Google Announces the Creation of a Translate Community

Google recently launched a Translate Community, inviting language-lover volunteers to help improve the accuracy of Google Translate services.

At first sight, this seems like a win-win situation, as long-suffering Google Translate users have often voiced their frustration with the quality of the translations rendered, while Google gets free knowledge (and labor) from a virtual community of volunteers who speak more than one language. (This is another issue: Google is a multinational corporation operating with billions of dollars annually; one would think that it could afford to pay professionals to do the job right!).

Is All that Glitters Gold?

Nevertheless, it might make sense to heed the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” because – as anyone who works in translation knows all too well – speaking is not translating, any more than walking is dancing.

Together with all the usual issues associated with crowdsourcing (susceptibility to malicious attacks, quality of work in general, reliability of contributors, problems with communication, and so on), there are drawbacks that are specific to collaborative translation/editing on a massive scale. This can be further complicated when editing a machine-generated translation, i.e., one that from the beginning lacks the human translation of its meaning. It seems rather like weekend DIYers building a skyscraper on a foundation of sand…

The Importance of Human Expertise

No matter how sophisticated, to date no machine translation system has been able to approach the professional translator’s sensitivity to language variant, context and register, essential elements in any good translation…and something that language-lovers volunteering their time and effort cannot be expected to contribute with their efforts, no matter how well-meaning or dedicated they may be.

The Pareto principle (aka the 80-20 rule) tells us that, for many events, about 80% of the effects are generated by about 20% of the causes. It remains to be seen if the Google Translate community will have enough knowledgeable volunteers who are active and expert enough to provide the accurate information needed to guarantee translation accuracy in sufficient volume, and how this will balance out with the contributions of those who are not.

A Bad Translation is Worse than No Translation at All

One of the most critical issues, however, might actually be one that is not commonly addressed: the illusion of reliability. Most translators have dealt with clients who want them to compete pricewise with machine translation (which is, of course, impossible) and have found themselves having to explain the pitfalls of Google Translate and other machine translation services in order to justify their rates. Some clients have finally “discovered” (perhaps after a negative experience!) that machine translation is not suitable for use in any but the most limited of circumstances, but it remains to be seen whether this new project to improve Google Translate services will lend a false illusion of reliability to what will nevertheless remain nothing more than machine translation.

Translate Community

Effective Client Management in the Translation Industry

Running a translation project efficiently is not easy. There are many aspects that Project Managers need to take into account to ensure that clients are satisfied and that they choose their translation agency over and over again. Each project should be well understood right from the beginning in order to anticipate potential risks or problems that could lead to unnecessary delays in the turnaround time.

translation-project-management

What aspects should Project Managers take into consideration?

Successful translation projects are result not only of the ability and expertise of language professionals but also of a variety of factors that Project Managers need to handle.

In order to manage clients effectively, translation agencies need to pay attention to certain aspects that contribute to a positive relationship with clients.

Know your client

Why does your client need that document translated?

Has he hired a translation agency or professional translator before? If he has, was he satisfied with the results?

Before starting working on a translation, Project Managers need to do a careful research of their client’s requests as this will allow them to think of all the necessary professionals that will be involved in the project (translators, proofreader, DTP specialists, etc). Quote should never be sent before seeing the files that will be translated or knowing full details of the project.

Project Managers should educate their clients.  Sometimes they have unreal expectations for their translation:  they might want it delivered sooner than what is possible, ask for a translation to be delivered with identical format without having the source documents, etc . Project Managers should also request the final text that needs to be translated. If clients provide edited versions once the translation has been assigned, this will cause unnecessary delays and changes in the original price.

The client’s expectations need to be documented and confirmed in writing, and everybody involved in the project should be well aware of them. Project Managers need to monitor the translation project constantly and make sure that everybody is on the same page.

Clients also need to be informed about the translation process and how the workflow is managed. This is essential in order to guarantee the highest quality and an on-time delivery.

Managing the Client Review Process

Once the document is translated, your client might ask someone from his company to check it.

Define who will be resposible for this: What are their qualifications? Are they specialist in the subject matter or just someone who speaks the target language? A timeline should be set, otherwise you could get a review request several months after completing a project.   Last but not least, your client should clearly track changes, ideally in Word or in PDF.

