mardi 26 mai 2009

Precisely-wrong English

Prologue: George, An Orang-Utan in a Translator Suit?

This crowd (see next section) was brought to my attention by a hopeless wannabe translator. There is a guy who has made quite a name for himself on the odd translators’ website by asking embarrassingly stupid terminology questions. Let’s call him “George”, after an orang-utan1 who was a popular exhibit at the Adelaide Zoo in my childhood. George asks such dumb questions, many of which could be answered with a pocket dictionary or even without any help by non-linguists, and asks them so unrelentingly, that I felt compelled to investigate him further.

It turns out, inter alia, that he is responsible for the following gem, from a textbook translation:

The Revolution scene was not one of explosions – or even one of fractured relationships – rather, it was the final result of the osmosis-like progression of a State turning a new State; the infiltration of the Viêt-Minh in all sectors of national life was one that was met with an entirely logical ending. However, this was made possible only with the extraordinary help of the circumstances that were.

(Note concerning copyright: The sample quoted comes within the limits of “fair dealing”. I have not seen any assertion of the translator’s right to be identified by name, and out of charity I have refrained from so identifying him. If George insists, however, I will modify this posting to include his name.)

Now imagine you are a history student: would you want to read a whole textbook written in that style? Would you even be able to understand it? (There are another 261 words from this translation in George’s on-line portfolio, and believe me, it doesn’t get any better.)

The above extract was taking from the orang-utan’s portfolio of work on It contains three items. Apart from this textbook extract, there is a claim to have translated a letter:

This particular letter was from a French travel business to the British Government asking for their permission for something (the particulars are confidential).

Yeah, right, George, that is a really useful sample of work, isn’t it? So what else do you have to show us, George? Oh, there’s this:

I translated material for a professional company website from English into French and German - even though my mother tongue is English! But they seem pleased with what I supplied them!

This time, at least there is a URL: <>.

So let us look at the French and German versions of that website to see whether our “translator” is any more literate in those languages than in his native tongue. That’s where things start getting interesting (sort of): there are no French and German pages on the site! So apparently the folk at Precise-English (the hyphen seems to be part of their name) thought better of their enthusiasm for our friend George’s work.

I have not named this so-called translator. It might smack of self-interest to bag my competitors. (I do have a somewhat neglected blog devoted to fraudulent translators, but George seems remarkably candid about his lack of qualifications and experience; so he is not really a candidate for that site, unless you count his claim to be a “Highly literate, aware and keen translator”!) In this regard, I might point out that George has a quoted rate on the Odesk site of $10.56 an hour. I have no idea why he quotes such an odd amount; I can only assume that at some stage he ran his Sterling or euro rate through a currency conversion site. Anyway, it is a generally accepted industry standard for a translator to have a throughput of 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. So let us be conservative, and assume an hourly throughput of 300 words (corresponding to a daily throughput of 2,400 words with an eight-hour day). So George’s hourly rate converts, under these charitable assumptions, to $0.0352 per word. Of course, it is entirely George’s business how much he charges (and, to give him his due, actually charging anything at all for his work is a bit over the top), but you’d need to offer me around four times this amount before I even bothered answering the email. So we are not competing in the same market. That said, I have decided to err on the side of caution and decorum, and will not name this moron unless provoked.


So now let’s turn to Precise-English. What sort of company would employ a translator working into a non-native language? One that didn’t care too much about the linguistic quality of the result! This seems odd: surely a company calling itself Precise-English would want its French and German advertising written in precise French or German? This leads to another question: Just how precise is Precise-English’s English?

Consider the following examples:
  • Whether you are native English or not, the way you present your specific text really matters.

  • To be one step ahead in the modern world you need to be sure of not only the grammar and spelling in your text, but the desired meaning is in correct English.

  • Below is a few of the services we can provide, click the Services tab for more information.

  • Precise-English puts an emphasis on understanding our clients needs, we really mean it when we say we want to make your document the best it can be!

