Need I say Moores

Lost in translation

When people get together and the language of aviation is flowing, it’s easy to forget that words do not translate the same way for everyone.

While covering the ERA Regional Airline Conference in Rome, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow delegate about language. We weren’t talking about the ability to speak fluently in another language - I never fail to be impressed by non-native English speakers – it was about the subtle meaning of words that can get lost in translation.

My French-speaking co-delegate gave an example involving the word “concept”. He explained that, to a French person, a concept is a vague idea, a notion, something to work on. However, to a German-speaker, it’s more like a plan that is ready to be put into action.

The obvious danger is that we can understand one another without truly understanding one another. European aviation must be filled with examples of this sort of miscommunication.

Along the same theme, there are some lovely words that simply don’t exist in English. At conferences almost all of us will have been struck by “tartle”, a Scottish word which sums up the feeling when you have to introduce someone, but can’t remember their name.

In that situation, you might scratch your head as you try to remember (“Pana Po’o” in Hawaiian), or perhaps you stare into the distance until it comes to you ("boketto" in Japanese). You’re at the conference for one more day, so you decide to dig out their business card when you get home. The day after tomorrow is “zeg” in Georgian.

Your colleagues make fun of you for not remembering the name of your important contact. You suffer from “l’esprit de l’escalier”, a French phrase about thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it.

Finally, the Japanese have a word for the stress induced by speaking a foreign language, “yoko meshi” (literally “a meal eaten sideways”). With around a million English words to choose from and millions more in other languages, it’s tricky to pick the right one and be fully understood.

 

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