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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, October 27, 2012 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Last year, an Australian news anchor who was interviewing the Dalai Lama with the aid of an interpreter opened the exchange with a joke: 'The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says, “Can you make me one with everything?”' His Holiness's baffled stare, viewed by nearly two million people on YouTube, presents a lesson in the risks of translating humor.

“But among the polyglots who convened this month in Rochester for the annual meeting of the American Literary Translators Association — where the topic was 'The Translation of Humor, or, the Humor of Translation' — there is a sense of cautious optimism. At least some measure of levity, these dedicated professionals believe, must be able to migrate between languages. The French, after all, seem to appreciate Woody Allen.

“'It takes a bit of creativity and a bit of luck,' said David Bellos, a professor of French and comparative literature at Princeton, who, as he prepared his keynote speech for this year's conference, confessed to finding a disconcerting shortage of jokes beginning: 'A pair of translators walk into a bar.'

“'The received wisdom that you can never translate a joke is worth examining a bit more closely,' Bellos told me. The trick to translating humor, Bellos argues ... is to abandon the idea of perfect fidelity and instead try to find a joke that rings some of the same bells as the original.”

— From “Me translate funny one day” at nytimes.com

A quiz

What percentage of people are right-handed?

Wisdom of the ages

“You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.” — Irish proverb

Current wisdom

“After living at home for a while, young people have kind of maxed it out. They are heading to bigger, vibrant cities, predominantly, because they're looking for economic opportunity and building their social networks.” — William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, on new U.S. census data showing a big jump in young adults moving out of state.

Quiz answer

Ninety percent. Most animals are closer to being ambidextrous.

Snob words

recusant (REK-yuh-zuhnt), n. – a person who refuses to submit, comply, etc., as in: “The editorial writer thought he was being a cautious fellow, not a stubborn recusant, for declining to agree with the politician.” From the Latin recusare, “to demur, object.”

Today in history

On this date in 1775, the U.S. Navy was established; no, Mr. President, it's not big enough today.

Now you know

The first countries to grant women’s suffrage in national elections were New Zealand (1893), Australia (1902), Finland (1906) and Norway (1913).