The range of grammatical and stylistic faults presented here extends from the venial (such as the “comma splice” in the last two examples) to the grotesque (such as “Below is a few...”). Incidentally, this last-mentioned transgression is clear evidence of non-native authorship. No native speaker of English would even think of treating a few as singular!

So here we have it, a company calling itself Precise-English and offering a writing and editing service with, ahem, precision as a selling point, but unable to produce simple grammatically correct English sentences even in its advertising. Why do they even bother?


1. On second thoughts, maybe that is unfair to the orang-utan.

lundi 25 mai 2009

If you've heard one Edgar, you've heard them all, eh, Frank, I mean Paul?

That’s the trouble with electronic music: it never gets any better.
—David George, Nov. 1976

And now, for something completely different, some bullshit concerning Frank Zappa, Edgar(d) Varèse and Edgar Froese.

If your immediate reaction to the first name was “Who’s Frank Zappa?”, go back to sleep. As for the Edgars, I suppose a little ignorance is forgivable.

Edgard (or Edgar) Varèse (1883-1965) was a French-born composer who spent most of his life in the US. He has been described as a pioneer of electronic music.

Frank Zappa (1940-1993) is too well-known to bear comment. Just note those dates: Zappa was about four years older than Froese.

Edgar Froese (1944-) is an East-Prussian-born musician (East Prussia is now part of Poland, but before the war, it was part of Germany; so whether Froese is German- or Polish-born is anybody’s guess), probably best-known for his work with Tangerine Dream. He has been described as a pioneer of electronic music. Well, that says something about electronic music if one “pioneer” can be born over 60 years later than another.

If I might be forgiven a personal anecdote, back in early 1977, my ex and I moved into a flat next door to a well-known Adelaide rock musician. He knew that we were aficionados of “classical” music, and, in an effort to get us interested in Frank Zappa, mentioned that one of Zappa’s early influences was Edgar Varèse. Well, actually, even I had known about Zappa longer than Varèse, but as I was studying for a music theory exam (which I never got around to taking) for which one of the set works was by the latter, I found the connexion interesting. But I digress. The point is that Varèse’s influence on the early Zappa was not unknown back then.

So it should not surprise anyone that, given a spot as a guest DJ on BBC Radio One in 1982, Frank Zappa should take the opportunity to play a work by Edgar Varèse. What is surprising is that there is a transcript of the program floating around, in which the work is attributed to Edgar Froese. (The comment in square brackets in the below quote is not mine, but presumably that of the transcriber (see below). To avoid confusion, I have resisted the urge to put “sic” in square brackets after the alleged word pronounciation.)

You’ve just heard “The Closer You Are” by The Channels and “Hyperprisms” by Edgar Froese, or ‘Varase’ [FZ pronounces Froese as 'Varess' and offers an alternative], depending on how good your pronounciation of the names of famous composers that you can’t pronounce too good. Froese was a really cool guy. The only thing that he did that was wrong was he stopped composing for 25 years because people gave him a bad time. If people wouldn’t have given him a bad time, he could have been writing for 25 more years and there would be 25 more years worth of stuff like that for the people who like that kind of stuff.

According to Google, at least part of this quote (including the reference to Froese) is even to be found on The transcript is available online in several places (it has probably been corrected in a few since I wrote to a lot of sites about the error several months ago), including, where someone called Paul Icke claims responsibility for all the icky “errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation and comments in []”.

Well, all I can say is: Just how stupid is this guy? Let us start with some obvious points. In February 1982, when this radio program went to air (according to Icke), Edgar Froese was 37 years old. And we are supposed to believe that he had stopped composing for 25 of those 37 years and had still had time for a successful career? And since when did people refer to Froese as a “composer”? No disrespect is intended to Froese, but contemporary musicians in the popular mould work under a rather different paradigm, and the word “composer” hardly seems an appropriate label. Did the Icke-man actually bother to check who had written Hyperprism? He says he transcribed Zappa’s words from a cassette recording of the broadcast; did he not also listen to the music? How could you mistake Varèse for Froese? Electronic music may not have got much better, but it has certainly changed over its history (and Hyperprism is not an electronic piece anyway, as it happens). Oh, and note the way Icke’s Zappa refers to “Froese” in the past tense, as though his life were already over. To the best of my knowledge, Froese is still with us; he certainly was in 1982.

