Writings > Lexical Leavings


Yesterday, at the new Junkudo bookstore in Shinjuku, I picked up three recent books on dictionaries:
大谷 喜明 (著)

園田 尚弘, 若木 太一 (編集)

市橋 敬三 (著)
The last may be the most interesting, as it gives many examples of how specific entries can be made more idiomatic in English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries—which go unnamed, but seem to include at least one that I have worked on.

The author focuses exclusively on spoken American English, so he condemns as "まったく使われていない" expressions such as "My son was graduated from Harvard" (p. 197), which is in fact the traditional use of "graduate," is still insisted on by some prescriptivists (such as Bryan A. Garner in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, 1998), and can be seen in writing ("Juliane was graduated from McNicholas High School and plans to study music at Xavier University," The Cincinnati Post, June 17, 2004). He similarly attacks the use of "spirits" as a translation of 強いアルコール (p. 125), when in fact the word is used in precisely that meaning in British and Australian English ("Last week the Evening Telegraph reported that Robertson took two days to breach a binding order that magistrates had imposed on him, after he was caught drinking spirits in an alcohol advisory centre," Coventry Evening Telegraph, October 28, 2004; "Victorian state Liberal MP Andrew Olexander said today he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed after four or five hours of drinking spirits and wine with friends," AAP General News (Australia), July 12, 2004).

Some of his opinions are comical. He declares, for example, that Japan's 国税庁 should be translated not as "the National Tax Administration Agency" (that's the old official name; it's now "the National Tax Agency") but as "the Japanese IRS" (p. 99). How would "the Japanese IRS" be understood by the majority of the world's English speakers, who are not Americans and who are unlikely to be familiar with the abbreviated name of the U.S. tax agency? And he says that "the Diet Building" is incorrect as a translation of the name of the 国会議事堂 in Tokyo (p. 101), suggesting "the Capitol Building" instead. If lost tourists in Tokyo looked for maps or signs showing them the way to the Capitol Building, they would remain lost.

Though he does make many good points, they would be more convincing if his book weren't full of typos, sometimes two or three to a page ("Ineterviewer," "Yes, we've been friend for many years," and "aquainted" are all on page 226).

(April 17, 2005)