Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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How do you say “God’s fury will punish your soul” in Hebrew?

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A straightforward, modern Hebrew rendition would be something like

זעמו של אלוהים יעניש את נשמתך

which, phonetically transcripted, reads:

Zaamo shel Elohim yaanish et nishmatkha

This, however, is almost soul-destroying in itself since, while it is technically correct, it has no rhyme or meter. What you need is something suitably biblical in tone and poetic in nature. I would go with something like:

תנאק נשמתך בחמת ה׳

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In the Hebrew version of Genesis 1, the word used for the first day is a cardinal number (one), yet all the other days are ordinal—why is that?

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Several Jewish biblical commentators weighed in on this same question.

Rashi’s explanation—‘Because the HOBBH [Holy One Blessed Be He] was alone in the world, because the angels were not created until these second day’—seems to leave us none the wiser.

The Ramban (Nachmanides)’s interpretation is more helpful: ‘One can’t say “first day”, since the second had not yet occurred, because “the first” [implies a series that already exists], whereas “one [day]” doesn’t.’

Shadal (Samuel David Luzzatto): ‘One day, [in the sense that] the evening and the morning [together] constituted one day […] i.e. a whole day.’ To put it another way: ‘God did all this within one day—more specifically, in one evening and morning, with time left over.’

Of those three, the latter sounds most plausible. But my personal take is that the real reason is poetical: Vaihi erev, vaihi boqer, yom eḥad sounds so much more lyrical than Vaihi erev, vaihi boqer, yom rishon.

(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).


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What is the most British thing ever?

In an attempt to rein in the increasingly unruly Jewish community the late 1930s and 1940s in Mandatory Palestine, the British authorities would, from time to time, round up the entire Jewish leadership—my maternal grandfather among them—and hold them in administrative detention in a large camp in the valley of Latrun, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

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What is the process of getting into translating?

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From what I can tell, people get into translation by one of two avenues: they attend translation training courses at universities, or they “fall” into it after becoming thoroughly proficient in two or more languages and working in other fields, doing translations on an ad-hoc or informal basis for their employers, friends, or colleagues, and find themselves increasingly in demand afterwards.

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Why do many people from the UK dislike the term ‘British English’ just because they have their own regional dialect or accent?

You’re conflating accent with language.

British English is a legitimate term that refers to the use of English in Britain as opposed to the English used in, say, the U.S. or Australia. But that’s a language issue, not accent.

The term British accent is what causes Brits to roll their eyes, because it usually refers to what is called Received Pronunciation, and there are dozens other British accents.

What Brits really dislike is when software refer to British English as ‘British English’, and American English as ‘English’—as though English had been invented in America, and British English was just a derivative. Case in point:

 

(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).


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How, when, and why did Hebrew abandon its original alphabet for square Aramaic?

To quote (loosely) from my own book on the topic, as far as we can tell, it happened in the late third century BCE, when the original Hebrew script was passed over in favor of the Aramaic script by the Sanhedrin (rabbinical assembly) as its script of choice for the biblical canon then being compiled and transcribed.

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