Well, I must say that one of the things that annoy me most is seeing people attribute ignorance and stupidity (or worse) to someone else rather than to perform a few simple checks. For example, I just typed “hyperprism edgar” into Google, and the first ten hits mentioned Edgar Varèse (and I didn’t even look at the second page!). So it is not hard. I carry no brief for Zappa, but why assume he was talking through his arse when checking the facts would be the work of a moment?

Icke, you’re an ickhead! And those who uncritically followed him are, if anything, worse.

Original Sin

When I was a child, some time in prehistory, an aunt gave me a bible. If she wanted to influence me to grow up Christian as a result of reading it, she made a big mistake. I was instead appalled by the stupidity of its content.

In particular, it seemed to me grossly unfair that Adam and Eve’s descendants were supposed to suffer because they listened to the voice of the serpent and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

In fact it seemed stupid that Adam and Eve themselves were punished for eating of the fruit. If the fruit really did give them knowledge of good and evil, then presumably, before they ate it, they didn’t know it would be wrong to do so. What sort of God would punish them for that?

jeudi 21 mai 2009

Let sleeping dogs lie?

More murder...! Sorry, but....

It has recently been reported that a Mr Anthony Sherna has been charged with murder after allegedly strangling his de-facto partner, Ms Susanne Wild, because the later had stormed in and shouted at him, waking his pet dog Hubble, which, in accordance with his regular nightly practice, he had been nursing to sleep.

Here is some of what his defence counsel had to say about it:
But Defence lawyer Jane Dixon SC said Sherna's reaction to Ms Wild "storming in and shouting at him" was sudden and unplanned.

She said it had followed "years of harassment, intimidation and abuse".

"Nothing he did was ever right," Ms Dixon told the court.

She said the couple had no friends, never socialised and never went on holidays or to restaurants.

I don’t know why people in abusive relationships don’t just leave. It would be a lot simpler.

I mainly included this one lest anyone think I had some kind of bias against female murderers or women who use bullshit to justify their actions. We all need to take responsibility for what we do, regardless of what we have between our legs.

samedi 16 mai 2009

"He slipped and fell onto the knife..."

Now here’s an interesting story from the New Zealand Herald.

A prostitute has been convicted of murdering her lover/client for his “infidelity”. Now that’s a remarkable piece of hypocrisy in itself. This woman was working as a prostitute, and complains that her lover was seeing prostitutes. Well, I wonder whether she ever refused a would-be client because he had a girlfriend, fiancée or wife...or was seeing another prostitute?

Anyway, there is one passage that really takes the biscuit:
Here, the stories diverge. According to police, she plunged the knife into Shadbolt’s chest, penetrating his heart and lungs. That wound alone would have been fatal, but she stabbed him eight more times in the back, the throat, the torso, shoulder and arms.

According to Neale’s defence, Shadbolt came running at her with his arms out, screaming obscenities, but slipped on the wet floor and fell on Neale’s knife. Neale, now 39, has directed her defence lawyer, Barry Hart, to appeal [against] her conviction.
OK, so he rushed at her screaming obscenities, but slipped and fell on the knife. Then what happened? He got up again, and slipped and fell on the knife again...eight more times?

You have to wonder at the mentality of the writers and sub-editors at the paper. The whole story, from the headline (“Squalid end to ad man's high life”) to the last sentence ([quoting the convict’s mother] “Dionne wants people to know she wasn't just a prostitute”—as if anybody could be “just a prostitute” or “just a translator”), seems calculated to paint the woman in a sympathetic light and vilify her victim. The guy sounds like a bit of a loser, even allowing for some licence on the part of the writers, but murder is murder and what he is alleged to have done to provoke it was hardly any kind of a threat to her. It’s a grubby little story involving two grubby little people, and it’s very hard to feel any sympathy for either of them.

And another thing: I hate lazy writers who leave out prepositions. You appeal against a decision; you don’t “appeal a decision”.

