Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Idiom of the day - A Cat May Look at a King

The Oxford dictionary defines the term a cat may look at a king as meaning that even a person of low status has rights. Wiktionary defines the expression as meaning ”A purported inferior has certain abilities, even in the presence of a purported superior.” 
The interesting www.idioms.in website has a longer treatment. This is an Indian website about idioms, and carries advertising. It also has a competition, Mention idioms.in on your blog and Win a Prize. 
Here’s a better statement from another website, Writing Explained (Slogan: “Write better. Write now.”)
“A cat can look at a king is a proverb which implies that no matter how high your status is, you can’t control everything. Others will always be your equals in some way. And I guess it might also have added, no matter how much the king resents it. 
This idiom is first known in a 1562 collection of proverbs, The Proverbs And Epigrams Of John Heywood. Here is the full quote from the book 
Some hear and see him whom he heareth nor seeth not
But fields have eyes and woods have ears, ye wot
And also on my maids he is ever tooting.
Can ye judge a man, (quoth I), by his looking?
What, a cat may look on a king, ye know!
My cat’s leering look, (quoth she), at first show,
Showeth me that my cat goeth a caterwauling;
And specially by his manner of drawing
To Madge, my fair maid.

The best-known use of the proverb is in Alice in Wonderland, in this passage which presents things from a king's viewpoint. Why should that cat be able to look at me?
"Who are you talking to?" said the King, coming up to Alice, and looking at the Cat's head with great curiosity. "It's a friend of mine–a Cheshire Cat," said Alice: "allow me to introduce it." "I don't like the look of it at all," said the King: "however, it may kiss my hand, if it likes." "I'd rather not," the Cat remarked. "Don't be impertinent," said the King, "and don't look at me like that!" He got behind Alice as he spoke.
"A cat may look at a king," said Alice. "I've read that in some book, but I don't remember where.""Well, it must be removed," said the King very decidedly; and he called to the Queen, who was passing at the moment, "My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!"The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. "Off with his head!" she said without even looking round. "I'll fetch the executioner myself," said the King eagerly, and he hurried off.

Since then, of course, most of the world’s kings have fallen or faded, and been replaced by other figures of authority. Although the hereditary principle is far from gone, modern kings have chosen to assume other titles. But a cat can still look at them, whether they like it or not.
Resentment at being looked at by cats is perhaps one of the original inspirations for the legal concept lèse-majesté – see the Wikipedia for an explanation. These are the kinds of laws designed to stop cats from looking at kings just whenever they want to. And not just looking, either - once allowed to look at kings, cats may move on to even less acceptable actions. The hypersensitivity of contemporary rulers to contradiction, criticism, or failure to kiss the hand of a president or pope, has become a feature of our lives, but it is not new.
An article in Conservativehome, a UK journal for Conservatives, pointed out that the campaign to rescind the invitation to Donald Trump for a state visit to the UK was not based on his policies and actions as head of state, such as his ban on entry to the US people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The article quotes from the petition and then makes a comment
"“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.
“Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”
Such a marriage of left-wing gesture politics with a typically right-wing preoccupation with the dignity of the monarch is unusual, to say the least. Perhaps it’s an attempt to build broader support for a ban?"
Either way, there's no way a vulgar misogynist is going to be allowed to look at our Queen.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Translation through the ages

Most of us are engaged with translation in many ways - think about your own use of translation in all of its variety, such as the last translated work that you read.

My friend Marie Lebert, a linguist, is researching the history of translation and has written a short, accessible, and interesting article on this history. The article includes a plea for translators to receive better recognition and higher visibility in the 21st century.

Now, Marie's current research project "focuses on the sea change brought by technology in the professional translators' working conditions, that have become a major issue in recent years." In pointing out the precarious lives of professional translators, Marie says

"As surprising as it may be in our society, bilingual people need more skills than two languages to become good translators. To be a translator is a profession, with the relevant training and a thorough knowledge of a given discipline. While this was obvious for centuries, this seems less obvious now. After being regarded as scholars alongside authors, professors and researchers for two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on press releases and book covers, and sometimes even on the articles and books they spent days, weeks or months to translate.
Are there some solutions to reverse this trend? Our society should acknowledge (again) the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, literature and culture. My work will be based on many interviews conducted online and on-site.
Marie is also speaking at the FIT Congress (International Federation of Translators) in Brisbane on 3-5 August 2017. Please forward this to people who may be interested in supporting this work - Marie would like to advance her project, working in Australia if possible.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Motto of the day: Nullius in verba

Surely the organisation with absolutely the best motto is the Royal Society? Nullius in verba, according to the Wikipedia, means “Take nobody’s word for it”; it is Latin for “on the word of no-one”. John Evelyn and other Fellows of the Royal Society choose the motto soon after the Society was founded, 350 years ago. The Royal Society explains the motto this way:
It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.
The phrase came from Horace's Epistle to his benefactor Maecenas. These are his words
Nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri, – quo me cumque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes.
("(being) not obliged to swear allegiance to a master, wherever the storm drags me to, I turn in as a guest.")
It is hard to think of a better motto – a challenge to make us all sit up and think, as the Royal Society says.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Word of the Day - Hundge

Our currency has always attracted friendly nicknames, but this nickname for the $100 note is new to me. It was the heading in an article in Crikey, by Liam Apter. The article included an interview with Swinburne’s Professor Steve Worthington. The idea is apparently being floated that the $100 note be withdrawn because of its use in the black economy, amongst criminals, and to transport large sums of cash.
Crikey | 16 December 2016
Adjunct Professor Steve Worthington comments on why the Australian government has proposed to remove the $100 note from circulation.

