All posts by John Farrow

The eloquence of Harry Smith

This very moving speech was given at the recent Labour Party Conference by 91 year-old Harry Smith. A man who grew up in poverty and has experienced the terrible misery and suffering it can bring.

He is a very eloquent speaker and many of the audience were in tears at the end of his speech. The use of language is stupendous.

How easy it is to take the NHS or the Swedish health service for granted!

I try not to. It’s an simple fact for me that my daughter, who was operated on at the age of three days, would not be alive today were it not for the extraordinary skill of the medical staff at Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital. And the fact that the medical care was provided completely free of charge.

Every school kid should get a chance to see this. Forget all the other nonsense on YouTube that goes viral overnight!

Here’s a sprightly old geezer from Lancashire (Gary’s home county) with something very important to say.

Hats off to Bio Reflexen in Kärrtorp!

Talk about quality of life!

I had a five minute walk yesterday evening to Reflexen, our fabulous local fleapit here in Kärrtorp to see their Monday evening film. It’s run by volunteers so ticket prices are low and the films are chosen with great care. Little popcorn and coke here. Instead we get home-made cakes and coffee.

How lucky we are to have them!

There’s a strong community spirit in the southern suburbs. The very admirable Linje 17 get a lot of headlines, but I take my hat off to those enthusiastic volunteers at Reflexen who make it possible for local people, both young and old, to see quality films in their hood.

And what an amazing film we saw! Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life. British cinema of world class.

Eddie Marsan gives the performance of a lifetime. He is a council worker struggling to give the funerals of people who have died alone some dignity and respect.

Here’s an interview with the director Uberto Pasolini. Only his second film as director!…

Low-key, melancholic, restrained, very amusing and extremely moving. If it was music it would be a chamber piece in a minor key.

Not many car chases, explosions or alien invasions in this one!
See it!

Lively times in Lund

Recently , my colleague Gary Watson did a language training course for LKF, a housing company in Lund in the south of Sweden. As part of the training, I rang up each of the participants and asked them to explain a little about the housing market in their area.

My mental picture of Lund is a green, slightly sleepy university town, not dissimilar to Oxford and Cambridge. Lots of students on bicycles, lively coffee bars etc. Lund University is one of the oldest in the country.

Founded in 1666, it was an attempt to re-Swedify Skåne. The southern part of Sweden had been under Danish control until the Treaty of Roskilde. Fans of Kurt Wallander will know that the Swedish spoken down there sounds far more like Danish than the posh version we speak in Stockholm.

The university may be ancient but it is certainly cutting edge when it comes to technology. The LKF people explained to me about a massive new research building project: the MAX IV Lab and the ESS (European Spaliation Source). A spanking new, next-generation, synchrotron radiation facility and a new, state-of-the-art European facility for materials research that are currently being built.

The local community are very excited about this project. It will bring a lot of new jobs to the area and attract top class researchers from all over the world. I drove past the area last summer and was very impressed by the futuristic design, but at that point had no idea what it was. Now I do and I’m even more impressed.

You can read more about it on the university website:

In the capital they may be loathe to admit it, but the area around the Öresund Bridge is one of the most dynamic in Sweden these days.

The rather fabulous Watson housing vocabulary Swedish -English dictionary

Far be it from us to brag, but there can be few people in Sweden who have such an in-depth knowledge of housing vocabulary in both English and Swedish as we do.

I’m not bad. I know words like door, wall, window, cat poo and roof. My esteemed colleague Gary Watson knows words like: cohabitee (medboende), debt recovery officer (inkassohandledare), confirmation of termination (uppsägningsbekräftelse) and urban area (tätort).

Impressed? You ought to be!

We’ve even created a Swedish- English – Swedish dictionary in collaboration with our business partners at SABO. What’s particularly clever about it, is that is constantly snowballing. Every time we do a new course with people working in the municipal housing sector, we add any new words that they mention. This means that it is absolutely up-to-date with developments in that sector such as recycling. A simple but very effective tool.

If you are interested in the list, please drop us a mail.

“Hunted by dogs!” Devised by chimpanzees?

What has man’s best friend done to deserve this?

Gary and I are great dog-lovers.  We are therefore  far less than pleased to read about the idiotic new TV3 reality show Jagad av hundar (Hunted by dogs) in which young people go off in search of a treasure. And then get hunted down by dogs. Which chimpanzees thought that one up?

I do have one consolation. When Swedish dog-owners get wind of this they are quite rightly going to go ballistic.  Not a group to be messed with. Now there’s a great idea for a dramatic TV show:  Hounded by Dog-owners. A group of TV executives in search of a quick buck get hunted down by some very irate  ladies from Östermalm and their pooches. Definitely not suitable for family viewing!

I tried to get a reaction from Gary’s pooch Cazpar on this latest TV show. He just slinked off to his basket.  Far too dignified to even waste his time with a comment.

The Full Monty? The tribulations of translating film titles

Do you remember The Full Monty, that wonderful 1997 British comedy about the six unemployed Sheffield steel workers who became male strippers? Here in Sweden it was called Allt eller inget.

The original title is quite impossible to translate. “The full Monty” is an expression means going the whole way, giving it everything you’ve got. The works. The full nine yards.

