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It’s in the Name

I don’t know if I told you but I do love the mystery of a name. I have already explored it once, but of course the problem of strange names doesn’t befall the humans only. They also befall the companies and firms. Below is a very short list of names of some commercial enterprises, which may conjure very strange images, if you dare concentrate on their meaning.

Mighty Health and Hygiene

Beyond Hope

Secretly Sensual

Adept Pine

In Russia, there were these companies, which never failed to bring smile to my lips, thanks to their names:

Big Elephant

White Hedgehog

Some names simply look weird, if a dot is not inserted:

A Train and Sons

Some look OK and put a very sensible idea across, but try and pronounce their name quickly:

Kids Are Us

And this is my favourite:

Impregnation Services

[The company provides very technical services of saturation and permeation].

As I’ve been a name geek for years, I’m looking forward to any additions to my list from your home towns.

The Rubaiyat


Complete Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I know some verses relatively well in Russian, but haven’t found them in the English translation yet. One of my favourite is this (my literal translation from Russian):

To live life wisely, there’s a lot to know,
Two ground rules remember for a start:
Better be hungry than eat whatever food,
And better be alone than with whoever.

Чтоб мудро жизнь прожить, знать надобно немало,
Два важных правила запомни для начала:
Ты лучше голодай, чем что попало есть,
И лучше будь один, чем вместе с кем попало.

Please note that, as I said above, this is a literal translation. I couldn’t find the English version, so I rendered the text from Russian into English, to give an idea. As I don’t know the language of Khayyam, I wouldn’t actually translate this verse from Russian, since the Russian text is already a translation. I’m writing this, having discovered that my rendition has been quoted elsewhere on the web as a variant of the English translation. It must not be used as such.

On Plagiarism

Blessed be the times when medieval monks simply ‘continued’ the chronicles and annalles that had been started by other monks. Today the family of the monk who started the chronicle could very well have sued the family of the monk who continued it for violation of the copyright.

The question of originality is something that always bothers artists, critics and the audience alike. There’s no point to narrate the perils that have postmortem befallen William Shakespeare or Mikhail Sholokhov because of some scholars’ zealous attempts to prove they were plagiarists. In truth, since our world is so old, originality may be a strange thing to desire, as it’s very likely that there will be oblique links between you and a certain, let us say, Hume, even if you’ve never heard of the chap.

I’m thinking: perhaps the change in attitude to plagiarism has to do, among other reasons, with how people see their place in the world. In the past, when the world’s exact frontiers were still undiscovered and its historic past was still largely undeciphered, to borrow from someone or to openly cite them for inspiration had meant to find links between yourself and this vast territory of the Unknown. It was not considered bad; instead, it gave perspective to your experience and donned importance to anything you had to offer.

These days it’s different, and it seems that people are suffering from agoraphobia. Although they say they like exploring the big world, they in fact always want to get back to their communities and homes. Globalisation, we’re told, is challenged by localisation. There are so many groups and communities, and some of them only exist in the virtual world of the Internet. We didn’t become any more knowledgeable. What the philosopher said is still true. ‘I only know that I know nothing’ – the land of ignorance grows, as the limits of knowledge expand.

Paradoxically, this Brave Huge world scares (to one extent or another) authors of any kind. They want to be unique, but what if they’re doing exactly the same thing now that someone has already done in the past and they simply didn’t know about it? However, even if you know that you’re totally unique (if such thing is still possible today), then you certainly cannot prohibit others from being inspired by your work.

I guess, the best thing to do is to acknowledge the fact that 1) the world is too old, and it’s not your conscience that should be troubled by ‘plagiarism’ but rather that of your predecessor who was a ‘pioneer’; and that 2) inspiration, aside from talent, is among the reasons why we have artists. To conclude, this is the translation of an extract from the talk of Andy Warhol, one of the gurus of Pop Art, with Adrian Darmon:

AD: Where do you find yourself vis-a-vis Picasso?
AW: He’s dead, and I’m in his place. On the artistic level, I think I’ll be a milestone.
AD: Do you take yourself seriously?
AW: I’m doing things seriously, with aesthetic taste.
AD: And without plagiarism?
AW: I don’t understand the meaning of your question. In any case, the artists are inspired by the works of others.

