Recent Blog Posts

The Italians and the French have a history of cultural rivalry that dates back to before the Renaissance, when scholars, philosophers, artists, and writers of the two countries held the reins of Europe. Fostering progress in tandem, European polyglots and translators found themselves translating the works of their neighbors. The […]

Read More

Who is a barbarian? The word barbarian was used originally by the Greeks to refer to any non-Greek: Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Celts, Germans, Phoenicians, Etruscans, Macedonians, Carthaginians, Vikings, Goths – all of these became known as barbarians. The ancient Greek word βάρβαρος (bárbaros) meant “babbler.” To the Greek ear, someone […]

Read More

If there is one philosophy that transcends cultural boundaries and linguistic differences, it is “Eat, drink, and be merry.” From the tip of Chile to the top of Siberia, lengthwise and breadth-wise and zigzagging the globe, nations have developed a wide array of phrases and customs associated with drinking and […]

Read More

The word quarantine — used in modern English to designate a period of time when a group of people or materials is isolated from its surroundings — has several cultural and semantic stories ascribed to it. With the French quarantaine and the Italian quarantena we are plunged into nautical history. […]

Read More

To translate a controversial text may very well mean putting one’s life on the line. Western history offers several examples of tortured and slain translators and interpreters, and as apt as we are to think that those barbaric times are over, the late 20th century saw one of the most […]

Read More

In 1777, British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook brought a linguistic discovery back to England. The word taboo, Cook wrote in A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, encompassed an array of forbidden acts and behaviors in Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago. From the Proto-Polynesian word ta, meaning “mark” and bu, […]

Read More

Before the word chocolate came into the English language from Spanish, Hernan Cortes learned of a potent Aztec beverage made with cacahuaquchtl powder (the origin of the word “cocoa”), chili, musk, and honey. In a 1519 expedition to the New World, Cortes received a friendly reception from the Aztecs of […]

Read More

The history of words teaches us that food is the fuel of relationships. The word “companion”, from the Latin com “with” and panis “bread”, reminds us that food — and the brief respite allotted to people throughout history for sharing meals — feeds more than the physical body; it also […]

Read More

How did Spanish become the second most-common language in the United States after English? The answer will lead us into our country’s past, examine America’s present, and speculate on what the coming years will bring. It wasn’t the English who established the first permanent colony in what we now call […]

Read More

Sometimes even major corporations stumble into linguistic dilemmas with badly executed ad translations. Take, for example, the popular soda slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation.” A little miscommunication in Taiwanese resulted in the more macabre “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” The Gerber baby food corporation […]

Read More