A white elephant is an albino elephant, even though this is not the official term for them. Their skin is not white but has reddish-brown pinky color.
In Buddhism the white elephant is considered something sacred as well as a status symbol – because to afford such a beast it was necessary to have enough wealth and power.
For hundreds of years a white elephant was a white elephant, a rare and expensive animal. In English it was mentioned in 1663 in a travel book translation from Portuguese into English of Ferdinand Pinto by Henry Cogan. Like many translations, the book has more editing than translating, with the translator cheerfully admitting he omitted huge passages which were too complicated or too boring. Pinto himself travelled extensively though Asia as the book title suggests The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto during his Travels for the Space of One and Twenty Years. He also visited what is now Thailand and described war with Burma where the king of Burma demanded seven white elephants belonging to the King of Siam, who was described by Pinto as the “lord of the white elephant”.
Quite clearly a white elephant signified richness. It took over 200 years until the term began to be used figuratively as an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and which is not often worth its maintenance costs. And this happened in Thailand too. If the king did not like a top official, he had a solution. The king presented a top civil servant with a great present to underline how important that official was. This was a white elephant. Unfortunately it was so expensive that even a top mandarin was not able to pay for it and went bankrupt.
The first written reference in English to the idiomatic meaning of the term white elephant comes in a letter written in 1851 by the English novelist Geraldine Endsor. She wrote, “His services are like so many white elephants, of which nobody can make use, and yet that drain one's gratitude, if indeed one does not feel bankrupt."
More or less from this time onwards, a white elephant was an investment or a business which is unprofitable because the costs of operation and maintenance is simply too high. Almost every business and every country has such a white elephant.
This is the story of the white elephant, from a sacred symbol of prosperity to an undesired gift and unprofitable undertaking.
In 2013, the British Council released its "Languages for the Future" report which outlines the most important languages for the UK in terms of aiding economic prosperity. Unsurprisingly, Spanish, German and French take the top spots, but Turkish also makes an appearance at number nine as an attractive partner for trade and investment as well as an area of interest for energy and defence industries.
Despite the report identifying which languages are important and why, the outlook is bleak for languages taking on a stronger hold in the UK and the report itself admits that it does not offer any answers, but merely stimulates discussion on the issue.
Nevertheless, the British Army, which has an obvious need for linguistic skills (specifically Arabic and French), is pushing forward with a language strategy which states that personnel cannot be promoted above the rank of Captain without foreign language skills. Officers are reassured that the requirement is not to become fluent, but to simply to acquire basic ability.
Mirroring these efforts from the British Army to lift linguistic ability, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, an increasing number of companies are introducing an “English language policy” in a push to further globalize business. In the British Council's report, Japan is described as having a "moderate" level of English proficiency (the Japanese can take comfort from the fact that the report puts their English language learning rival China behind with a rating of "low"), and it is this middle-of-the-road ability that businesses want to correct. Plans are being laid out to ensure that all internal communication and presentations will eventually be carried out in English only.
But what exactly are the strategies to turn personnel into linguists? The information is vague. In Japan, staff working for the internet retailer Rakuten Inc. take part in “English lessons” provided for by the company, and in the case of the British Army, personnel receive “training” at the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture. Many of us have tried sitting with a textbook and CD to learn a new language – for those who love languages the exercise can at least be fun, but for those who have no interest in learning endless grammar patterns and vocab (and putting on a weird accent), progress can be painful. Perhaps as people begin to use their skills in the real world and realise the fruits of their labour there may be incentive to study more and certainly the threat of losing out on a promotion and advancing your career will push even the non-linguists to try.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in 2012, President of Rakuten Inc., Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani, spoke with a sense of urgency about the English language requirements for business, stating that "Our staff doesn't need translators".
Unfortunately Mr. Mikitani, at the present time your staff really does.
