Translatable but Debatable
“Caring” appears a lot as a translation of ichpatiut. But “caring” doesn’t always work. You can say you want an honest, caring leader, but you can’t say you want a leader with honesty and caring. The word “caringness” suggests itself, and it does get some usage. But no traditional dictionary seems to include it.
When we say “Isn’t it a shame?” the remark is commonly just an exclamation, not a question to be thought about. If the neighbor’s dog is struck by lightning, we might say “Isn’t it a shame?” but we wouldn’t say Lo khaval? The Hebrew implies that the misfortune could have been prevented, or could be prevented in the future.
Here’s a word that is not only difficult to translate but unpleasant to discuss and impossible to transliterate well.
There was a movie monster called The Blob, which would nourish itself and grow by absorbing into itself whatever animal life it encountered, and I think of the mechil person as resembling The Blob but in a good way, wisely accepting events and people and growing wiser by that acceptance.
Among Babylon’s definitions of hegiakh is “appear suddenly,” which reminds me that more than once in my technical writing career I saw the word “appear” criticized when applied to items that pop up on the computer screen. People would complain that “appear” is a word for magicians, not for sober programmers and users. I never saw the point of the complaint.
The other day, I was translating some Hebrew that referred to something as “worth about as much as a garlic peel.” It’s a common expression in Hebrew, but I’ve never heard it in English. Still, I thought, it’s self-explanatory and expressions do pass from one language into another all the time.
For the catchphrase describing Menachem Begin’s supply-side economic policies, I find various translations on the web: to make good to the people, to benefit the people, to do well by the people, to let the people enjoy, and more.
If something or someone is described as being down on the ground and I see the verb lirbotz, often I think “Why didn’t the writer just say lishkav, to lie? Did he have anything special in mind, or is he simply disdaining to use everyday language and forcing me to find a pompous equivalent?”
If in context the verb l’hitnossess refers to something flapping or fluttering high like a flag, or hovering, so much the better for the translation, because it’s hard to translate the concept of just sitting still up there.
Merriam-Webster takes an example of prolepsis from a poem by Alexander Pope where “yon slow oxen turn the furrowed plain.” The plain isn’t furrowed until they’ve turned it. Some organizations hold a “lessons learned” meeting at the end of a project, and if everyone had learned the lessons already, the meeting wouldn’t be necessary. So that’s prolepsis too.
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