of luck, or have to try searching for a specifically distorted word, making the chances of a successful match smaller.

There should be some sites that allow searching for words that sounds like other words. A quick search for "dictionary sound like" returned several likely (and lot of unlikely) suspects.

AnsMe provided a long list for a "sounds-like" search on "satel", but none of the results was "subtle". And #2/#1 with 90% match was "stela" ?! How does "stela" sounds like "satel" ?

RhymeZone for "Find similar sounding words" returned 0 results. It did provide a long list of "similarly spelled words", but again "Subtle" was not one of them.
Other places in this category seems to just point to, or take results from, RhymeZone.

So time to go look by meaning. Not to make it too complex, these are the first four basic ideas for meanings I had: "delicate", "gentle", "not obvious", "not blatant".

One option is to run a regular dictionary search and try to fish a result from there. In this case it might have worked, but only since I already knew what I was looking for.
Running a search for "delicate" on various dictionaries returned pages of results that had the word "subtle" in them. But they were not useful for this purpose, since it was not practical to find those without knowing the desired word. It takes a lot of time and effort to read many definitions, and go word by word to see if something seems similar. Doable, but not practical.

Another option is to run a search for synonyms of the first two words, and antonyms of the last two. This has the advantage that the results would usually be word-lists, so are easier to search for one sounding like what we’re looking for.

Giving RhymeZone another chance: "delicate" 23 synonyms including "subtle", "gentle" 25 synonyms without "subtle", "obvious" 3 antonyms without "subtle", "blatant" no antonyms. So there was a result, but still hard to fish. Requires going through a lot of false result to find it.

WordNet: This is a more complex and powerful tool, in that it allows to pick specific meanings of the word to search the synonyms/acronyms for, though it doesn’t require it. This of course takes the time to read the possible meanings, but allows by this to eliminate irrelevant words. It also provide examples for the usage of each of the returned words, so it’s easier to get a sense of their proper context, or how they will sound in a sentence. Here too only "delicate" returned "subtle" at the end of the search. And while it was included in some of the definitions of possible meanings for "delicate", no meaning was an exact match by itself. It might have helped very well, or it might have done quite badly.

And there’s one more, relatively new, option. I recalled that a while ago I noticed an announcement by OneLook that they had a reverse dictionary. For this purpose a reverse dictionary should work quite like a synonym search, only will potentially allow use of words which are not exact synonyms/antonyms but may be found as part of a description. This makes it easier to locate words for which you don’t have an exact single-word meaning, and allow more flexibility on the words used. But it may also return a lot more false results.

I decided it’s worth a short to try. And discovered that they have another feature, which is excellent for the sort of search I need here. It’s possible to search for partial matches on words by letters, and combine this with the reverse dictionary search.

The obvious nearly catch-all way to represent the "satel" sounds-like is s*t*l*. It may be a mistake, it’s possible to spell words otherwise, but not likely. If it wouldn’t have worked, maybe a search for c instead of s, or putting another wild-card character at the beginning, might have been warranted. But mostly I tried to go from the basis of having a word sounding like "satel", so probably the changes in spelling will be extra vowels, double letters, silent letters, and such. Something beginning with an "S", followed someplace by a "T", and followed someplace else by an "L", followed by whattever, seemed good.

With this pattern of searched words, I tried again my four basic meanings, even though a reverse dictionary actually allows to try for more complex meanings. "delicate" returned 7 results, the first of which was "subtle". "gentle" returned 2 results without "subtle". "not obvious" returned a huge number of results, with the claim that they are sorted by relatedness, and "subtle" was the first one. "not blatant" also returned a lot of results, but again "subtle" was the first one.

Overall I think OneLook receives best marks for this. The reason, I think, is that from all the common tools available it’s the only one that allows to automatically search for both the meaning and the way the word sounds like. The other services only allowed to automatically search for one, and then required time consuming effort to manually go over the results.

