Notes by Autumn Light

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


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What are things that should be avoided in academic writing?

[A2A] Are you seated? Then we’ll begin.

Here are some the major hazards that I tell my clients to look out for and avoid:

  • Overly verbose and latinate language
  • Non-idiomatic language
  • Ambiguous wording
  • Spiral writing
  • Mowing the lawn twice
  • Lost subject or object

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Please: parsha no more

It’s a common refrain in Jewish synagogues throughout the English-speaking world:

How would you answer this question on the Parsha

View this week’s Parsha

Family Parsha 

The Parsha Experiment – Shoftim: Is This Just A Boring Parsha?

—and it drives me (and no doubt every Israeli) around the bend every time I encounter it.

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What are some interesting Hebrew idioms or proverbs that reflect unique cultural phenomena?

[A2A]

Anything to do with military service. My favourite:

קפה באימונים- נס בקרב (Café ba’imunim—ness baqrav)

which literally means: “Coffee in training — Instant coffee in battle”, being a humourous take on the original expression:

קשה באימונים- קל בקרב (Qashé ba’imunim—qal baqrav)

meaning “Difficult in training—easy in battle”

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In the Hebrew, Deut. 8:18 uses the verb for “to make atonement,” but the English translation says only “to make.” Why is this?

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Your impression that the verb לעשות means “to make atonement” is due to the definition given in Biblehub.com’s translation of that verse.

Which is surprising, because in fact it simply means “to do” or “to make” (like the French verb faire).

In this case, it is part of an expression

לעשות חיל (la’asot ḥayil)

which means “to thrive”, “to do extremely well”.

So basically it’s a mistake.


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Kabbalah – but not as we know it

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In Steve Carell and Tina Fey’s amusing comedy Date Night, there are two scenes where they visit Mark Wahlberg (who plays some kind of secret agent who helps them out), and he exchanges a few words in Hebrew with his girlfriend in the background, who is an Israeli Mossad agent. The actress playing the Mossad agent is indeed Israeli, but Wahlberg himself does a very credible job pronouncing the few words that he says, and with almost no accent. (Although I agree with Carell’s character: For the love of God, please put on a shirt!…)

But he’s the exception to the rule. 99% of the time, whenever Hebrew is presented in American films or TV series, something is wrong.

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