Business needs translators - now more than ever. With all the will in the world, it is going to be a long hard slog for the UK and Japan to realize their ambitions of a multi-lingual workforce. Until we reach that day, the best bet for globalizing business is to use high quality language service providers that facilitate meaningful and accurate communication. EVS Translations is such a service.
These days everyone knows what an elephant looks like. Until there were zoos this was not the case. Most people in Europe had never heard of an elephant, let alone seen one.
The early history of the elephant in Great Britain is quite short. The show-off emperor Claudius decided to show the English their place. In a triumphal march through Colchester which was then the capital city – with its own amphitheatres and even a chariot circus, Claudius showed off the first and last elephant the English would see for a thousand years.
The first time an elephant lived in England on a full time basis is when the French king Louis IX gave his English contemporary Henry III a specimen as a royal gift for his zoo in the Tower of London in 1255. It had a grand life, feasting on beef, but unfortunately finally died after only two years. The most likely cause is from too much red wine.
Since that time elephants were only written about or drawn. Comments in English on the elephant were frequent. Over the next started about 100 years later. There was a variety of spellings (ollgaunce, elifans, olyfaunt, elephant, elephante, olyfaunz, eleuant) until elephant became the standard spelling around about 1750. This is why oliphaunts – the big elephant-like animals in the Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is actually taking up word used in mediaeval English, something that Tolkien well knew, as he was a specialist on the subject.
Features of the elephant were highlighted, but what counted most was size. John Trevisa mentions the beast several times in his 1398 book – nose like a trumpet, huge body, frightened of mice, follows the stars and has a strong nose.
But it was a real long time before the elephant was seen by many in England. The most famous elephant in England was Jumbo the circus elephant that was transferred from Paris and landed up in the United States. But that was 700 years on.
Crumble is considered something typically British.
But as a word for food the origins are not quite so clear. Crumble has only been around seventy years or so. Strangely enough, it was an American nutritionist who presented the word in English in her 1947 work published in Chicago Meta Given's modern encyclopedia of cooking. She presents a recipe for apple crumble. She also introduced to the English language the concept of a tossed salad.
The first time the word crumble appears in a book published in England was five years later where it is referred to as a Canadian topping or crumble.
The recipe is one of the simplest around. Put in the base material e.g. apple or rhubarb. Then mix butter, flour and sugar together and sprinkle this mixture on top. Put it into the oven. Take it out when the mixture looks brown. Simple.
It was first cooked after the Second World War when there was rationing. The ingredients for this dish were simpler to get hold of than for pie crusts, What is more margarine was often used as a substitute to butter. As a result the recipe become very popular and in England they have been eating crumble ever since.
Wormwood origins from old German and is one of the first English words, first found extremely early where it is defined as “absinthium – wermod”. This was all the way back in 725. The spelling later changed to wormwood which was originally known as a way to get rid of fleas. Before 1500 it was recommended as “A medicine for a hawk that hath mites. Take the juice of wormwood and there and they shall die”. Turner the father of English botany described the plant extensively in his Names of Herbs (1548). But by then the plant had already become famous for its bitterness, also to the soul because of its use in the Bible. In the 1535 Coverdale Bible, Moses speaks to the Israelites and says that there should be among them so root “that beareth fall and wormwood”.
By the time of Shakespeare it is certainly well used. In an aside in Hamlet, Hamlet expresses his deep bitterness in two words “wormwood, wormwood”. In Love’s Labour’s Lost Rosamund gives a recommendation how “to weed the wormwood from your fruitful brain.” At more or less the same time you could drink a bitter – or wormwood beer or ale.
In vermouth wormwood has come back to its the roots in English. More recently wormwood is more well known as a plant which adds the bitterness to aperitifs. This was all the rage in the late 1700s in Italy who used it to provide the right flavour to a cocktail, such as the Martini and it is a key agreement for such drinks as Punt e Mes and Cinzano.
In German and Russian, wormwood is now called wermut.
