[DWJ] Tropes

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at netvision.net.il
Thu Dec 7 03:36:35 EST 2006

Colin wrote:

> It's a common plaint of those who are careful about their choice of
> words: "this word's meaning has changed, so if I use it in the way I am
> familiar with I risk being misunderstood, but I can't bring myself to
> use it in the new way, so I will just avoid using it".

Argh, yes, I have this all the time in Hebrew. There are some perfectly good
Hebrew words whose common usage conflicts with the dictionary definition:
"shafan" is used by the general population for "rabbit", though officially
it signifies a local rodent called a hyrax (similar to a groundhog);
"nesher" is used for "eagle", though in the dictionary it means vulture;
"shoshana" is commonly used for "rose" though strictly speaking it means
lily. Not that someone writing about a lily in modern Hebrew probably
wouldn't use the archaic and prone-to-be-misunderstood synonym "shoshana"
anyway, but the less ambigious "havatzelet". So if one doesn't use
"shoshana" to signify rose, and doesn't use it to signify lily either, is
the word simply to fall into disuse? What an awful shame for a such
beautiful, biblical word, which also happens to be many women's name! (and
the source for "Susan").

The thing is, the "incorrect" usages are so prevalent, that they show up in
things like nursery rhymes that everyone knows from kindergarten, and one
has to be an awful snob to insist on the proper usage. The "wrong" terms
have more poetic resonance than their correct counterparts, and they occur
to people more naturally. ObDWJ: when editing the translation of "Charmed
Life" I had the dilemma, whether to have Chrestomanci's silver handcuffs
turn into "nesher"s (vultures) or "ayyit"s (neshers). I actually don't
remember whether I settled for the zoologically correct yet somehow
wrong-feeling term, or the more right-feeling incorrect alternative...


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