Oh, by the way, I assure you it is only coïncidence that my first two postings involve sleazy sex stories and a woman as the principal bullshitter. I will try to strike a balance over time.

vendredi 15 mai 2009

Who is this Matthew Johns anyway?

Recently, there has been a big stink in the Australian media about an incident of no obvious consequence that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand, 7 years (!) ago.

A woman has recently (11 May 2005) alleged in an interview on the television program “Four Corners” that in 2002, at the age of 19, she engaged in group sex with something over half of the Cronulla Rugby League team. (Rugby League, for those who don’t know, is the mainstream football code in New South Wales and Queensland, and is generally regarded as the most violent and dangerous of the recognized football codes. I am not sure where Cronulla is, but I assume it’s a suburb of Sydney.)

I should mention that the “Four Corners” report includes the following disclaimer:
SARAH FERGUSON: Four Corners doesn’t say that what took place in room 21 of the Racecourse hotel was sexual assault.

In fact, the report contained no allegation that the sexual activity was anything other than consensual. It seems the woman complained to the New Zealand police, who investigated the incident, even despatching officers to Australia to interview the players, and came to the conclusion that no crime had been committed.

So what’s the big deal? The incident was apparently consensual, and was investigated at the time by the NZ police, who took it seriously enough to fly no fewer than five officers across the Tasman to interview the “suspects”. In other words, a few people got up to some kinky sex in a hotel room seven years ago. There is absolutely no cause for public alarm or for invasive scrutiny of the sordid details of assorted people’s sex lives. Unfortunately, however, the “official” reaction has been quite predictable in its hysteria.

As a result of these allegations, which are apparently not new (the “Four Corners” story refers to “Four minutes of news footage” on the incident, followed by a denial, at the time), one of the players (now retired) involved, Matthew Johns (whom I had previously never heard of), is no longer working either as assistant coach of another team or in his television gig on the Nine Network. Another player, Brett Firman (also unknown to me until a couple of days ago), was also named in the Four Corners report, although little has been heard about him since. As at the time of writing, no other participants have owned up or been fingered explicitly, although a few members of the team at the time have denied being involved.

Quite apart from Mr Johns’s employers—a sporting club and a television network—political leaders of all stripes have weighed in with their pompous populist posturings. A favourite theme has been, quelle surprise, “respect for women”, as in the first three examples below.

  • The (Labor Party) prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying:
    It’s very plain that it’s very important for sporting organisations across the country to show leadership in demonstrating proper respect towards women

  • Similarly, a junior minister and former heavyweight on ABC (a government-subsidized broadcaster) current affairs (which produces the “Four Corners” show), Maxine McKew, apparently also pushed the “respect” barrow, insisting that “Every player has to start thinking about respect for women”.

  • Not to be outdone, the federal sports minister, Kate Ellis, is quoted as saying “ This is not respectful behaviour.” She threw in a few other words like degrading, offensive and predatory, according to the report, adding for good measure a call for more women in sporting-club hierarchies.

Now, I don’t really want to bag these political leaders on the basis of quotes attributed to them. After all, it is not infrequent for public figures to be misquoted, or quoted out of context. But the topic of “respect” is pretty prominent in the public discussions too. Well, I have news for all you people: as repugnant as it may seem, the concept of “respect” also includes respecting a person’s right to engage in sexual activity you might not approve of.

Now, to continue with the litany of political leaders falling over themselves to prove how stupid, opportunistically populist or both they can be:
  • Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, of the Greens, is quoted as saying “We need to stamp out the sleaziness, the thuggery and the violence.”
Well, if this incident is what she means by “sleaziness”, it is simply not a matter for public concern, and she should keep the fuck out of it. As for thuggery and violence, they are an integral part of the game of Rugby League, and her statement, if accurately reported, is little more than a call to “stamp out” the sport itself. That would be no sad thing in itself, except that conventional wisdom has it that, without the outlet of organized team sports, the cretins would revert to gang warfare or worse.