What May Compromise an Effective Client Management?

Client management can be seriously compromised if any or some of these situations occur:

  • The information available is not enough: Either because the client is not clear about his expectations or because he doesn’t provide enough information about the project or because the Project Manager does not communicate fluently with the translator. The lack of information ends up affecting the way the project is managed.
  • Changing scope and deadlines:  Adding or removing text from a document or delaying the turnaround time of a translation contributes to compromising the client management.
  • Third parties: From editors to designers, third parties participating directly or indirectly in the translation project may cause unexpected delays in the turnaround time of the translated document.
  • Lack of leadership from the client or the Project Manager.
  • Lack of motivation or negative attitude from the Project Manager.

Managing clients effectively is not impossible. Translation agencies should make sure their Project Managers have the right skills and training so that they can complete a project on time, on budget, and with high quality results.

Will machines reach human levels of translation quality by the year 2029?

Will it be possible to rely on the accuracy of a machine translated document by the year 2029? Will human levels of translation quality be reached by machines and software programs?

Translation and interpreting services have been traditionally considered human activities with little to almost no space for technical interventions. However, technical developments in language and translation software have led translators and interpreters to assume that their job will be highly influenced by machines by the year 2029.

Language is a living entity. It’s much more than a collection of isolated words and expressions. Each language embodies a cultural background, cultural concepts and a certain level of subtlety that even the most accurate and highly trained translator cannot translate perfectly.

human-vs-MACHINE

In the video below, Mr. Ray Kurzweil –a well-known inventor, author and futurist- points out that translators and interpreters should embrace language-related technology advancements as a means of expanding their translating and interpreting abilities. No machine will ever be able to capture the subtlety in all languages as many expressions simply cannot be translated isolated and without context. He adds that even though there’s a natural resistance against translation machines, the truth is that the translated documents, both verbal and written, that they produce tend to get better and sound more natural over time. He accepts that machine translators may not be useful to translate romantic sentiments or more poetic forms but they are actually adequate for translating business discussions and everyday conversations.

According to Ray Kurzweil, when these technologies are first introduced, they tend not to work very well and people tend to dismiss them. They are perfected; they improve their performance and sneak up on us, and even though they seem revolutionary, they’ve been around for years already.

However, Kurzweil is cautious and emphasizes that translation technologies will not replace human translators and interpreters. By the year 2029, machines will be able to provide human levels of translation quality in certain type of translations and in certain translation fields but people’s need to learn foreign languages in order to enjoy and understand a literary piece in its source language or the need to rely on a professional translator to understand the meaning of a poetic writing will not be altered.

In a globalized world, accurate translation services are in great demand even if the economic context is not the best one. Translation companies can and should take advantage of translation technologies as they become available as they are useful tools that help them be ready for globalization and provide their clients with expanded language services.

Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology from Nataly Kelly on Vimeo.

Crowdsourcing translation – a positive step for the deaf and hard of hearing

Amara is a large source of non-profit, crowdsourcing translations. The platform was launched by the creators of YouTube to translate as much video content on the web as possible, into as many languages as possible, as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible.

What are the positive aspects of crowdsourcing translations?

More and more people worldwide choose to watch documentaries, films, TV series and other kinds of video content via the Internet instead of on television or via cable. The difficulty lies in not always being able to understand the languages spoken in online videos or in not being able to hear the content of the videos if you happen to be deaf or hard of hearing. Amara is a platform which hopes to eradicate these issues through crowdsourcing translation and so far it has proven itself to be very, very successful.

On average, Amara can translate and upload captions onto any film in 22 different languages within 24 hours. This effectively means that, in an incredibly short space of time, the content of that film can be watched across the globe and be made accessible to the deaf community or the hard of hearing. The most astonishing factor of Amara’s success is that the people who translate are volunteers – they’re people from the online community who simply sign-up to the platform and start translating in languages that they speak.

What are the possible problems faced by crowdsourcing translation platforms?

