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THE WORD police of the world have been very active recently. Matters have ranged from “French kiss” to “Jewish dumpling,” which certainly suggests the breadth of it all. And, in fact, even in my own literary efforts, the matter of transliteration has arisen. It’s time to take a stand.
Since 1635, the Académie française has acted as authority on the French language. This French action [ed: please reword] has continued up to modern times, except for unpleasantries during the French Revolution. Apparently spectators at the guillotine trash-talked all they wanted. I’ll bet they didn’t even use le subjonctif.
Today, the Académie consists of 40 members, known as immortels. The cognate of this word in English conveys several things about these elected academicians, including that they serve for life—unless removed for misconduct.
Do you suppose French kissing qualifies as misconduct?
I ask this because only in its 2014 edition has the highly respected Petit Robert French dictionary included a new word, galocher, to describe this intermingling of tongues and spirit through parted lips. Apparently prior to this, French speakers had to contort their language, not to say other parts, with phrases equivalent to “kissing at length in the mouth.”
I wonder if the Académie française got involved in this matter. Galocher has been slang for French kiss for a while now, but it’s related to La galoche, an ice-skating boot. Geez, we get the winter-wear word “galoshes” from the same root.
My alternative to galoche comes from a story about Chico Marx, one of the legendary Marx Bros. Chico (pronounced “Chick-o,” by the way) was a noted womanizer, and one day his wife caught him kissing another woman.
His defense? “I wasn’t kissing her. I was whispering in her mouth.”
My recommendation to Académie française: Toss out the galoshes and say “murmure de bouche.”
On another language front entirely, there’s recent news that the winning word in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee wasn’t kosher. Thirteen-year-old Arvind V. Mahankali won with “knaidel,” the spelling in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary for the Jewish dumpling found in matzo ball soup.
However, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research claims that the correct transliteration from the Hebrew should be “kneydl.” The YIVO kvetched about this, even to getting coverage in The New York Times, May 31, 2013.
Webster’s traces the English word “knaidel” to the Yiddish word for dumpling, “kneydel,” from the Middle High German “knödel,” whence, of course, our word “noodle” as well.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee uses Webster’s as its official source, so there’s no ambiguity in the young man’s victory. I would suggest that YIVO and the Académie française get together, have a couple glasses of wine and chill.
Recently I had need for transliteration from Russian to English, and I sense the quandary, particularly when there are differences in orthography (including the character sets of languages). In writing about the Tupolev ANT-25 (www.wp.me/p2ETap-19I), my sources had two different English renderings for Russian pilot Сигизмунд Леваневский. Is he Sigismund Levaneski or Sigizmund Levanesky?
I used the latter because my editress, wife Dottie, said so. She also suggested I run his photo. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013