  • Another former ABC journalist, Prue Goward, now a Liberal (read conservative) state MP in New South Wales, is quoted as describing the other players involved, whose names have so far not been made public, as “cowards”, and calling for them to step forward or be “outed” by their club.

This is about as stupid a comment as any that have been made by public figures, and that really is saying something. After seeing what happened to Mr Johns, what person in his right mind would identify himself voluntarily? At the risk of labouring the obvious, what consenting adults do in the relative privacy of a hotel room is simply not a legitimate matter of public concern. So they are under no moral obligation to identify themselves, and common prudence requires that they refrain.

The response of sporting officialdom has been predictably craven. We have already noted that Mr Johns is at least temporarily out of his coaching job. Rather than rejecting Goward’s demands with the contempt they deserve and telling her to mind her own god-damned business, Cronulla chairman Barry Pierce has apparently pleaded (see here) that:
There is simply not enough information at our disposal to avoid the risk of implicating those whose only involvement was to be on the same tour, in the same hotel or who entered a room unwittingly and walked away without understanding what was going on [...].

It would be incredibly damaging to an ex-player or staff member to be named who had nothing to do with the incident.

It might be pretty damaging to the ones who were involved, too. What we are talking about here is a consensual gang-bang, not the Gunpowder Plot. By making excuses for not naming the players, Pierce is implicitly accepting that that he and his club should do so.

Surreally, Mr Pierce is also said (in the same article) to have called on the other players involved in the incident to apologize. Apologize? For what? “I’m sorry you changed your mind after the event”, maybe?

So both major political parties and at least one minor party, the sporting hierarchy and the media are all in on it. And they have all displayed both intellectual and moral bankruptcy. The simple fact that this incident, sordid though it may have been, was a consensual non-crime committed in the distant past and best forgotten, has not been advanced by any public figure that I am aware of.

I don’t suppose you can expect the “muddied oafs at the goals” (Rudyard Kipling) to give up their addiction to oafish behaviour any time soon, or the greater and more cretinous part of the public to give up their prurient, grubby-minded interest in the sex lives of prominent people, or those who govern us to pass up an opportunity to appeal to the lowest common denominator with a bit of cretinous pseudo-moralistic populist grandstanding, but maybe the media, particularly the publicly-owned media, could show a little voluntary responsibility. In Australia, there seems to be a reasonably well-respected convention not to report on the sex lives of politicians, unless these somehow become relevant (e.g., if a defence minister’s lover were reasonably suspected of being a foreign agent). Maybe that could be extended to others? Well, there is not much hope with the commercial stations, which are, by definition, well, commercial, and can always be relied upon to behave contemptibly, but this “story” was dragged up and rehashed by the ABC, the government-owned network. I for one object to my taxes being spent on such irresponsible sensationalism.

There have also been news stories, which I consider below, prompting questions as to the woman’s character. She is said to have bragged about the incident for several days before reporting it to the police, and also about an earlier incident the previous night involving two rugby players in a public toilet. (For those who don’t know, rugby, also known as Rugby Union, is a different game from Rugby League, and is the mainstream football code in New Zealand and South Africa.)

Of course, this story has been the subject of a lot of discussion on Internet fora, including the “Comments” facility on Yahoo! News. Basically, there seem to be two schools of thought:
  • Any woman who voluntarily partakes in this sort of activity is a slut/whore (and little attention is paid to the fundamental difference here) and deserves what she gets.

  • Any man, or group of men, taking part in this sort of activity with a woman, consenting or not, is failing to respect her (or women in general), taking advantage of her, and is a rapist (again regardless of consent).

These views are in a sense natural complements of one another, and both of them equally cretinous. As I have already mentioned, respect for a person includes respecting his or her right to self-determination, even if we happen to find their decisions stupid or abhorrent. Neither of the above two views takes that simple concept seriously. In the case of the first one, this is obvious. For the second, if men are to be prevented from indulging in (consensual) gang-bangs, then this also takes away the woman’s right to decide whether or not to consent to the activity. The decision is already made for her.

