Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You can't take it with you

Amid growing unrest in Egypt, the Turkish prime minister grabbed the spotlight (and no small part of the glory) on Tuesday with his strongly worded call for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to meet his protesting people's "desire for change." Sounding a philosophical note, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reminded the 82-year-old Mubarak that "We will all die and be judged by those who remain" -- seeming essentially to say, You know all that power you acquired through corruption, repression, and brutality? Well, you can't take it with you.

Or, as I learned is said in Turkish, "Kefenin cebi yok."

The shroud* has no pockets.

Seeing a familiar construction repeated in Turkish -- "ikinci el" (second hand), "havalimanı" (air port) -- often reminded me, as I was learning the basics of the language, that these words I don't give a thought to in English were once upon a time created by someone who had to ponder, "Now what should we call this place that's like a port, but for things that fly in the air instead of boats?"

Discussions at the copy factory about how to translate different phrases and ideas have likewise made me a bit more attuned to the fact that metaphor is not inevitable. Sure, it seems obvious to talk about the "heart of the matter" or the "heart of the country," but it could just as easily be "Eski şehrin göbeğinde" -- in the belly of the old city. The stomach, after all, is much more centrally located in the body than the heart.

* Islamic beliefs call for a body to be washed and wrapped in a shroud before burial in the ground.


Unknown said...

i dont know about the word "havalimanı" or "havaalanı" but i suspect that they are directly translated from another language, probably english or most likely: french right at the beginning.

the word "ikinci el" is completely another story. there used to be another word for it: "kullanılmış" which means "used". However though, after the 1980 coup, there was a radical decline in the quality of the education in Turkey. and within 10 years, people who know English or who adore English but a have weak command on their own mother language started to adopt the word "ikinci el" which is a direct trasnlation of the word "second hand." this word has no etymological background in Turkish, and somehow it is against the main principals of Turkish. however, it is widely accepted today and nobody even seems to remember the original word.

today, you can witness the same kind of transition for the word "call back." it is more and more i see/hear the usage of the word "geri çağırmak" as a direct translation of "call back." It is like "The AAA company called back the impaired products." or that sort. While it makes sense to use the word as it is in English, it is totaly against the main principals of Turkish to use the word in that way. Because, you can't simply call back something which cannot come by itself.

Unfortunately though, even the PM RTE is using the word in this form, probably thinking that it makes him more cool by doing so.

The Turkish Life said...

Interesting, thanks for the comments. In U.S. English we would say "recalled" the products, not called back... I personally like how languages are malleable, although I understand that things are sometimes also lost at the same time.