Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reply All

In the morning, while brewing my coffee, I use my phone to look at the emails that have arrived in my work account overnight. Generally there are about a dozen, most of them from automated jobs. In most cases, I can judge from the subject line whether I can delete the email or must read it and follow up.

Friday morning, there were about 370 emails. After I read a few, I understood what had happened. Somebody at NetApp, which makes the storage units we use, had sent out a bulletin using the CC field rather than the BCC field. A few techies sent out a reply to all, and then more sent replies to ask what was going on, or to ask others to quit replying. One ordinarily imagines techies as understanding the pitfalls of using Reply All; and perhaps we are less apt to do so, but for a sufficiently large mailing list it doesn't take a large percentage to create this sort of storm.

The incident did show the ubiquity of NetApp gear. I saw replies in French, Italian, Russian, German, and perhaps would have found more languages still if I hadn't been in a hurry to get rid of them. A young and mobile systems administrator could have built up a list of organizations to apply to, and perhaps of responsible parties within them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Doing It Yourself

Last Saturday's New York Times had a picture of the inaugural guests and functionaries gathered at the west front of the Capitol. It caught my eye because of the remarkable number of guests who appeared to be taking cell phone pictures or videos: on the left side of the picture, I counted about 25 out of about 150. On the right side, there seemed to be a few more guests but fewer cell phones. I did notice that none of the clerics, robed justices, or military officers appeared to have phone in hand.

I find it hard to imagine anything more thoroughly photographed and filmed than an American presidential inauguration Cell phone and tablet cameras have improved remarkably over the last decade. But can the quality compare with what a professional gets from his gear?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

He Bears No Grudges

Not long ago, I read The Nichomachean Ethics, which I hadn't read through before. A couple of passages in Book IV caught my attention. On the Perseus website, they run
[The great-souled man] is not prone to admiration, since nothing is great to him. He does not bear a grudge, for it is not a mark of greatness of soul to recall things against people, especially the wrongs they have done you, but rather to overlook them. He is no gossip, for he will not talk either about himself or about another, as he neither wants to receive compliments nor to hear other people run down (nor is he lavish of praise either); and so he is not given to speaking evil himself, even of his enemies, except when he deliberately intends to give offence. In troubles that cannot be avoided or trifling mishaps he will never cry out or ask for help, since to do so would imply that he took them to heart. He likes to own beautiful and useless things, rather than useful things that bring in a return, since the former show his independence more.
The vain on the other hand are foolish persons, who are deficient in self-knowledge and expose their defect: they undertake honorable responsibilities of which they are not worthy, and then are found out. They are ostentatious in dress, manner and so on. They want people to know how well off they are, and talk about it, imagining that this will make them respected.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter Reading

We received a number of books at Christmas. My office was closed between Christmas and New Year's, and I was getting over a cold, so there was plenty of time to read. Three seem particularly worth mentioning.

My son gave me Latin: Story of a World Language by J├╝rgen Leonhardt. This covers the history of Latin, from earliest times until now. It is not philological in its focus, though no doubt Leonhardt can hold his own philologically Rather, it considers what it means for a language to be standardized and to become a world language. There is a snippet of Latin every five pages or so, with translations provided. They begin with "the so-called Duenos inscription, a brief text written on a vase from the sixth century BCE"; this uses a very old form of Latin, old enough that one wrote "duenos" rather than "bonus" (good). They continue through (among others) Cicero, Augustine, Erasmus, and Newton, concluding with Angelina Jolie's abdominal tattoo. Figures show manuscripts and early printings of poetry, plays, and grammars, and depictions of Romans and Latinists. Three long days will serve to read the book. Anyone interested in Latin in particular or languages in general is likely to find it interesting.

A friend gave us a couple of books by Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. We had read many of the pieces when they originally ran in Gourmet magazine. Gourmet is no more and, far worse, neither is Laurie Colwin. Looking through the pieces reminded me how well I liked them when I first read them. It also raised the question whether we ever actually cooked from them. I haven't yet spotted a recipe that I know we have used, though I see a number resembling ones we use now and then. I think that what we enjoyed in her columns was her common-sense, optimistic  approach to cooking. The books are the sort to pick up and dip into as you have free time: there is always the chance of getting the menu for your next dinner.

Friday, January 6, 2017

On Englishing the Bible

From time to time I pick up this or that version of the Bible, and startle at the flabbiness of the translation. It could be St. Matthew, the calling of the apostles in this one, or it could be the Epistle to the Galatians in that. There is a flatness that doesn't seem right. Now and then I speak of this to a friend, who complains also, generally with chapter and verse.

Eventually this put me in mind of  Ronald Knox's book On Englishing the Bible, which I head heard of long ago, and recently I tracked it down. The book is a collection of essays, by-products of the nine or more years that Knox spent in translating the Vulgate, which in part meant discussing his translation with other scholars, and justifying the choices he made. (At the time, the Catholics of the English-speaking world got by with Bishop Challoner's 18th-Century revision of the Douay-Rheims translation of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.)

