Translatable but Debatable
If you’re someone who sees קול קורא and immediately thinks of קול קורא למאמרים, then — that too, but not only that. If anyone wants to write a guest column for Translatable but Debatable, I’ll be glad to consider it. But I’d also like to talk about other uses of the phrase קול קורא, having no connection to a call for submissions or a call for articles.
I was given a political broadside to translate, signed by a small number of like-thinking citizens who urged the government to heed their advice. The title of the thing was קול קורא, which makes a great deal of sense in Hebrew, particularly considering the mention in Isaiah 40:3 of “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This is a voice with something important to tell the nation.
But how do you translate that simple title into English? The writers, like everyone with an opinion in this country, were quite sure of themselves. A title like An Appeal or A Cry would sound too needy. But A Call would be broadly ambiguous; there are too many different kinds of calls — phone calls, bird calls, social calls.
Strictly speaking, when a person or a movement presents its principles and encourages the government in particular and the nation in general to recognize their validity, what it has written is a manifesto. Unfortunately, readers of English are strongly accustomed to seeing the word manifesto preceded by Communist. And if it isn’t Communist, it’s Unabomber. I don’t think there’s ever been anything called a manifesto that pleased the mainstream English-speaking community.
When a number of people sign a document urging a course of action on someone, that document can be called a petition. But a petition regarding political policy (as opposed to a legal petition, for example) usually attempts to impress the government by force of numbers — a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand signatures. In the case I had at hand, as far as I know, the general public wasn’t even invited to sign. Anyway, a writer of Hebrew who wants to say petition says עצומה rather than קול קורא.
The Romans used to write SPQR — to the Senate and Populace of Rome. Maybe I should have translated קול קורא as KPQI. But that looks like an American radio station.
As I said to begin with, you can write me if you’d like to do a guest column. You can also write to suggest a topic and let me do the work. You can comment on the current column’s topic, קול קורא, in the space below, but please don’t use that space for digressions. My e-mail address is ]]