Let’s face it – English is a crazy language

A couple of days ago, I received a funny e-mail about how crazy the English language is. Whether you are a professional translator, a technical writer, or a translation manager, I’m sure you will find the following e-mail amusing.

“Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race. You lovers of the English language might enjoy this. There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is UP. It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends and we brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has a real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special. A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take a lot of time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred more.  One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, so … it is time to shut UP! Now it’s UP to you what to do with this e-mail.”

Phrasal verbs are just one of the difficulties that English presents to translation professionals. I remember a translator telling me, “If English didn’t have this awkward habit of making a verb out of every noun, I could be much faster with my translations!” One day I experienced the difficulty myself, spending a few hours just to find the translation of the word “shingle” into Italian, which was used both as a name and a verb within the same sentence.

What can you do about it?

  1. Rely on professional translators only.
  2. Trust them to deliver the best possible translations, even when the end product looks very different from the original file.
  3. Think about translations when you’re writing your source (here’s a link to a checklist with some writing for translation tips).
  4. Have fun with English paradoxes and share them with us!

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