Another consideration, which has been raised in online fora, concerns the effect on genuine rape victims. To assimilate consensual sexual activity that one happens to consider degrading to rape is to trivialize rape. Rape is one of the most serious crimes, and rightly so. Group sex between consenting adults in private, equally rightly, is not a crime at all. If you equate the two, you are not only exaggerating the seriousness of the latter, but you are making light of the former. Let us not forget that, abhorrent and incongruous as it may seem, there are still states in which rape victims are punished along with the perpetrators. This shows where ignoring the question of consent can lead.

I think that questions about the woman’s character are only relevant to the extent that they reflect on her credibility. However, it seems that there is no doubt that the incident occurred. Mr Johns made what Four Corners described as a “pre-emptive apology” on what used to be his television show (“The Footy Show”). Allegations of non-consent do not appear to have received a public airing; so the exact details are irrelevant (and would in any case, with the best will in the world, be subject to remarkably inconsistent recall by the participants). If the woman were to allege non-consent, of course, her behaviour as reported would put serious doubts over her credibility. And, as a late update, I would add that I found the following quote in the Courier Mail’s site:
Johns and Brett Firman confirmed having sex with the woman; Daniel Ninness said he was in the room but did not see any sexual acts; and Luke Branighan was named by Channel 9 as being rejected by the woman.

Maybe Luke Branighan the one we should be feeling sorry for, or maybe Daniel Ninness, who apparently suffers from night blindness. In any case, picking and choosing is hardly indicative of non-consent, is it?

What really shows that she is beneath contempt is not her alleged bragging about her sexual activities with footballers, but her own stated reasons for going public:
SARAH FERGUSON: Why speak now?

CLARE: I wanted at least their wives or girlfriends to know what they had done at the very least, yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: Why did you want them to know?

CLARE: Part of me wanted them to know because I was so angry and I wanted their lives destroyed like mine was and part of me wanted them to know so that they could go and meet the better people that wouldn’t treat them like that yep.

SARAH FERGUSON: What do you think about those people now?

CLARE: What, if I had a gun I’d shoot them right now. (Crying) I hate them, they’re disgusting. I want them dead. I hate them so much when I think about them, but I don’t think about them.

So what we have is sheer bloody-minded revenge and literally bloody revenge fantasies, fuelled by liberal doses of self-pity. Self-pity is a very unattractive emotion at the best of times, but is positively loathsome when predicated on a refusal to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.

It hardly bears saying that blaming the incident described or the players involved for her obviously lamentable mental condition is absurd. People have huge differences in sexual mores. There are those who might regard the incident as described as good clean (or not-so-clean) fun. Good for them. There are others who might regard it with total abhorrence and revulsion. Good for them too. But someone who willingly engages in sexual behaviour that they then proceed to spend the next four to five years brooding over, and which they allege “destroyed” their lives, is obviously already a long way down the slippery slope of self-destruction.

The woman is obviously in serious difficulty. Revenge fantasies and “media therapy” à la Ricki Lake are not the answer. She should get a grip on herself, and if that’s too hard, she could try counselling or psychotherapy.

As a final disclaimer, I would add that it is at least conceivable that the report avoided all mention of allegations of non-consent to avoid defamation suits, and that the woman has actually made such claims. If she has made such claims, and there is any substance to them, then it doesn’t reflect very creditably on the conduct of the NZ police investigation. In that, highly speculative and hypothetical, case, the rôle of the police in the (hypothetical) cover-up should have been a major focus of the report, but it was not even discussed. It was mentioned that the police had investigated, but there was no comment on the thoroughness, impartiality or efficiency of their inquiries. If that really was an issue, it should have been addressed; if not, the whole story is a non-event.

Welcome to the new blog

Hello. I have been stung into action, if writing can be called action, by the amount of bullshit that is being allowed to go unchallenged in the public arena lately. My first posting will be about a stupid news story in Australia: allegations of “group sex” involving several members of a sporting team—seven years ago—and the career repercussions for one of the players involved, the only one to receive much attention so far.

However, I am not primarily interested in either sport or sex. It just happens that this story, out of many that have been infuriating me lately, was the last straw. So I am starting with it. I hope to post about other issues as I have time and motivation.