One of the biggest feats involved in the management of video content online, however, is the sheer volume involved. Translating online videos into 22 languages in the space of 24 hours is an impossible task for any ordinary translation company to take on, particularly when taking into consideration that all translators in translating companies are paid for their work. Amara recruits translators from all over the world for free, simply by reaching out to a community of online video-content enthusiasts who are only too happy to help when it comes to making internet content available to all.

One of the main issues with platforms like Amara is whether or not they are sustainable. If the Amara community begins to dwindle and volunteer translators stop translating at any point, the system will fail. In addition, there are lots of measures which have to be put in place in order to check the quality of the community translations and these measures require time, manpower and monetary investment. Amara’s philosophy is, without a doubt, a positive step forward for globalization and for the deaf/hard of hearing community, but the maintenance of the platform might prove to be unmanageable in the years to come.

What do qualified translators have to say?

Most translation companies and freelance translators who hold high-quality translation certificates show little support for platforms like Amara for obvious reasons. The idea that “anyone” can produce trusted, quality translations through crowdsourcing undermines the skills, qualifications and experience of professional, paid translators. It would appear that few people would argue with this point.

Crowdsourcing translations are no real match for the quality of paid translations by translation experts, but the translation of online video-content is such an overwhelming huge task that in some cases online users would argue that some kind of translation is better than no translation at all. Amara gives the deaf and hard of hearing community access to more online video-content from all over the world than ever before. The positives of this fact are indisputable.

Machine translation far from replacing human translators

Machine translation has been around for over 20 years now, with new software, programs and web applications being developed at an impressive rate. One of the main reasons for this relates to the importance of the Internet in our daily lives and its subsequent effect: globalization.

However, despite the continued efforts and creative ideas of the developers of machine translation, human translation still remains the predominant force within the translation industry. Human translation is, without a doubt, globally considered to offer the best service in terms of quality for one basic reason: accuracy.

human-translation-vs-machine-translation

Human translation will never be redundant

Machine translation might be quicker, might offer short fixes to immediate problems, it might be useful for translations of basic content needs (like the kind of information likely to be found in a Facebook or Twitter post, or the kind of information found in online forums), but machine translation will never beat human translation when it comes to accurate translations which take context, culture, local community knowledge and the nuances of language (such as metaphors, puns and humor) into account.

This is why, unlike a number of industries worldwide, the translation industry continues to grow year on year and professionals continue to train to become qualified translation experts. Fear of redundancy in the translation industry is very, very low.

What’s happening in the translation industry? What’s its growth like? What are the real figures we should be looking at?

The translation industry is not affected by recessions like most other private industries. The demand for translations is simply too high and this demand is a global one. The most “in-demand” job in the translation industry is for military translators and, according to research conducted by the Common Sense Advisory, the top 100 companies operating in the market generate anything from US$427 million to US$4 million on an annual basis.

Another report, undertaken by IbisWorld, reveals that translation services will most probably reach US$37 billion by 2018, with the United States being the largest market in the world, closely followed by Europe and then Asia. Both government sectors and private companies contribute to the demand for high quality translation across the globe. In fact, the United States Bureau of Statistics predicts the industry to grow by an incredible 42% by the time we get to 2020.

The Internet, globalization and rising industries

The incredible demand for translation expertise on a global scale is a positive sign for both machine and human translations sectors. As the Internet continues to provoke a surge in globalization, there will be more companies, organizations and individuals in need of both quick, concise translations, and detailed, quality translations; those which can only be completed by human translators who have a deep understanding of both the language, the culture and the context of the translation task that they have in front of them.

IBISWorld believes that the translation industry has gone way beyond the growth phrase and is now in the mature phase of its business cycle. By 2018, IBISWorld predicts the translation services will have increased at a rate of 4.7% per annum. The prediction for the global GDP growth for the same period is set to reach a mere 2.1% in comparison. Human translators are going to be needed to cope with such expansions. There’s little doubt that what they can offer in terms of accuracy and contextual knowledge will ever be beaten by a machine, search engine or software program, not matter how good it happens to be.

On a final note, for those translators working on translations for the medical and pharmaceutical industry, the prospects are even greater, particularly in the Asia-Pacific market. Translation services in this area of the industry and in this part of the world are expected to experience an increase of over 14% in the next four years.