Over the past month, one of the most interesting questions in international relations has been the whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. While it now appears that things are returning to the status quo, as Kim seems to be resuming his public appearances, his mystery absence was allowing people around the globe to wonder “what if”. Though many have and are still wondering to what extent Kim Jong-un’s leadership style really differs from his father’s, his long absence allowed for extensive speculation on how North Korean politics could change if there was a change in leadership.
First and foremost, regardless of how a new political leadership in North Korea would look like, there would be change. The level of change, however, is highly unpredictable. North Korea could, similar to China enter a period of slow, market-oriented reforms. Or, the country could, like the states of the former Soviet Union, plunge into a phase of unrestricted capitalism that followed the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But regardless of the level and pace of change that could occur, a significant political shift in North Korea would probably cause a local economic boom. In some ways, the relationship between the two Koreas might be best compared to the fate of the two Germany’s, whose political and economic union created a more politically influential and economically stable whole than the sum of its parts could be on their own.
But the differences between the North and the South are dramatic:
The current GDP per capita (PPP) in North Korea is approximately $1,800, lagging China’s and South Korea’s, $9,800 and $33,200, respectively.
A large percentage of North Korean GDP comes from agriculture (23.4%), while a relatively small percentage comes from services (29.4%). In both South Korea and China, agriculture contributes 10% or less, and services more than 45% of the nations’ total GDP.
International sanctions and political isolation have decimated North Korea’s international trade. The country’s trade per capita income is currently estimated to be at $161 (exported) and $197 (imported). This is merely a fraction of the international trade generated in the population rich People’s Republic of China ($1,631 exported and $1,439 imported) and in South Korea, where the international trade per capita income is about 100 times the size of North Korea ($11,373 exported and $10,543 imported).
As any student of economics knows all too well, a localized anomaly can only exist for a short period of time before being drawn back to balance with its surroundings. In the case of North Korea, this balance would take the form of significant economic growth, increased levels of international trade, and a massive influx of foreign direct investment (beyond just the current trade zones). Naturally, this can be a growth opportunity for any business, but besides real political change to capitalize on the Korean market will require the use of a translation and localization company that has a grasp of the language as well as the local business culture.
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Hiragana is the basic form of the Japanese writing system. It is a phonetic written script based on syllabic sounds. Each syllabic sound is constructed from one or two consonants followed by a vowel (with the exception of five sounds). The script begins as follows:
a, i, u, e, o あ、い、う、え、お
ka, ki, ku, ke, ko か、き、く、け、こ
sa, shi, su, se, so さ、し、す、せ、そ
… and so on for another 31 characters. It’s a simple and logical writing system which can be learned and memorized within a week, depending on the learner’s level of motivation. By looking at the examples above, you should already be able to read the following word:
The first reference to hiragana in English was when the book Illustrations of Japan, consisting of private memoirs of the djogoun was translated from Dutch. Isaac Titsingh, writer of the book and a senior official of the Dutch East India Company, describes a kind of Japanese poetry written in “firokanna, or women’s writing”. Since women historically did not have the same access to education as men, they used hiragana rather than kanji which was the writing system of the elite, hence Titsingh's reference to hiragana as women's writing.
Hiragana at school
In the 21st century, Japanese children begin reading and writing hiragana in primary school, though very soon move on to learning kanji, which takes a lot longer to master. But why don’t Japanese children just stick with hiragana and save themselves years of writing out lines and lines of kanji characters in order to memorize them?
Firstly, hiragana is written without using any spaces between individual words which makes it very awkward to read when you can’t quickly determine the end of one word and start of the next; kanji, on the other hand, makes this distinction clear. Even if spaces are inserted between words, because of the high number of homonyms in Japanese compared to English (words that are spelled the same but have different meanings), for the sake of easy reading, it is still better to use kanji.
Japanese adults use a combination of hiragana and kanji when writing; the hiragana is used mainly (though not exclusively) to show grammatical function, whereas kanji represents meaning. So in an example such as the verb "to eat", the root of the verb is 食 and the grammatical ending is added in hiragana.
