Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dear Mr McNeely

Welcome to the blogosphere. If you think it is nasty, petty, and pointless, I can provide some evidence which would tend to confirm your suspicions.

I suspect that you are under continental European influence. The clause

"One response is to simply minimize the problem" is not written completely in English.

In English to "minimize" something is to make it as small as possible. YOu use it as an exact translation of the Italian verb "minimizzare" which is correctly translated into English as "to downplay." That is you use a verb which means "to make it as small as possible" to mean "to claim it is small already." The distinction between assertions and reality is useful. It is worth being able to point out that hope is not a plan and that saying it is so does not make it so.

I will concede for the sake of argument that continental European languages are perfectly fine instruments of thought and communication, but a dogs lunch of English and (I suspect) French is a barrier to effective communication.

So to minimize the problem of cheating one would use "oversight measures." The English word for suggesting that a problem is small is "to downplay."

Your use "to minimize" as a translation of the Italian verb "minimizzare" which is a false friend. It means "to downplay" not "to minimize." This is just plain ordinary Italian and does not imply that Italians don't distinguish between claims of fact and facts. It doesn't mean that Italians have no idea what honesty is or that they don't believe in objective reality.

However, through misstranlation, this perfectly ordinary continental European verb becomes a jargon term and means of undermining the received view of language and truth. This is simply because sloppy translations are incorrect and English words are used with a meaning different from their standard English, because they sound like foreign words which do not translate the English word.

I don't speak French, but I strongly suspect that the incorrect use of "to minimize" comes from mistranslated French not mistranslated English.

1 comment:

nadezhda said...

You're being a tad too doctrinaire in your advice to the non-native speaker.

In the right context in English, we can use "minimize" to mean "downplay" or "not make a big deal about". That is, when it's clear that the "action" deals with expression about or analysis of the thing concerned. When we're talking about the thing itself, then "minimize" means "make smaller". And if it's ambiguous, we hear it as "make smaller," not "downplay".

So when in doubt, a non-native speaker should definitely follow your "rule".