Machines might be fast, but the translation industry is going to need plenty of human manpower to deal with the growing demands of globalization in the coming years too. There’s nothing which can beat that human touch.

What are the Top Language Industry Trends of 2014?

Advances in technology, in particular mobile technology, combined with the constant growth in social media communication, are the two driving forces behind the expected demand for professional language and translation services in 2014.

language-trendsImage courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to Renato Beninatto, the CMO of Moravia, we will see “major growth in the [language] industry this year.” Beninatto predicts that the expansion of mobile technology and social communications will generate a much higher “demand for localized language solutions.”

The National Council for Languages and International Studies has said that public and private-sector language-related initiatives are now a billion dollar enterprise in the US. In 2013, the industry generated $25 billion in the US alone.

The incredible growth recorded in the industry last year has been attributed to the large number of US companies working diligently to expand and strengthen their global presence. Mobile technology and social media communications have made international business opportunities so accessible that most companies worldwide, large and small, recognize the importance of investing in translation and other language services in order to open their doors to foreign markets.

Strangely enough, however, at the same time as investing $25 billion in language-related initiatives in 2013, the US continues to suffer from a lack of language-related subject interest in the classroom. The US Council on Foreign Relations believes that “foreign language education is on the decline,” and that it has been in serious decline for a number of years. This means that a lot of the language-related jobs needed for US brands to expand their businesses on a global level is outsourced to language experts in other countries.

In short, there are three main language-related trends that we should be ready for in 2014. 78% of CMOs believe that custom content is the future of marketing, reports Social Media Today. If companies want to continue globalizing their businesses throughout 2014, the most important tool that they will have at their disposal is that of content marketing programs. Companies which excel in 2014 will be those companies which invest both time and money in finding ways of connecting with different languages and cultures via mobile technology and social media communications.

Every day, more and more people are turning to mobile devices and smartphones as their primary source of information. Users access information from all over the world and they’re interested in what foreign companies have to offer/share. The demand for localized translations is likely to soar throughout 2014 and this will include translation services which dub multimedia content too.

On a final note, the impressive growth of cloud computing throughout 2013 improved the tracking precision of online user behavior. The detailed access to the demographics of a mass online audience that cloud computing has given us means that companies can now invest even more time and money in the generation of personalized online content for local communities and dialects. A surge in “local” translations is likely to further strengthen the economic position of the language industry as we progress throughout the next months.

The future seems to be very, very bright.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of crowdsourcing translation?

crowdsourcing

Some believe crowdsourcing to be a viable option for the translation industry and others are concerned that speed, quantity and low costs are no match for quality human translations.

Crowdsourcing is a relatively modern process, normally undertaken online, which enables a crowd of people to join together to complete a work-related project or raise a sum of money for a worthwhile cause. The term “crowdsourcing,” a combination of the words “crowd” and “outsourcing,” is best exemplified as a successful process by Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia encyclopedia wasn’t created via the more conventional process of hiring writers and editors to generate the content. Instead, Wikipedia appealed to the masses, a “crowd” of informed and enthusiastic online users, who were given full authority to create the information on their own. Wikipedia, as a result, is the most comprehensive encyclopedia we have ever seen.

The idea is that, by appealing to a large crowd of informed people equipped with the ideas and skills necessary to do the job, contributing enthusiasts will not only generate quality content but they will also make sure that the content generated is consistently updated.

Crowdsourcing in the translation industry

Wikipedia might be an undoubtable example of crowdsourcing success, but that doesn’t mean crowdsourcing is an appropriate avenue for all industries or all projects on every occasion. The translation industry is not necessarily the right environment for this kind of venture, or so many translation experts believe.

The advantages

Machine translation a few years ago made a play to dominate the translation industry by proving itself to be quicker and cheaper than human translation (HT). It became clear that what was missing from the machine translation was the quality, care and accuracy which was guaranteed from human translation. The result was the development of computer-aided translation (CAT), the post-human approach to modern translation which combines the efficiency of computing techniques with human quality.

Crowdsourcing in the translation industry hopes to go one better than CAT. Crowdsourcing translations are human translations which hopes to guarantee the accuracy of the work. Particularly when taking the case of Amara, crowd-sourced subtitle translation service for Youtube, into consideration.

