Off-topic request for opinion from all you literary types

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Wed Jan 12 02:49:45 EST 2005

> But back to Gili's translation dilemma. Why not the Hebrew word for
> 'equinox?'  It doesn't matter if it never rains on the equinox in Israel
> long as people realize that a rainstorm *somewhere* on that day is within
> the bounds of possibility.

It's more a linguistic problem than a cultural one, actually. The word for
equinox is the same as the word for equalisation ("hishtavut"). If I were to
write "the equinox/equalisation of her tears" (remember, I can't use
adjectives because of the sestina form) I'm pretty sure most readers would
simply not "get" the reference to the equinox. In fact, I suspect that this
is somehow what happened to confuse the other translator of the poem (who
wrote, as I quoted earlier, "her tears, which are equal to each other").
"Equal tears" is clearly very different from "equinoctial tears", whatever
either phrase means.

As for Minnow's comments on climate: one of the eternal dilemmas of
translation is what to do when a word represents a certain concept that
doesn't seem to have an equivalent in the target culture. Weather is one of
them - and yes, too much sun is an excellent reason to stay indoors,
preferably wearing as little as possible and plastered to the
air-conditioner, on days when opening the front door is like opening the
door to an oven, with a positive WAVE of heat rolling over you, and you
can't walk more than ten meters without getting all red and sweaty, not to
mention the LIGHT (especially in Jerusalem), namely that there is too much
of it and it is glaring off every light-colored or metallic surface and
beating on your eyeballs, even through sunglasses, all of which starts
around about March or April and lasts on through to September-October, a
good six months either way through which you are constantly groaning "oh
why, oh WHY can't I live somewhere where there's a nice BREEZE every once in
a while". (Just trying to give a counter to what Minnow wrote, I'm actually
wearing a sweater right now, it's January after all).

I've countered endless examples of this kind, and there's always the
dilemma, whether to substitute a local term with a slightly different range
of meaning and lose the nuances, or to engage in circumlocution and try to
explain the foreign concepts, either option being problematic in its own
way. Which brings me back to an important ob-DWJ I've been delaying for many
years: approximately five years ago, when I was first translating "Harry
Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", I posted a question to this list about
sherbet lemons, which I had never encountered. Someone on this list, and I'm
pretty sure her name was Jess Bennet, and I'm pretty sure she announced
shortly thereafter that she would no longer have access to the list, was
kind enough to send me a packet of sherbet lemons in the mail. I promptly
lost her address, and for years I've been hounded by the feeling that I
never thanked her quite enough. If you're still reading this somehow, Jess,
or if anyone else here knows her, please help me get back in touch with her.
BTW I translated sherbet lemons into the name of a different sweet which I
though would be familiar to Israeli children: this turned out to be one of
my most controversial decisions as a translator, which some readers labelled
a stroke of genius, while others violently (and more vocally) protested.

Stop being so interesting and making me spend oodles of time on these
responses. I have work to do. Go away.


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