Although I can read well in at least 6 languages, I’m not a very good translator. When I read a text in French or Catalan, I understand it in French or Catalan not what it would mean in English. Translation requires shifting from thinking in one language to thinking in another and that can be very tricky. It certainly requires training. The translation company Today Translations has recently undertaken a study with thousands of translators from all over the world to determine which words are the hardest to translate. Here are the top 10:

In English:

  1. plenipotentiary
  2. googly – a cricket term
  3. Spam –  as in the Monty Python famous song
  4. gobbledegook –  I have a friend who actually uses this one a lot
  5. whimsy
  6. bumf
  7. serendipity
  8. poppycock
  9. chuffed
  10. kitsch

In other languages we have:

  1. ilunga – Tshiluba word for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.
  2. shlimazl – Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person.
  3. radioustukacz – Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.
  4. naa – Japanese word used only in Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone.
  5. altahmam – Arabic for a kind of deep sadness.
  6. gezellig – Dutch for cosy.
  7. saudade – Portuguese for a certain type of longing.
  8. selathirupavar – Tamil for a certain type of truancy.
  9. pochernuchka – Russian for a person who asks lots of questions.
  10. klloshar – loser in Albanian.

It’s nice to see a Portuguese word on the list. See the article here.

I came across this entertaining survey through an excellent blog post (in Portuguese) about a recent UNESCO study on endangered languages.  There are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, half of it in danger of disappearing altogether. The death of a language means the death of a culture and world view, the entire memory of a people. Every two weeks a language dies. Let’s hope the UNESCO safeguarding projects – modelled after similar projects for protecting endangered species – have some effects.


To the untrained eye, my manuscripts might seem impossible to read but in reality, I’ve been pretty lucky. Most of the documents I use for my dissertation are very neat, written in polished and uniform cursive writing typical of southern European chanceries. They tend to be a rounder script than say what scribes used in England, where strokes were much more angular. Most of them are very clear, like the examples below:


While the above is a picture of an original manuscript, most of my documents are photocopies made from microfilm but are no less readable:


Which is just as well since I have to go through thousands of these! But then, just to make things sinteresting, every once in a while some messier examples comes to the fore and I wasted a long time trying to figure out what’s going on:




or faint ones


But judging by some of the stuff my friends have to read, I can still count myself lucky even if at times I want to shoot myself. Medieval history is not for the faint of heart! And to think that I chose it because I got bored with the typed documents used in modern history… there must be something wrong with me.

Against Proposition 8

On the same day Obama was elected, a vote was held in California to change its constitution to specify that a marriage is a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning any possibility of allowing gay marriage in that state. Known as Proposition 8, the vote unfortunately passed but activists haven’t lost hope yet as it’s now being challenged at the California Supreme Court. Courage Campaign has same-sex couples to send them a picture with the simple words “Don’t divorce us” and made this touching video, entitled Fidelity:

This upsets me so much I can’t really write dispassionately about it. I’m just glad that Canada passed the Marriage Act in 2005, making same-sex marriage legal across the country and that PM Harper’s attempt to revisit the issue in 2006 was soundly defeated in Parliament.


It’s a beautiful day here in Toronto today and Alan didn’t really feel like spending it swimming laps at an indoor pool. I suggested we go out for a walk and being eager to be talked out of swimming, he promptly agreed. So off we walked along Carlton Street to Cabbagetown. The area is only a few blocks east of where we live and used to be one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto, before significant gentrification in recent years. Characterized by nice Victorian homes, cafés and green spaces (even a farm!), it’s one of my favourite spots in Toronto.

As usual, Alan and I walked out of the house without a clear plan of what we would do. The basic idea was to walk over to Jet Fuel, the local Java joint which is a favourite among Toronto cyclists and which serves a mean coffee, and sit and read for a while. Both Alan and I had some homework – he had to do some music theory work and I had Hebrew to catch up on. The coffee was indeed good, the vibe in the place was just right but when it came time to leave, we weren’t quite ready to go home. So a quick browse through Urbanspoon on my iPod Touch (ah, the beauty of technology and free wireless internet) revealed two promising places nearby for brunch: Big Mama’s Boy and The Pear Tree. We walked over to the first one but unfortunately it was closed so Pear Tree it was and it was really good. Our brunch was nice, service was friendly, price was good. We definitely need to explore Cabbagetown’s restaurants a bit more often. Some quick pics of the morning/early afternoon walk (click on the small ones to see a larger version):


Jet Fuel Pear Tree Pear Tree Brunch Brunch