Monday, 23 January 2017

Snowflakes and avalanches

In my days of thinly-disguised fascism I used to defend Latin in schools (which I still believe would be a good idea, by the way) by saying 'If what you think is a thought can't be expressed in Latin, it's not a thought.' I admit that this was a bit priggish, and it implied that logicality was a particular characteristic of Latin – a pretty silly implication. It's a not uncommon one, though – it rears its insidious head with respect to various languages; I've heard it said not only of Latin, but of French, of German... even of English.

But it hides a general truth about translation – that in order to translate meaningfully you have to grasp a text's meaning...
<autobiographical_note>
One of my few forays into  the realm of professional  translation (by which I mean I got paid for it, as opposed to having any professional training or standards or ethics or any of that good stuff) involved an article about aneurysms and arterio-venous fistulae, and I spent more time in a medical library than in a more general library with a technical Portuguese dictionary in front of me (this was in the mid-'70s, and the association of libraries with computers was yet to be made).
</autobiographical_note>

....(in a language possibly uniquely adapted to one area of interest), which makes it harder to translate into a language that is not similarly endowed. So it can be tempting to overlook or even ignore bits of sense

The translatability of Donald Trump's ravings has been in the news of late, in a way that I find unsurprising at best, and at worst  a non-issue flagged up by self-regarding elitists. Of course he's hard to translate; so was – to cite a more UK-based politician – John (now Lord) Prescott, of whom Simon Hoggart famously wrote
'Every time Prescott opens his mouth, it's like someone has flipped open his head and stuck in an egg whisk.'
Come to that, many politicians and off-the-cuff public speakers speak nonsense. Speaking nonsense is something that happens more and more in an increasingly unreflective world dominated by rolling news and its inevitable bastard offspring fake news (alias LIES).

On the subject of the Trump campaign, the word snowflake, used as an insult to the liberal intelligentsia (and anyone else with two brain-cells to rub together), easily disturbed and slipping 'in a moment out of life' has recently become popular. It is analogous to the rather more traditional 'hot-house plant'.

But the thing about snowflakes is that when they mount up and reach a tipping-point (or, more relevantly, a sliding-point) they start an avalanche. And that point is, we are told by 38 degrees – though I'm not sure it's as simple as that – the name of what Wikipedia calls
a British not-for-profit political-activism organisation. It describes itself as "progressive" and claims to "campaign for fairness, defend rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK".[2] In October 2013, it was reported to claim 1.9 million UK members.[3][needs update]
It goes on
38 Degrees takes its name from the critical angle at which the incidence of a human-triggered avalanche is greatest [THAT sounds more like it, though they give as a reference the same simplistic wording as the 38 degrees website gives

the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche – together we're unstoppable


] Ah well, their hearts are  in the right place. I'm keeping my head down for the next four years – the Trump era (British English /i:rǝ/, and in American English – not without irony – /ɛrǝ/). See you on the other side, Gaia volente.



PS And here's a clue:
  • Invalid given wrong sort of IUD is like a cup-cake (10)

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