Knox is persuasive on most of his points, and some of his points are provocative. He writes, for example, that
Unlike the French, the English have always been accustomed to having an archaic Bible. Douay and the Authorized Version were compiled in the time of Shakespeare; but neither was written in the idiom of Shakespeare's time. Read a couple of pages out of any of the comedies, and you will be sensible of it at once. More than three centuries have passed, and as current idiom has changed, 'Bible English' has become a sort of hieratic language; it is old, therefore it is venerable (for it is  a fixed belief in the heart of the ordinary Englishman that 'venerable' means 'old'). Let him beware, then, who proposes to alter it. Let him try to render the sense of of Scripture plainer to us by whatever means he will, but let him adhere (or rather, let him cleave) to the good old-fashioned diction which was good enough for our forefathers, and is still better for us because it is still more old-fashioned.
and elsewhere
It is no use objecting that the Authorized Version is good English. The Authorized Version is good English only because English writers, for centuries, have treated it as the standard of good English.
and again
 Do not be deceived when your friends tell you that they like Bible-English. Of course they do, reading or quoting a few sentences; there is a slow-moving thoroughness about it which conveys a sense of dignity--you get the same in an Act of Parliament. But if they would try to read a chapter on end, which they never do, it would rapidly become tedious, and the attention would begin to wander; why? Because they are reading a foreign language disguised in English dress. Just so, an indifferently translated French book gets you down; en effet is translated 'as a matter of fact' when it ought to be translated 'sure enough'; and d'ailleurs is translated 'anyhow' when it ought to be translated 'if it comes to that'. Your translator is almost imperceptibly failing all the time to hit the nail exactly on the head.
(This is not partisan abuse; Knox has plenty of hard things to say about the old Douay and the not quite as old Challoner versions. But there can hardly be anyone but Catholics over 70 and a handful of scholars who remember even Challoner.)

However, after his discussions of the choices that a translator must constantly make, I am less surprised that there are bad translations as that there any adequate ones. On translations in general:
Two alternatives present themselves at once, the literal and the literary method of translation. Is it to be 'Arms and the man I sing', or is it to be something which will pass for English? If you are translating for the benefit of a person who wants to learn Latin by following the gospel in a Latin missal when it is read out in church, then your 'Arms and the man I sing' is exactly what he wants. If you are translating for the benefit of a person who wants to be able to read the word of God for ten minutes on end without laying it aside in sheer boredom or bewilderment, a literary translation is what you want--and we have been lacking it for centuries.
Anybody who has really tackled the business of translation, at least where the classical languages are concerned, will tell you that the bother is not finding the equivalent for this or that word, it is finding out how to turn the sentence. And about this, the older translators of the Bible took no trouble at all. Take this sentence: 'The Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.' No, do not exclaim against the cumbrousness of Douay; that comes from the Authorized Version.
 Yet words are not that simple, after all:
And now, what of words? Here a consideration comes which is often forgotten. The Bible is usually translated by a syndicate; and the first thing a syndicate does when it gets together is to make sure that all the members of it tell the same story. If you proposed to translate the Aeneid this way, each member of it translating one book, the first item on the Committee's agenda would be, What is going to be our formula for translating the word pius as applied to the hero of the poem? They go away, after agreeing (say) on the word 'dutiful', which does well enough. But if a single man translates the whole of the Aeneid, he very soon realizes that pius takes on a different shade of meaning with each fresh context; now it is 'Aeneas, that dutiful son', now it is 'Aeneas, that admirable host', now it is 'Aeneas, that trained liturgiologist'. The compilers of the Authorized Version evidently did something like that with a word like dikaiosune in the New Testament, or tsedeq in the Old. They could see that Douay's rendering 'justice', was beside the mark nine times out of ten. What they did was to resuscitate a more or less obsolete word, 'right-wiseness', recondition it as 'righteousness', and use that all through the Bible as the equivalent of the tsedeq-dikaiousune idea. It served well enough; but this wooden rendering, constantly recurring in all sorts of different contexts, has resulted all throughout the Authorized Version in a certain flatness, a certain want of grip. You constantly feel that your author is not being allowed to say what he wants to say; his thought is being forced into an artificial mould.
Words are not coins, dead things whose value can be mathematically computed. You cannot quote an exact English equivalent for a French word, as you might quote an exact equivalent for a French coin. Words are living things, full of shades of meaning, full of associations; and what is more, they are apt to change their significance from one generation to the next. The translator who understands his job feels, constantly, like Alice in Wonderland trying to play croquet with flamingoes for mallets and hedgehogs for balls; words are forever eluding his grasp.
On Englishing the Bible is out of print per se. Baronius Press provides it as lagniappe with the Knox translation; though Baronius marks the volume "NOT FOR SALE", some of those who have acquired it will sell it on the used market. In any case, the book is not hard to purchase, whether in the Baronius printing or an older one. I suppose that I should find the Knox translation next.