A handshake or poke in the eye?

A while back I read an article by the BBC discussing the declining use of “Dear…” in emails. I’ll admit that at the time I felt my blood pressure rise ever so slightly and I felt the stirrings of a weapons grade rant developing but I managed to restrain myself, resolving instead to go off, calm down and not get so worked up about trivial things.

But then just a couple of days ago I received an email which began:

Jody Byrne,
I am contacting you blah blah blah”

Like opening the door of a lit oven, this abrupt opener scorched my eyebrows and left me red-faced and speechless. The last time someone addressed me like this was when a particularly bad-tempered primary school teacher caught me dismantling my desk at the back of class.  Regaining my composure, I remembered the BBC article. Standards, it seems, really are slipping. From colleagues who write emails like scolding parents to students who address me like drinking buddies on a booze cruise, nobody it seems, knows how to write an email anymore. Now everyone has their own view of what the various salutations mean but for what it’s worth, here’s how my delicate little brain interprets them:

  • Dear …,
    I like this. It’s like a hearty and sincere handshake unless, of course, someone uses both your first and last names in which case I immediately assume it’s junk mail sent by a machine and generally delete it without reading. Okay, you don’t know whether I’m a Mr or Ms but better to take a chance and pick one or even go for “Dear Jody” even if you don’t know me. Anything is better than talking to me like those annoying letters banks send out offering loans I don’t need and can’t afford.

    Poke in the eye!

    Good day to you, sir.

  • Hi …,
    If I don’t know you, this is like calling around to my house while I’m having dinner. A friend will get away with it but a stranger will be the recipient of a tirade of abuse and need to step lively as I release the hounds. If you simply have to use “hi”, at least wait until the second or third email.

  • Hey …,
    The email equivalent of slapping someone on the backside, especially if there’s an exclamation mark.

  • Jody,
    What did I do wrong? Why don’t you like me? Why are you so angry? I think I’m going to cry!

  • No salutation at all
    Walk right up to me and give me a big ‘ol poke in the eye why don’t you?

As old-fashioned as it seems, you really can’t go wrong with “Dear…”.


How not to write a call for papers

I regularly receive emails with calls for papers for various conferences, journals and whatnot. Usually I’ll have a quick glance at the subject line and then delete the email if it’s not of interest. The subject line of one particular specimen caught my eye with the term “eco-translation”. Not knowing whether it was some form of environmentally aware translation or something else that might be really useful or interesting, I thought I might as well have a look. I’ve read the call several times and I’ll be honest, I still don’t really know what they’re talking about and I’m not sure I want to.  Calls for papers are supposed to inspire, encourage and explain. All this one does is bombard you with jargon, vague descriptions and non-explanations and then give you a bit of a headache.

Kid with blackboard asking what the hell are you talking about

Fuzzy wuzzy was a what now?

Eco-translatology is viewed as an ecological approach to Translation Studies with an interdisciplinary orientation. In the light of the affinity and isomorphism between translational ecosystems and natural ecosystems, Eco-translatology regards the scene of translation as a holistic translational eco-system, and focuses on the relationship between the translator and the translational eco-environment. A translational eco-environment is construed as a highly integrated entity that comprises the actual text, the cultural context and the human agents, as well as other tangible and intangible ingredients. In a translational activity, a translator both adapts and selects (or makes choices) in accordance with the specific configuration of the translational eco-environment. Eco-translatology thus describes and interprets translational activities (including the essence, process, criteria, principles, methods, and phenomena of translation, and the entire translational eco-system) in terms of such ecological principles as holism, relevance, dynamics, balance and harmony, together with ecological esthetics. Ancient Chinese/Eastern philosophies and cultural essentials are projected in this nascent field.


Counteracting government language policy

Inexplicable and ill-advised changes in the English education system and National Curriculum as a result of the Education Act (2002) have meant that fewer and fewer school students are learning languages at GSCE level and beyond. Where once languages were a compulsory part of the curriculum at second level, they are now an optional subject. Given that learning languages isn’t always the easiest thing in the world and given the pressure on students to achieve top grades, it’s not really surprising that there has been a fall-off in the numbers of students picking up a “hard” subject like a language. This situation hasn’t been helped by bleating from British industry who decry the lack of literacy and numeracy skills among school leavers while forgetting to recognise the importance of language. Now if you compare this to Ireland where a recent article said that one third of Irish employers wanted Chinese taught in schools, you can see the different attitudes to core skills. The fact is that speaking a foreign language is vital in this day and age and literacy shouldn’t simply be restricted to our own mother tongue.

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A truly multilingual web?

A unanimous decision last night by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers which regulates the naming system for websites, to permit domain names to be written in scripts other than English, is being heralded as a new era of international web use.

Traditionally, domain names have been restricted to 26 characters in the Latin alphabet and could include ten numerals and a hyphen. Critics have long argued that this was unfair on groups whose languages did not use English characters. In many ways this is true – is it really fair to expect someone in China with a Chinese keyboard to figure out how to input English characters so that they could visit a website in their own country? Absolutely not. Similarly, it is hard to justify forcing someone in Israel or in Saudi Arabia to transliterate the names of companies or organisations just so that they can get a website.

Promotional video from ICANN explaining internationalised domain names (Source:

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The devil is a great language teacher

Technically I was learning Spanish here with my band Mortuum

Technically I was learning Spanish here with my band Mortuum

I was toying with calling this post “The devil made me do it” or “Heavy metal made me what I am” but I was a little concerned about the kind of people that would attract to the site. Anyway, what I’m trying to get across is that in this day and age of global English and what many people regard as cultural homogenisation, heavy metal is one of the few remaining bastions where it’s actually okay not to be a “world citizen” speaking (and singing) in some clichéd mid-Atlantic variety of English.

This might sound like some pathetic exercise in jingoistic fist-waving at all things global but it’s really not. Spend more than a few minutes looking through the Myspace pages of various metal bands and you’ll notice something strangely curious. Lots of them are singing in their own languages. Even the people who speak languages that aren’t considered to be “beautiful” in the traditional sense. It doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t make sense, but for some strange reason it does. Continue reading