Gotta admire those Marines

November 9th, 2004

It’s somewhat old news, but I only recently went over the two latest issues of World Wide Words, and saw this lovely bit. I probably wouldn’t have picked on this one if it didn’t involve the Marines, but having a friend who’s a JAG addict, and so turning from a sporadic to a regular viewer myself, I tend to pick on anything amusing involving the US Navy or Marines…

This is an official Marine Corps release announcing a training mission on Wake Island.
And there are several problems with it…

According to the Marines, Wake island is uninhibited. Although maybe they got confused and meant uninhabited. Could be. If you want to run training with missiles and explosives, and choose a small island with nothing much but and old and abandoned military base, it makes sense. Except that the island have about 200 residents1, civilian contractors for the US military. That doesn’t quite fit the definition of uninhabited. I’m sure if during training a Stinger missile kills some of these people, a claim of "They weren’t there. The island is uninhabited." won’t convince anyone…
But then again, they couldn’t have meant uninhibited as well. It’s not as if the people there run around naked and have wild orgies all day, or whatever. It’s not even some indigenous tribe. They’re Americans brought there by the USAF years ago. And have reportedly not descended into barbarism…

And if this poor choice of words isn’t bad enough, according to one Maj. Tracy L. Peacock “The importance of this training cannot be understated”. Which should make about anyone wonder why bother, no?

Maybe the Marines should supply their forces a few less Stingers and a few more dictionaries. At least to those who are expected to interact with the media…

1. Which is agreed upon not only by those residents, but also by the official CIA world factbook, and the Wikipedia entry. Which I only bother mentioning because, well, if you’re the sort of person who really doesn’t trust governments, but do trust "the people", don’t bother, as the relevant part from Wikipedia seems directly copied from the CIA. Or at least I assume it’s not the other way around ;-)


November 2nd, 2004

I was driving quietly in my car with the radio on to provide background music. The channel I was listening to switched to commercials, so I switched channels.

And dropped right into this incredible conversation bit.

Mind you, this is much more amusing when you consider that the discussion was in Hebrew, except for the words I’ll italic (can I use this as a verb? Italic something? Never mind) which were in English.

Putting English words into Hebrew speech during an interview will usually be done either when referring to a technical/professional term, or when wanting to preserve some exact nuances which are not there in the Hebrew equivalent. I suppose it’s the same in most cases of inserting any individual words from a foreign language (those which are not so mainstreamed they’re practically co-opted into the base language).

This mean that I’d expect the words to be used in a most exact and clear manner, right? Well, not this time.

Also worth mentioning is that the interviewee is PolSci Professor Avraham Ben-Zvi, who (among other things) published a myriad of works regarding American policy in the middle east and Israel-America relations. The quote starts in the middle of his sentence, just when I tuned in:

“… must also pay attention to the undercurrents and to the subtext of the issue.”

“Just to be certain I understand this, by subtext you mean John Kerry, right?”

“Exactly. He has a lot of support in…”

I’m very grateful I was standing waiting for a traffic light to change. If I were actually driving the results might have been disastrous.

Nice to know a possible candidate for the presidency of the US is best described as subtext

Explosives lost

October 26th, 2004

Apparently about 377 tons of high explosives were lost in Iraq.

That’s a lot of explosives. Enough to blow up lots and lots of things, and still have much to spare. Probably enough to wage a small war.

And the US apparently knew those explosives are missing since about April 2003… The story of course broke out only now. Good to know.

I assume it means someone got all those high explosives and is just sitting on them and waiting…

I think, however, that the best part of the Reuters article, for many different reasons, is this reply by someone in US asked why the us military didn’t do something like guard this small pile of cherry-bombs:

“You just can’t leave a guard force at all these places you find. If you leave a squad at all 10,000 places that are known so far, then there’s 50,000 (troops) out of action,” said another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Certainly you can’t leave a force to guard “all those places“, if you’re talking about small empty buildings. But a pile of nearly 380 tons of explosive?! I do sincerely think you should even put a large force to guard that! Unless of course he implies that each on of the 10,000 sites he mentions contains that amount of explosives… That’s a very very scary thought. Which I hope, and believe, to be false. But if that’s the case, then I agree guarding them all is not practical. Which means they should have been either concentrated or destroyed, not left alone to get “lost”.

