mardi 24 mai 2016

Language Drill

The powers that be in France have recently introduced a reform of the language which is supposed to simplify spelling by doing away with some of those pesky accents that we foreigners struggle so hard to remember - and replacing the "ph" in words like nénuphar (water-lilly) with an "f" . However, it would appear that it's not just non native speakers who don't know when they should use the circumflex ^ - which is a pity, because sometimes the meaning of the word changes completely depending on whether it has an accent or not. Which brings me to the drill of the title: the word un foret means a drill bit. Une forêt, on the other hand is a transparent word for English speakers thanks in part to the circumflex accent which reminds us that there used to be an "s" after the letter "e".  Google translate knows the difference. Unfortunately for him, the pupil who thought he'd take a short cut to doing his English homework by writing it in French and then using Google to translate it, didn't. Garbage in, garbage out: "They are standing on the edge of a drill."
He obviously couldn't see the wood for the trees.

mardi 29 décembre 2015

Now I lay me down to sleep.....

Grammar 101: to lie is an intransitive verb - i.e. it doesn't take a direct object - "lay" is the past of this verb.
To lay is a transitive verb which means it requires a direct object: its past and past participle are both "laid".
What brought this on, do you ask? The sight of a printed notice which failed to differentiate between the two: unfortunately I didn't have a black marker pen to hand, so I took a photo instead.
Exhibit A

and Exhibit B: what is actually being forbidden, if you take the sign literally.

samedi 26 décembre 2015

Instructions: clear as mud

I had a new dress for Christmas: I ordered it online at it came by post. When I unpacked it there was a little note saying that it would need to be pressed before I wore it. There was also a helpful (not) translation of this information into French - which told me that it would have "besoin pressant" before being worn....... this is a French expression which means an urgent need for the toilet. Woops!
Moving along swiftly, Santa brought me a cute novelty salt and pepper set. The pieces had to be taken apart to be filled and then pushed firmly back together before use - to avoid getting the entire contents dumped on your turkey. Unfortunately the instructions had been translated from Chinese (or similar) and  in fact said the very opposite: "hardly push" as opposed to "push hard". I know that hardly looks as if it should be the adverb formed from the adjective hard, but of course it isn't. In French hardly is à peine.

vendredi 18 décembre 2015

Wishing you a very Dictionary Christmas

My pupils have been hard at work on Christmas traditions from around the world: amongst the many gems we have learned about calendars and candles "of the front": this is an epic fail caused by a spelling mistake in the original French - Advent is "l'Avent" NOT "l'Avant"!
Apparently every house in  Germany  has "stares" (rather than stars) as Christmas decorations and  in Canada they have Christmas "day nurseries" : nativity cribs - in French it's the same word: "une crèche".  Swedes, I am reliably informed, send "maps" to family and friends - rather than the more traditional Christams cards.
However, the most suprising discovery was that Americans decorate the outside of their houses with garlands and bollocks. I wonder whose?

mardi 17 novembre 2015

Why and how have the murderous barbarians responsible for so many deaths become "DAESH", and what does it mean?

If you like to understand the meaning before you use a new word, here is an excellent explanation of the meaning and significance of this word by an Arab language expert called Alice Guthrie.

Thank you Alice - I will be taking every opportunity to use it.

mardi 8 septembre 2015

An unhealthy start to the school year

Just received by email  from the pupils at the local catering college which is called Les Grippeaux, a message informing us that the restaurant is now open and
 "You can view the days of opening and menus on the influenza school site."
Presumably  the message has been through a machine translator which has translated the "grippe" of the name ... don't these pupils ever re-read anything and think before pressing "send"?

mardi 23 juin 2015

Exam candidates fail to cope!

The exam season is upon us and this year's would-be bacheliers have taken their English paper, based on an extract from the novel Atonement. One of the questions asked how the character "was coping" with the situation and this has caused howls of protest from candidates indignant that they should be expected to know this word. I actually agree with them on this point: the paper is supposed to be testing their comprehension of the text, not of the questions being asked, and I really think it would have been wise to phrase the question differently.
What, however, appalls me, is that one of the many candidates who has taken to Twitter to complain has posted a screen shot from an online dictionary.

Well no wonder he doesn't understand!
A "chaperon" is (amongst other things) a term used in building as in a"coping stone".
After 13 years of schooling (including English lessons for at least half of that time) this chap still hasn't learned the precautions necessary when looking a word up in the dictionary - such as knowing whether you are looking for a noun or a verb!