Teaching French-speaking teenagers recently, I was momentarily surprised when they started to call me Mister. Then I remembered that in French the word monsieur can be used like sir in American English. It doesn’t need to come before a surname, like Mister in English, so most students refer to their male teachers as Monsieur, as we use Sir in English. But they of course understandably translated monsieur to mister.
We use sir to refer to a teacher in most varieties of English too, but not to refer to a man in general when we don’t know his name. It’s only really used in that way in American English.
Mister though, is used in basically the same way in every form of English, as the standard honorific for an adult male. Isn’t it curious though, that for women there are three honorifics: Miss, Ms, and Mrs?
This is something that occurs to me now and then: what are the conventions for writing a title, specifically a blog title, which will be most relevant for most of you reading this. It mainly occurs to me while I’m writing my own titles and thinking about whether I should capitalise a word or not.
The first thing to be aware of is that these are just guidelines. If you’re writing an academic work, then you have to respect the style guide of the institution where you’re studying. But for blog posts, there’s no body issuing guidelines, so you can do what you want. That being said, I find following the general rules for writing titles of essays, articles etc. works well for blog posts too. So let’s get into it. Continue reading
While browsing through Netflix en français the other day, I saw the thumbnail for the BBC drama Call the Midwife. I was about to continue browsing when I noticed the French title:
This struck me a bit odd. Sure, une sage-femme is the French word for midwife (and quite a cool word too, literally meaning wise woman), but the SOS? In a period drama mixing light soap opera and social-realist representations of the difficulties of working-class East-End London life in the 1950s, it seems out of place. It’s too flippant, making me think of a children’s programme like Paw Patrol. Except with midwives on bicycles instead of puppies, and back-alley abortionists instead of whatever the puppies have to deal with (I’ve never seen Paw Patrol). So while in a literal sense, the title gets the content of the programme across, it doesn’t convey a sense of its tone at all. I appreciate that retitling TV shows and movies from English can be difficult, with titles often being clever plays on words that can’t easily be translated. But in this case, the title is simple and without subtext, so a direct translation (Appelez La Sage-Femme, which was the French title for the book the programme’s based on) would have worked fine. But clearly someone felt it needed to be jazzed up a bit, though I don’t know why they didn’t go all-in and add an exclamation mark at the end.
There are two general approaches to translating a title: Continue reading