Amara with its $1 million grant, has proved that via its crowdsourcing efforts it can translate videos into 20 different languages within 24 hours. The translations are generated by YouTube fanantics and “online nerds,” authorities in their individual fields with the time, interest, dedication and knowledge to make contributions as part of a global effort to translate YouTube information as quickly as possible.

The disadvantages

One of the main issues with crowdsourcing translations is, as with all new things, once something goes out of fashion or fails to continue to capture interest, productivity can slow down or die without much time to find an alternative.

It’s doubtful that interest in the crowdsourcing translations for Amara on YouTube will decrease. YouTube is just too popular. Here are some basic YouTube facts to blow your mind…

  • 60 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube per minute (to put that another way… one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second)
  • More than 4 billion videos are viewed on YouTube every day
  • More than 800 million unique users visit YouTube every month

Amara, therefore, is a translation project which already has the support of a huge number of online enthusiasts. Other translation projects might not be so popular and might risk standing the test of time. Crowdsourcing translations in some instances might simply run their course and it might be necessary to recruit paid translators to finish or continue the job anyway.

It’s also important to consider that while the Amara crowdsourcing community might be a crowd of video experts, translating into their native languages, they probably don’t have professional translation experience. Having subject matter knowledge and being a native speaker, doesn’t automatically make you an expert translator.

A number of industry experts believe that crowdsourcing translation projects still need to be monitored and edited or proofread by professional translators. In this sense the high quality, low costs and rapid results promised by crowdsourcing translation ventures, is nothing but a fleeting, well-disguised illusion.

Ten questions you should ask a translation provider before hiring them

Hiring the services of a translation provider can be a difficult task, whether you’ve had experience in the area before or not. There’s a number of fundamental concerns to cover before signing a contract with anyone, most of which can be carefully covered by asking the right questions.

Translation providers unable or unwilling to respond to your questions can be eliminated from the list immediately. The following ten questions aren’t difficult for experienced, qualified translation providers to answer. Nor are they designed to catch anyone out. On the contrary, these questions will give trusted, capable translation providers the opportunity to prove their worth and encourage you to invest in the translation services that they provide.

In addition, anyone looking to hire the services of a translation provider will be able to use the questions below to find out exactly what to expect from their potential providers before any actual translating work gets underway.

1. Do you charge per page, per target word or per source word?

Translation providers don’t all charge for their work in the same way. Some charge per page and others per word. However, there are some differences to take into account when being charged per word. For example, if you are charged per “source word” you will know exactly what you will be charged, because the “source language” is the language your document is written in when you hand it over to be translated.

If the translation provider wants to charge you per “target word” it might work out cheaper or more expensive, depending on the languages involved. Spanish uses more words in general than English. Therefore, translations from English to Spanish which are charged per “source word” are always going to be cheaper than those charged by “target word” for obvious mathematical reasons.

2. Does your service include proofreading by a second translator?

It’s important to remember that even the most-skilled and experienced of translators is still just a human being. Human beings make errors and even though the translator will proofread his or her own work, it’s important to ensure that a second translator, as equally skilled and qualified for the job, will be in charge of reviewing the translation before the document is handed back to you.

Fresh eyes are needed and a second translator will also bring a fresh perspective to the translation which might help to raise small, but important, areas for improvement or authenticity.

Translation agencies usually include the proofreading fee in their quotes.

3. Who will be doing the actual translation?

Find out as much as possible about the education, translation certificates and specific experience of the actual translator who will be the one performing the translation of your documents. Find out whether he or she is a native speaker too, if possible.

Think about the kind of documents you need translating and for what purpose too. For example, you might need to find a translator with formal qualifications in legal translations or medical translations. The qualifications held by one translator will vary greatly when compared with the next. Some translators might not even hold formal qualifications. Find out as much as possible about the translation service provider and what requirements they ask of the translators that they choose to work with.

4. Can you provide me with the references of two previous clients?

The best way of finding out whether or not a translation provider is going to supply you with the kind of translation service you’re hoping for, is to ask for references from previous clients. However, bear in mind that not all translation providers will want to share this information with you, irrespective of whether or not the references would paint them in a good light.