Nobody quite knows where  the expression comes from. Perhaps from Field Marshal Montgomery who enjoyed enormous breakfasts with all the trimmings? Perhaps from a tailor called Montague Burton who sewed suits for men leaving the army and gave his all to the ask?

It was hilarious to read that when it was released in China it was called Six naked pigs!

Rather a lot got lost in translation!

I discovered this interesting fact from this list of the 50 funniest movie titles

There are some other real gems:

I’m drunk and you’re a prostitute. (Leaving Las Vegas – Japan)
It’s raining falafel (It’s raining meatballs – Israel)
Urban Neurotic (Annie Hall – Germany and Austria)
The teeth from the sea (Jaws – France). That makes it sound the story of someone who’s lost their false teeth while having a dip.

There are lots of  rather amusing lists of poorly translated film titles out there on the internet.

But translating film and book titles is no enviable task for the poor translator. The new title has not only got to be accurate but also sound right in the new language. It also needs to appeal to the potential audience. You Swedes for some reason love film titles which include the word “dangerous”.

Polyglots can hours of fun looking through the “Also known as” section in IMDB. Here is what happened to Jaws

The Swedish title of the first Millenium novel, Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women) would, I suspect, never have been as internationally successful as The girl with the dragon tattoo. The original sounds like a newspaper headline, the latter suggestive and interesting.

There’s a new comedy out here about a Finnish man who desperately wants to be Swedish: Hallonbåtsflyktingen. It seems that the English title will be The Raspberry Boat Refugee. Not a bad title. It’s accurate and makes you curious. What it can’t possibly do is let you know that the raspberry boats are a kind of sweet associated in many people’s mind with the ferries between Sweden and Finland. Put the word sweet into the title and it just doesn’t work so well.

Titles that involve a pun are a real pig. The importance of being Earnest was Oscar Wilde sticking his tongue at the over-seriousness of his contemporaries. At the time there were many tracts and pamphlets urging moral behavior.

There are some stinkers of course, but also those times when you think the translator got it just right.

I rather like “Indigo Blue” for Michel “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Gondry’s adaptation of Boris Vian’s novel “L’épume des jours,” It’s the title of a Duke Ellington tune which features significantly in the film. “The froth of days”, the literal translation, would just not have got bums on seats.

Working with translation yourself, makes you realise,  just how difficult this sort of thing is.

So,  Six Naked Pigs? No,  I don’t think so!

One sentence can ruin everything

Astonishing, isn’t it? Organisations and companies spend a lot of money on producing something like an attractive brochure or website in a foreign language to promote themselves. But never give a thought to getting someone who speaks the language (like Gary and me!) to read through the text and check for mistakes and howlers.

I liken it to someone who has spent a lot of dosh on a nice suit to make a good impression, but hasn’t noticed that they have a large stain on their tie. The person they are meeting spends all the time looking at the stain and doesn’t notice anything else.

And the more perfect everything else is, the more that stain is going to stand out

My pal, Steve gave me a great example of this. A few years back he was visiting a delightful Austrian hotel with its own farm. The hotel manager was (quite rightly) very proud. He showed Steve the new brochure they’d just had printed.

It was a top-notch job. Until he started reading it that is. One sentence really stuck in his throat. The hotel was very proud of serving their own farm produce in the restaurant. They’d written:

“All the farm animals are personally slaughtered by the staff.”

Oops! The cosiness suddenly disappeared out of the window. Instead of an alpine idyll, the place suddenly felt a Tyrolean remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Something more neutral was needed. “All the produce served here is produced on our own farm” would have done nicely.

Unless your name is Norman Bates, “slaughter” is just not a word you want to see in a hotel brochure!

Medalling with the English language?

English is a very versatile language which offers great scope for creativity. One example of this is making new verbs out of nouns.

We heard two examples of this from the sporting world recently involving the nouns medal and podium. Several athletes at the Commonwealth Games were heard to make comments like this:

I’m really hoping to medal today.

She’s got a good chance to podium in this event.

New usages but both immediately comprehensible.

Scotland: Should they stay or should they go?

It’s a momentous day for the UK today as the Scots go to the polls for the referendum on independence. Governments in other parts of Europe are watching very nervously. Could this start a trend? Catalonia, the Basque Country, Brittany……. Öland and Gotland: where will it all end?

Just to help you understand here is a rather bizarre Taiwanese animation!

What will the papers say tomorrow? Here are some not terribly serious but rather amusing predictions:

The sinful life of Utah homophones

kneel/ Neil, bury/berry, whore/hoar, flour/flower, cellar/seller, earnest/Ernest

Homophones: words that sound the same but are spelt differently and mean two different things. They often crop up in jokes. Not to mention the title of Oscar Wilde’s play which poked fun at the seriousness of his time: The Importance of Being Ernest.

Here’s the sad but true tale of an unfortunate language teacher in Utah who got sacked for writing on the school website about homophones. The school did not want to be associated with gay sex!
I just wonder how their biology teacher refers to the species to which we belong.
It could have been worse. Thank heavens he didn’t mention the devil’s own word category: sin-onyms. They’d have burnt him at the stake!