It is at least understandable why the half-wit chose to remain anonymous.

And then there’s the small numerical/linguistical issue there, though I assume the parentheses mean it’s the reporter’s/editor’s fault, and not the official half-wit’s… Troops does not mean soldiers! Really! If a squad consists of five soldiers, you may need 50,000 soldiers to watch 10,000 sites, but NOT 50,000 troops.

A dashing misunderstanding

October 12th, 2004

I practically always send email messages in English. Most of the people I know send email messages in English. From my side, it’s part a natural aversion (Out of habit? Too much programming and dealing with software?) to seeing non-Latin letters on a computer screen, and part the appalling lack of standards to do otherwise.

(That’s technical standards, as in how mail servers and mail readers handle things like Hebrew text. Some don’t, some badly, some very well only there are several different ways to do so and they don’t quite match. The end result is that usually reading an Hebrew email message requires some, or a lot of, work on the recipient’s end, and even then success is not entirely guaranteed.)

In any case, when I send someone here an email in English, they usually tend to reply in English, regardless of whether they prefer to use Hebrew or English themselves. And if they put in a word in Hebrew, it’s usually done in Latin characters, but quoted to indicate so. Not that for most words it’s possible to misunderstand.


I got a reply message today from a certain M, who is a friend of my very good friend V. (And M, in the highly unlikely chance that you’re reading this, just to make it absolutely clear, I am NOT making fun of you here, I am making fun of me here).

The reply was of course, like my original message, in English. All the way.

and ended with (names truncated to protect the guilty):

Thanks again and dash to V


At which point I’ve gotten a bit confused. Oh, alright, more than a bit. I tried to imagine what could she possibly mean by that…

The first thing that came to mind is that I was requested to send V an email with a dash (i.e. the “-” character) in it. Which made very little sense. I toyed for a few seconds with the idea of sending a message like

Hi, V!

M asked me to say – for her



But decided I’d just get myself severely beaten (Is very violent, my V), and rightfully so. Scrap that idea.

The second thing was that I’m expected to drop everything and run to visit V. But while I do get to see V quite a lot on some weeks, being told to dash to her sounds very odd, and the writing style M used didn’t match. If I hadn’t spoked to V yesterday evening I might have thought something important had happened, and that I really need to go quickly. But I did, so I didn’t (Don’t you just love it when a sentence like that can actually make sense?).

Next idea was that maybe M just intended to say that she cut the message at that point since she is directly going to see V. That would be bad syntax, but not unheard of. The time frame was all wrong for that, though, as they didn’t meet last night or this morning.

At which point I’ve gotten totally stumped. Was this some clever paraphrase of the “dashed to pieces” idea? I like this usage idea enough to try and use a variation myself someday, but it would have been totally out of context here. So that’s very unlikely, and again not at all in M’s writing style up to that point.

Starting to consider replying to the message and asking (which is a big no-no, since I either admit to being an idiot that can’t understand a sentence, or imply that M is an idiot that can’t write one), the truth finally hit me.

dash wasn’t a word in English. It was in Hebrew. But it seemed natural enough to M to use it instead of an English equivalent, and to not bother quoting it.

There’s an acronym in Hebrew, pronounced like dash is, with the general meaning of sending one’s regards. The sentence could have been “Thanks again and my regards to V“, or something of the sort.

Writing in Hebrew there couldn’t have been a mistake. Acronyms are always marked as such (e.g. you would never write AFAIK, but rather AFAI”K). On a spoken conversation there also couldn’t have been a mistake, since the only other word which is pronounced the same makes even less sense than all the English versions above, unless maybe you’re an insanely focused tailor.

Problem solved.

I’m not at all certain if I should feel stupid or not. This usage is after all very common in Hebrew. And I usually do very well in spotting English words, phrases and idioms used during conversations in Hebrew… Noticing that the reverse doesn’t hold true in all cases is, well, troubling.

Oh, well. I’ll just avoid writing Native Speaker for any language in my future CVs… ;-)