‘The Bells’

In 1849, the American poet Edgar Allan Poe died and his poem ‘The Bells’ was published.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Russian poet and translator Konstantin Balmont “very freely” translated it into Russian.

In 1913, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, originally titled (in Russian) Колокола, Kolokola (Russian WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia).

Some years ago (first guess 2001-2003) I bought a CD of this work. The booklet calls Balmont’s translation “more precisely, a re-interpretation” and includes his text transliterated into the Latin/‘English’ alphabet and translated into German, English and French. Whether the unnamed translator was equally free in translating Balmont’s Russian back into English or not, the result is very different from Poe’s original. Continue reading

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qualified and unqualified

Today I edited an article featuring a pharmacy that offers its customers, among other things “qualified advice”.

Qualified has developed two almost opposite meanings, for reasons none of the dictionaries I’ve looked at explains: “1a) officially recognised as being trained to perform a particular job; certified; 1b) competent or knowledgeable; capable” and “2) not complete or absolute; limited.” (Oxford Living Dictionaries Online)

A qualified pharmacist would usually give unqualified advice, while an unqualified one would give qualified advice.

I assume that the advice given in this pharmacy is “of or pertaining to someone who is qualified”. I can’t really change it to “this pharmacy offers unqualified advice”.

Google Ngrams shows that qualified advice (in whatever meaning(s)) is more common than unqualified advice, while unqualified opinion (likewise) is more common than qualified opinion.

Nothing to sneeze at.

During the week I edited an article about hay fever. Or hay-fever. Or hayfever.

My personal preference would be hayfever, on the grounds that hayfever is now a concept separate from hay + fever (it’s not a fever and you don’t get it from hay) but the Macquarie Dictionary (our major source) gives only hay fever. Google Ngrams gives hay fever, hayfever and hay-fever in that order. So hay fever it is then. (Ngrams, Pages for Mac and WordPress all red-underline hayfever, if thats any indication of anything.)

But we also get phrases such as hay(-)fever sufferer(s) and hay(-)fever treatment(s). Noun + noun used attributively usually gets hyphenated or closed up (usage varies – that’s why we have a house style guide). Ngrams gives hay fever sufferer(s), hayfever sufferer(s) and  hay-fever sufferer(s) in the same order, but only hay fever treatment and nothing for hay(-)fever treatments. Typing this at home on a Sunday night, I can’t remember what we decided for the attributive use. Continue reading

early in [month] v in early [month]

Sometimes language chance attracts great discussion because, like, reasons. Other times it attracts no discussion, and happens seemingly for no reason. A few days ago, I encountered either late in December or in late December, I can’t remember which way round, but that doesn’t affect the point of this post. I wondered whether I should change it to the other way round. I checked Google Ngrams, but before I tell you what that showed, take a moment to think about what you would say or write, and what change has happened in the past 100 years. Continue reading

It’s not that simple

I recently discovered a blog which I won’t identify because I am about to disagree with one part of one post. It has a number of contributors and most of the posts are very good to excellent. However, I must disagree with part of one. The blogger writes:

British English speakers have the ability to use the phrase “at the weekend”, when Canadian English speakers would normally say “on the weekend.” We [linguists and other people interested in descriptive approaches to language] that Canadian English speakers can’t use “at” in front of “the weekend”; it’s ungrammatical.

But take a short swim across the pond [North Atlantic Ocean], and the Canadian preposition “on” seems very out of place; British speakers don’t say “on the weekend,” so for them this expression is expression is ungrammatical.

It’s not that simple, for two reasons. Continue reading

RIP

In the last week I have learned, via social media, of the deaths of three older men who I met earlier in my life through my involvement in music in two different cities as I moved around – a cathedral organist/choir director/university lecturer, a pipe organ builder and a stalwart of the local music theatre company. I knew them well enough to remember them and to want to express my condolences, but not well enough to keep in contact with them as I moved around (though I did bump into one on one visit to that city). I left messages on the Facebook pages of their closest family member (two of whom I knew as well or better, and one of whom I only saw around and never actually spoke to, so I explained who I was). One replied briefly and the other two “hearted” my comment

The English phrase Rest in peace is often used in this context. This conveniently shares initials with the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, but there’s a difference. Requiescat is subjunctive, and is better (and sometimes, maybe often or even usually) translated May (s/he) rest in piece. Rest by itself is imperative, so Rest in peace is Requiesce in pace (singular) or Requiescite in pace (plural). The plural of Requiescat in pace is Requiescant in pace. All of these are derived from the noun requies, which is best known in its accusative form requiem (as in Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine, Grant them eternal rest, Lord. Requies, in turn, means re + quies, or quiet again.

So, Requiescite in pace David, Peter and Peter, though I’m not sure if “quiet” is an appropriate wish for an organist, organ builder and singer. I like to imagine them getting together somewhere and making a joyful noise.

In fact, rechecking those three Facebook pages, I have just learned of the death a few months ago of another musical acquaintance, so Requiesce in pace Mary as well. I may have to stop reading Facebook.

(Most of the Latin from Wikitionary.)

Wrong or right?

I’ve been sorting through paper documents and computer files, and been finding all sorts of miscellaneous things. One is a photocopy of a page from a textbook, at the bottom of which I wrote two sentences spoken by two students. This is at least two-and-a-half years old (that is, before I went to Korea the second time) and is more likely to be closer to four (I vaguely remember that it dates from when another teacher and I swapped upper- and lower-level classes for two days each week – these sentences came from the lower-level class).

The activity was “Speaking: Real life”. Seven scenarios are given, and I got the students to write their sentences before they spoke them (which is why I was able to copy these two sentences; I probably wouldn’t have had time if they had just spoken them). One scenario is “You are buying a ticket in a railway station. The clerk says the price of the ticket but you don’t understand him. What do you say?”

One student wrote (and later said):

Sorry I not good English so you writing this paper please.

The second sentence isn’t related to the same activity, and I can’t think of the context. Anyway, another student wrote:

I can’t ride motorcycle, because I’m not learn ride bicycle yet. But I have learn drive car before.

These sentences are “wrong”, but in many ways they are very “right” – most of the right words are there, in the right order, and there’s absolutely no doubt what those students meant; most of what is missing is the “grammar”.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I said about those sentences, or how I went about correcting them.