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In Love with Words


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Monica Scheer photo I have often wondered if there are other people like me that sensually enjoy the single word, enjoy it like a pastry. I have been a translator for 40 years (subtitling for Swedish Television and doing literary translation) so I have had an ongoing love affair with words for many years now.

We are lucky to live in a world with so many words waiting out there to become our friends and companions!
How did it all start? I was fortunate enough to have a father who was passionately interested in words. One of the first foreign words he taught me long before I started school was ORTHOCERATITE. a cephalopod fossil from prehistoric times. And he pointed it out to me, embedded in the limestone steps of our apartment building. I took that word to my heart.

As time went on I learnt several languages (English, French, Italian, Russian, German, and Spanish) and of course that gives you the possibility of getting more darlings to love (not to kill—that's for the writers!). I return to the theme of sensuality: To me, translating English is like eating a loaf of bread, whereas French and Italian taste like pastries. And Russian...the hardest of them all, but such great fun!

So much for languages, now for the words. Or "Now for something completely different," as my favorites, Monty Python, would put it.

I will start with one of the English examples, that I think of nearly every morning. When I make my tea I use a heart-shaped metallic tea strainer, fitted with a little chain used for removing the strainer from the hot liquid without burning yourself. When I let my tea-filled strainer down into the empty pot, the chain is supposed to remain on the outside. But very often it is mischievous and disappears entirely into the pot. And I have to get it out!

To prevent this, every time I let the strainer down, I say to myself : "Stay PUT." I find these two words together are simply delicious, especially the "put," which underlines the perfectiveness of the action, somewhat like a Russian perfective verb. I feel a slight click somewhere near my heart every time I think "put." But I must admit, this form of incantation doesn't always work!

At the beginning of my subtitling career, in the sixties, we had a lot of American TV series featuring courtroom proceedings on Swedish Television. Since I was so new to all this, some words really got engraved in my mind, such as the judge's answer to the objections: "sustained" and "overruled." Wonderful. Just pronounce them—they melt on your tongue!

"I stand corrected" is another phrase I enjoy, especially the "stand." I can't imagine what it's doing there, but it sure gives me a kick!

The Russians sometimes use a way of agreeing that I find exquisite and an economy of words as well. The dialogue is the following:

"Did you understand?"

"Yes."

In transliterated Russian it would be:

—Ponyal?

—Ponyal.

That is, they just repeat the question, now as a statement. What elegance! I have loved it since the first day I heard it.

Of course I understand that most of all this pleasure comes from the fact that I am a foreigner. I look at words differently from the way the native speaker does.

In Swedish, when we agree with a statement, we say "Just det"—precisely. In Italian the equivalent is "esatto"; in Russian, "tochno." And the funny thing is that whenever these words were said to me I felt so very, very clever and confirmed, much more than I would have done in the Swedish context (Just det)!

I have been traveling a lot in Europe, mainly for the pleasure of speaking the different countries' languages, but when I got to Greece I didn't have that much to say! My background was two years of classical Greek in high school, but I remembered the alphabet so I tried to read wherever I went.

And the Greek words came up to me and said hello! It was ever so nice to meet all these old acquaintances again.

There were a lot of shops in Rhodes, selling leatherware among other things. I was absolutely delighted when I saw the label on the handbags. "Derma"—that means skin, in this case probably genuine leather. Well, we all know what a dermatologist is!

When I passed the post office, there was a sign "tachydromos." I knew about tachycardia so it should be something quick, "quick way" to be precise. Perhaps not the best description of the Greek postal services!

My conclusion is: we are lucky to live in a world with so many words waiting out there to become our friends and companions! A joy forever!



Published - December 2008










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