There are common nicknames for our currency, such as the well-known terms lobster (the $20 note) and pineapple (the $50). But I have never heard of a hundge, and I thought that Crikey may have invented it.
However, the Urban Dictionary defines the term as meaning a $100 note in US usage and gives the alternative spelling hunge. There is no example of use in Australia, other than the Crikey article; the Wikpedia article on slang terms for Australian money doesn’t mention it.
Notes of this denomination represent almost half of the value of all Australian banknotes, but how often do you see one? ATMs do not usually issue them. Their rarity in actual use makes it less likely that an affectionate slang term would arise, but perhaps I move in the wrong circles.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Idiom of the day - Zip it

This is taken from an article in The New Daily, an online Australian newspaper, which appeared in December last year. The occasion was the election of a new leader (Bill English) and deputy leader of the National Party. The newly-elected (by her party) deputy leader of the NZ National Party was Paula Bennett, referred to as “former teen solo mum Paula Bennett”. 
The idiomatic expression (or metaphor) used by Paula Bennett was zip-it. You can watch the episode in which she used the expression in a clip from Parliament, linked from an article in the New Zealand Herald. There was some discussion of the appropriateness of a Minister using the expression “zip it, sweetie”, as she did, but the Speaker decided that the usage was trivial, and disallowed the comments.
There was no discussion of the pronounciation of the consonants in “zip it”, which would have aroused comment in Australia, as would the expression “a bit of a difference”, also used by the Minister. 
The Auckland Herald made the expression its top quote of 2012. when the incident took place in the New Zealand Parliament. 
According to the Cambridge dictionary, “zip it” is “rude and angry way of telling someone to stop talking”, with this example given: Just zip it - I'm tired of listening to you complain. This wasn’t the interpretation given by the Speaker of the NZ Parliament. The zip (a closure device) features in quite a few idioms or metaphors, as does its verb form (“to fasten with a zip”). 
The Urban Dictionary traces the term back to about 1988, when it was used by a notorious talk-show host in the United States, Morton Downey Jr.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Word of the Day - Invisibilised

I was watching the television news last week, and was intrigued to hear Professor Rosalind Croucher, the head of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), use the word invisibilised. The ALRC is conducting an enquiry into elder abuse, and has just issued a discussion paper on the topic, according to the ABC News

Professor Croucher was being interviewed in connection with a news item about aged people being robbed by their children and other loved ones. "People describe powers of attorney as a licence to steal," she said in the interview.

In the course of her comments, Professor Croucher used the term invisibilised, which appears to be a nice verbing of the adjective invisible. 

But it isn't a neologism. It has been used for some years in a clinical context. Heaslip & Ryden, in their book Understanding Vulnerability, include a section on invisibilisation which refers to invisibilising of vulnerable people in care. Like this 

"Ahmed is on a cardiac ward awaiting an angiogram. Each day the hurses/carers come along to make his bed. Ahmed is asked to sit out on the chair beside the bed, whilst the health carers make the bed. They engage in a discussion about their own lives and what they did the night before. At no point is Ahmed invited to join the conversationnor is there any eye contact with him to suggest he might be involved. The health carers complete the bed and move on to the next bed, with a cursory nod to indicate Ahmed can sit back on his bed."

And the French verb, invisibiliser, meaning to render invisible, has been used since the mid-19th century, with much the same meaning. In English, according to the NGRAM, it has been used only since 1980.

So a word with a specialised niche meaning has been given a wider currency. The rapid rate of growth in use seems likely to continue, unless people stop invisibilising old, ill and other vulnerable people. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Word of the Day - Verb

Today's word is verb, used as a verb. I quote a Facebook post from Christine Mackenzie, "Is there any word which can't be verbed?" 

She gave this lovely example "The strategy, helmed by major shareholder James Packer." And in return Susan Bray quoted Shakespeare "they heroed me" from KJulius Caesar. And I said that I was too sydneyed out to think of an answer.

What is the answer? Perhaps we should accept the inevitability of verbing, and see if there might be rules which can make it possible to verb any word in the English language - as long as it is not already a verb, of course. Perhaps the last word should go, for now, to Anthony Gardner writing in The Economist a few years ago about verbing, or more correctly, denominalisation. Not the real last word - that will be the last word to be verbed. Gardner gives two nice examples from the sixteenth century:

Shakespeare’s Duke of York, in “Richard II” (c1595), says “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”, and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer includes a service “commonly called the Churching of Women”.

I've decided to revive this blog. I will continue to look at neologisms, but I have become quite fascinated lately by idioms, metaphors, similes, figures of speech and the like. Send me your favourite examples, and I'll tell you all about them in this blog.

Thank you Chris.