The artichoke was grown in England first in the garden of King Henry VIII in 1530 and was referred to in writing in the very next year in connection with the king. In 1582, Hakluyt recalls how they were introduced - “In time of memory things have been brought in that were not here before, as the artichoke in time of King Henry the Eight”. As was recorded in yesterday’s Word of the Day contribution, in 1727 Switzer a landscape gardener stated that “artichokes, as most other kitchen vegetables” like deep soil.
And the right soil and climate for the artichoke is the Mediterranean climate. So it is not a surprised that the top three countries producing the vegetable are Italy, Egypt and Spain. Together they produce about half of all the artichokes grown worldwide.
It is hard work getting to the heart of an artichoke which is the softest and most delicious part. This was recognised all the way back in 1542 when a general book on good health commented that “There is nothing used to be eaten of artichokes but the head of them." This awareness of the hard work required before you found the heart was commented on by Inspector Jacques Clouseau in The Pink Panther (2006) who commented “A woman is like an artichoke, you must work hard to get to her heart" .
The first time the word vegetable appeared in English was in a very early translation of a mediaeval Latin poem which took a full eight years to finish. Troy Book was one of the first books written to showcase the English language. Its author John Lydgate (a contemporary of Chaucer and a major early writer of English) commented in his prologue that the book was just as good in English as in Latin and French. He was right. His work was also a source to a later Shakespeare work Troilus and Cressida.
Vegetable in the French and Latin of the time meant being alive, being able to grow. It is used in reference to the dead Hector who was embalmed, but who looked so full of life that he was vegetable, i.e. had a soul and seemed to be alive. This idea of a vegetable soul which is alive planted in an earthly body was a common use of the word for some 200 years.
The idea of vegetable as being a food which was not alive was used for the first time in 1700. Once again it was a famous English poet who was translating from Latin. This time is was Dryden who wrote:
Nourish life with vegetable food
And shun the sacrilegious taste of blood.
Soon afterwards the word began to be used as a word to describe a plant used for food. It was a landscape gardener who introduced the word in its most common form in English. Stephen Switzer (who was also involved in the garden at Blenheim Palace) also wrote The Practical Kitchen Gardiner. There in 1727 he states that “artichokes, as most other kitchen vegetables” like deep soil. Switzer also introduced into English such phrases as garden plant, melon merchant pond maker.
From this time onwards the vegetable became a part of the culture. A vegetable garden was described in 1756, a vegetable market in 1789.
The word originates from the Latin - sub (below) and marine (sea). The first time it was used in English was in a book about natural history by Francis Bacon. Actually Francis Bacon is one of the most important introducers of new words in English - more about him in a later blog. Certainly his interests and life were varied. Besides being Attorney General and Lord Chancellor he wrote about politics, science and religion. In his book on natural history published in 1626 he wrote that near to Sicily “much coral is found. It is a submarine plant. It has no leaves.”
The definition of submarine was specified by Robert Boyle the great British chemist. In his 1670 pamphlet Temperature of the Submarine Regions where he stated that submarine is not “the places so called are below the bottom of the sea, but only below the surface of it”.
Even though there were several examples of vehicles moving under the water at this time, it was a long time before the primarily meaning of the word submarine was a vehicle which operated under water. Initial considerations were about breathing and submergence times in a submarine boat.
The first successful attack by a submarine was by the American ship Hunley. Called a “fish torpedo boat” the Hunley was powered by a hand-cranked propeller and managed to sink twice in training, killing its crew on each occasion. Most famously in 1864 it was the first time that a submarine attacked and sunk an enemy ship using a torpedo. Unfortunately, it got too close to its target and the only time it was used against a live target, it got too close and the torpedo killed the crew and sunk the vessel.
Finding the right propulsion for a submarine was essential . Batteries did not provide enough range. It was only with diesel fuel that the modern submarine was possible. By the First World War there were already some 100 submarines in service and in the Second World War the submarine was a key weapon with more than 300 being deployed by the United States alone.