Archive | October, 2022

Two degrees of separation

25 Oct

These temperature conversions are totally correct (unlike the ones we were discussing in August): the interesting about them, for keen students of anglosphere media, is not their inaccuracy, but their telltale quality.

The Paris climate convention settled for nice round numbers for obvious reasons – clarity and memorability – when setting its target global warming limits. But it settled for them in Celsius. So in a major anglophone news market with exclusively imperial measurements – in other words, of course, the US – 2C and 1.5C become a much less catchy 3.6F and 2.7F. And for those with a practised eye, seeing them thus in a headline on the Mail website instantly identifies this global-interest piece’s country of origin, as surely as that parade of suspiciously Australian experts discussing heat deaths did last year.

Further down the article, we encounter a few more classic anglosphere problems: the text is resolutely in F, but the appended graphic is resolutely in C,

and whereas the main text has been converting from imperial to metric, the explainer box converts from metric to imperial,

giving the whole ensemble a “product of more than one country” feel.

This is not too difficult in mixed-measurements Britain, where, as we have observed before, we drive by the mile but refuel by the litre, and are fairly agile at switching between the two standards. But in countries where one system predominates, it must feel more alienating when the subject you are reporting about uses non-domestic measurements, especially if the conversions prove infelicitous, or even impossible.

Take – for a very random, recently encountered example – Belgian coverage of the NFL. In Le Soir, the report of this year’s Super Bowl (“un thriller hollywoodien”) by the news agency Belga does not even attempt to translate many of the sport’s terms, and certainly tries nothing so foolish as to introduce the idea of metres to the concept of down and distance.

Here it simply talks of “70 yards” (not even 70 “verges”, which might be one direct translation of the imperial measurement), just as “touchdowns” are that in French too (and even “drives”, albeit in neologism quotes).

Pleasingly, however, the report does use “saquer”, a verb meaning to fire, dismiss or mark someone down, for quarterback sacks. And for a conversion that’s actually better than the original, I love the phrase “passe ‘hallelujah'” for a long throw. Sounds even more exciting than a Hail Mary pass, and it only happened at the start of the second half.


Animal instincts

11 Oct

Shot at by coyotes? As if those wild desert canines weren’t ugly enough already. How do they manage to pull the triggers?

Hang on, though – look at that capitalisation. The Mail’s ear for emphasis, unlike some of its tabloid rivals, is unerring, and if it thinks being shot at is the biggest thing in the headline – not “shot at BY COYOTES” – then all may not be as it seems. In fact, it emerges after you click on the link that the “coyotes” here are human: it’s an American term for the people-smugglers who operate on the US-Mexican border, as the standfirst begins to make clear.

It’s another classic anglosphere news moment – a usage completely unfamiliar in Britain finding its way straight on to the UK homepage via the New York newsroom (just as, at the time of writing, readers of the American homepage are being informed of a former British soap actress’s new hobby of pole dancing, no doubt with a mixture of intrigue and bafflement as to who she is).

Even on the Mail website, though, coyote in this sense is quite rare – a comparative Google search suggests that only about 1,100 articles using the word also contain the word “smuggler”, compared with the 10,000-plus pieces about actual coyotes, the cast of Coyote Ugly, coywolves (coyote-wolf hybrids) and even zombie coyotes (no, really! Well, OK, they’re unwell and prowling around during the day).

It would be interesting to know just how well understood that usage is even in the US away from the southern border states – especially since, a few years ago, it even seemed to confuse President Trump, who spoke in a speech of the need for a border wall to deter “chaos, crime, cartels and, believe it or not, coyotes”.

You’d have thought that “chaos, crime and cartels” would have adequately covered the activities of the human type of coyote without … ? Anyway, never mind. Although given that canine coyotes were already widespread across western north America at the time of European colonisation, a wall would only serve to keep them in, rather than out.