Dragostea din Tei: from Haiduc to Robin Hood to Outlaw

Dragostea din Tei song has a very interesting example of translating the word “haiduc”. It can be Robin Hood but it can be an outlaw, too.

I always appreciate a good play on words and other peculiarities in translation. We normally find them in “high culture”, but a song Dragostea din Tei by O-Zone band offers its own example. 
First, my examples. It’s been years since I fell under the spell of surrealism. So much so that I ended up using ‘avidadollars’ as my nickname or login on many forums and websites. This doesn’t tell anything about my love for, erm, dollars, but says aplenty about my admiration for both Salvador Dali (whose name was so deftly anagrammed by Andre Breton) and Andre Breton (who anagrammed so deftly the name of Salvador Dali). In fact, if for any reason you had doubts about Breton as genius, ‘avidadollars’ should convince you once and for all.

Anyway, this is as far as my enchantment has led me, and I doubt I go any further. On the other hand, I have recently read about a family who were such ardent supporters of the Chelsea Premier League Football Club that they changed their family name to Chelsea.

‘Ok’, I thought, ‘but I’ve heard something like this before’.

Turned out I was thinking about a Moldovan band O-Zone, who burst onto the European music scene a couple of years ago, dancing away on a plane’s wings (in their clip, at least) to the song ‘Dragostea din Tei’. It is something practically untranslatable, as Wikipedia tells us. The interpretation ranges from ‘Love of the Lime Tree’ through ‘Love among Young People’ to ‘Love at First Sight’. I knew they were singing the name ‘Picasso’ in one of the lines, but I never looked up the lyrics, to be honest. Two years later I finally found myself sufficiently intrigued, and as I don’t know Romanian, I had to go with a German translation. The line in which the Spaniard’s name was mentioned is:

Hallo Du,
Hier bin ich, dein Picasso.
Hello you,
This is me, your Picasso.

Nice one, even if purely for the purpose of rhyming. This Romanian Picasso was waiting for his Muse to come, but I assume the girl never turned up. Otherwise we would already have a painting of ‘A Girl under the Lime Tree’.

However – a peculiar point – in the very first verse of the song the word ‘haiduc‘ is mentioned. ‘Haiduc‘ is an outlaw, but in Moldovan and Romanian folklore the haiduc only robbed the rich, while protecting the poor. Reminds of Robin Hood, doesn’t it? And this is exactly how the Germans translated it.

I decided to look up the English translation. I found out that the English went for ‘outlaw‘ – so is this how Robin Hood actually regarded, never mind the popular admiration?

So, I wondered how the French dealt with it. Turned out, they decided not to translate the word at all

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres

The beauty of Prevert’s saying J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres is sadly lost in the English translation… but perhaps Man Ray’s famous Kiss rayograph renders the meaning

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres.
I prefer your lips to my books.

This is one of my favourite phrases by Jacques Prevert. Not only is it beautifully romantic, it also presents a nice example of what sometimes is lost in the process of translation.

The play on words is obviously lost, which you can notice, even if you don’t know French. The melody of the phrase is also distorted in English translation. ‘Lips’ and ‘books’ are two short and brisk, muted words, while ‘prefer your’ doesn’t capture the music of ‘jaime mieux’. I have no idea how this phrase was translated into English or other languages, and if a translator managed to recreate any effect of this phrase. I can only imagine it being communicated to some extent in Italian, through ‘labbra’ and ‘libri’, respectively.

Other posts in Jacques Prevert and Archives.

Update 2020: On another note, Man Ray’s famous rayograph The Kiss, produced in 1922, is vaguely related to the theme of Prevert’s saying. Being an artistic enquiry into a photographer’s private life, The Kiss may be seen as reinterpreting the quote the following way: j’aime mieux tes lèvres que mes lumières (I prefer your lips to my light). In both cases, be it a book or lighting, the authors clearly state that Love means more than Art.

Man Ray, The Kiss. Rayograph (1922): another interpretation of loving lips more than the artistic medium
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