The Irish experience
… as I was saying, one of the problems with dictionaries is that they are out of date as soon as they are published. [Take that out of your mouth, María, and get back down to the kitchen – it looks likes he’s back in business. And put your clothes back on as well – Ed.] Take the word ‘gay’, for example: visit a nineteenth-century dictionary, or any number of folk songs, and you will find that the entry for ‘gay’ (Oh, er, Missus!) is sitting there innocently with no foreknowledge that it is on the cusp of becoming embroiled in some below-the-belt business. Now have a look at the listing for ‘gay’ in a contemporary dictionary. Finished? Did you scroll all the way down? If you did, you will have noticed, I’m sure, that nowhere in that definition did you find what my children mean when they use the word. (I suppose they are mine, but I have only my Part-Time Wife’s word for that, and I still suspect that I should get the DNA test done just to be sure before I rewrite the Will in their favour: no point in leaving my shed-loads of moolah to strangers, is there? I am not Bill Gates, after all. And neither is he the Anti-Christ.) When any of the resident, indigenous teenagers spouts the phrase, “That’s a bit gay!” they intend no reference to the sexual proclivities of the subject under discussion, nor to its merriness or wantonness. The phrase covers a multitude of sins, as does gayness in its other meaning, but, in general, it conveys the meaning that whatever is under discussion is not an activity, or attitude, or look they would advocate themselves and is something that all right-thinking people should disapprove of. I suppose we will have to wait for the publication of a mid-21st century dictionary to get a definitive definition of what ‘gay’ means for modern teenagers, or what it used to mean because, by the time it is published, that future definition will be out of date, as I said at the start.
Wittgenstein is germane here, but I will leave you do to your own research on that – you cannot expect me to spoon-feed youse everything! Oh, all right then, here’s a link, but only cos I have been off a couple of days and am feeling generous. [How’s your shoulder? – Ed.] (None the better for you constantly looking over it – me) On that point, it would seem from the pic of the stats at the top of this post, that I was not greatly missed: the viewing figures, for a reason beyond the ken of the non-existent Marketing Manager of the blog, appeared to increase on the days when I did not in fact post a daily blog – are there lessons to be learned from that? (As for that other Ken, any news? This is a private family query and if you are not a member of a private family, kindly remove yourself from these brackets.)
Which brings me neatly round to one of the other problems with dictionaries. (There is actually an underlying structure to these posts, but I will leave that for future literary critics to discuss and reveal.) To wit [to woo? – Ed.] that unless they were to run to several thousand printed or interwobbled pages, dictionaries will always fail to provide enough detail about context for each of the entries in them. This is true of L1 to L1 dictionaries, but it is particularly dangerous for L1 to L2 dictionaries, or for the users thereof. (Do I have to? All right, L1 to L1 is, for example, an English dictionary that gives definitions, in English, of English words; L1 to L2 is, for example, an Irish-French dictionary that provides French equivalents of words in the Irish language. Oh, while I’m in here, right-thinking people is in italics up there because a) I had some money left over in the italics budget cos I was off for a few days with my shoulder, and b) because, in Norn Iron, it is used by Protestants public figures as a euphemism for ‘Protestants’ – and you will not find that definition in any dictionary.)
Take, or look at, or consider, the word “experience” in this context, ie for the poor, bottom-feeding Irish translator whose work then enjoys the privilege of being firmly, but fondly, caressed by my editorial eye. (I told you there was an underlying structure; see title of this post.) He will get away with using the Irish word taithí most times, but not all times. It is not always correct because you can have taithí of something without having actually learned anything from having had the taithí. For that shade of maning of experience, the translator should – but rarely does – employ the phrase ciall cheannaithe, which literally means ‘bought sense’. And the point about that is that I cannot buy it for you; you have to spend the money, or effort, yourself in order to learn from the experience. Under very few circumstances should the translator choose the Irish word eispéireas, but that is invariably what they do when seeking to translate the word ‘experience’ as used in the almost compulsory description of tourist activities, when we used to have tourist activities: the Viking Experience, the Arigna Experience, the Hunger Striker Experience. (Any tourists interested in that last one, give the Finance Director a call and she will send you out a – small – package in the post for a – large – fee.) This stems from a common failure among translators, namely their inability to use a dictionary, or in some cases, to even think about using a dictionary. The Irish word eispéireas only means ‘experience’ in the strict meaning it has in the realm of philosophy, and it states that much in the dictionary entry for it. Maybe the dictionary is out of date, you say? Well done, Smart Boy, but until its successor is published, the red pen is staying out for that one.
In general though, and in Major Major (that one’s for you, Hazel, although you are not reading), you will find that your ciall cheannaithe is only of use to you: if you try to pass it on, you will come up against one of the other great barriers to human advancement, that being the inability of about 83.7% of the World’s population to listen. To anything, never mind good advice.
It’s good to be back in Boston. Youse can stop reading now.