Not Lost in Translations

Friday, January 06, 2006

Not Lost in Translations

Students of foreign languages are familiar with the fact that no matter how technically perfect your grasp of the language, you can't really call yourself fluent until you have a good command of common idioms--"grab the bull by the horns" and that sort of thing. Dutch is no exception, having hundreds if not thousands of phrases whose literal meaning gives scant clue to their actual meaning. There's a best-seller here that gives alleged examples of Dutch people mangling English, which consists mostly of idioms translated literally word-for-word from normal Dutch into surreal English.

On the other hand, sometimes a direct translation works. This seems to be the case with the concept of a warm or cold heart and a hot or cool head, as witness the hot water Amsterdam's mayor got into for saying something that wasn't cool.
Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen has distanced himself from his reported description of Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk a "hot-head with a cold heart" in the way she implements her policies.
So far, so good. But if you can comprehend Cohen's excuse, you're smarter than I. Of course, so far as I know, his explanation might have been just as opaque in the original Dutch. The most I can get is that since Cohen used to be in charge of immigration policy under a previous government, he was trying to make the point that the harsh things that are happening to asylum seekers aren't the fault of the law (which he administered in compassionate fashion) but of how the law is used.

Cohen confirmed he had used the words in an interview with magazine 'Vrij Nederland', but said he had only done so in relation to examples put to him by the writer.

He said he had not approved the controversial remark as it appeared in the magazine because he had not used it in that context.

Cohen told 'Vrij Nederland' that immigration policy actually required a "cool head with a warm heart. He was reflecting on the establishment of the Vreemdelingenwet (Immigration Law) in 2000. He was the junior minister in charge of immigration policy at the time.

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