There are rules and regulations related to client confidentiality in the translation industry, as laid out by various translation associations, which protect translators and their clients from sharing such information. Indeed, some translators can take offence if pushed too hard for information which they consider to be confidential. If the translator is happy to share this information, that’s great, but don’t labor the issue too much as it does go against the basic ethical conduct unless they have previously asked their clients to ask for permission to give out their contact information for references.

5. Will you review the comments and corrections I make to the translation?

Erring on the side of the pessimist, your translation might come back to you and despite having been translated by the best in the business and proofread by someone even better than the best, you might find a problem with the translation and need it to be rectified. Taking this possibility into consideration before the translation work even begins is important as you should consult the translation provider beforehand to find out what would happen under such circumstances.

You’ll need to establish early on how many revisions the translation provider would be willing to make and what the turn-around time for these revisions would be. It’s also important to find out how you would be expected to highlight corrections/revisions to the translation on the document itself. Find out if you would be able to leave direct notes to the translator on the document or whether you would need to file your comments in an email or some other kind of document.

It’s also really important to find someone trustworthy who can check the translation of the translated document for you so that you know you have received exactly what you were promised and have paid for. This is particularly important if either the “target” or “source” languages, or both, are foreign to you.

6. Does your quote expire?

When searching for the right translation provider, it might take some time. You might contact anywhere between 5 – 20 different providers and during that time the quotes that each provider has given you might end up changing. Some prices are good only for a specific period of time and therefore it’s worth checking whether or not the price you have been quoted has an expiry date or not.

7. Does your translation include a Certificate of Accuracy?

You may need your translations to include a Certificate of Accuracy. Firstly, not all translation providers offer this service and secondly those which do don’t always include the cost of that certificate in the quote that they provide you with. The Certificate of Accuracy is something you normally have to ask for separately from the basic translation work that you need done.

In addition, you might need to have the translations notarized. As with the Certificate of Accuracy, not all translation providers offer notarization services and those which do will charge separately for the same.

8. Do you offer any discounts for large volumes or bulk translation work projects?

Many translators/agencies offer discounts for large volumes, frequent translations or nonprofits.

9. Will you send me the translation in the same file format?

Translation providers don’t all use the same translation programs or translation tools. The market for translation technology continues to grow and translation providers will make changes to the programs they use depending on the features that these new technologies offer them. Some programs, like the OmegaT GPL Translation Memory Tool, are compatible with files which can be saved and shared as Microsoft Office, Rich Text Formats and HTML files.

The important thing is to ask about file formats from the very beginning. Find out what kind of file the translation company will send your translation through to you in and check whether or not this is going to cause difficulties for you in terms of needing to format your document. For instance, if you send a PDF file, the translator might send you back a Word document with a format which might not be identical to the original. Some translators offer Desktop Publishing services at extra costs.

10. What are the terms and conditions of payment?

Be sure to ask about the terms and conditions of payment and get those terms and conditions recorded in writing. It will be necessary to find out whether or not payment needs will be required upfront and in what forms you will be able to pay for the translations provided. Some translation providers do not accept credit cards, for instance. Other translators might offer the option to pay in installments.

Don’t be a nincompoop!

British English is full of fun and fanciful terms. The phrase, “Don’t be a nincompoop!” is just one prime example.

British termImage courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Nincompoop,” meaning fool or idiot, was traced back to its first usage in the 1670s by Jonson in his Dictionary of 1755. He believed the word to have come from the Latin legal term, “non compos mentis”, which translates to insane or mentally incompetent or not of sound mind. However, there are a number of etymologists who decidedly disagree with this explanation.

For example, some experts believe that “nincompoop” has actually developed from a proper name. Nicodemus, a derivation of Nicholas, has been cited as a possible example, as it was used in the French language to denote a fool.

Another band of etymologists, however, believe that “nincompoop” might simply be an invented word. The Oxford English Dictionary also believes that the origins of the word can be dated back to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and that there were a variety of versions of the word in use, including nicompoop and nickumpoop.

Folk etymology, like the kind John Ciardi from A Browser’s Dictionary uses to dismissively relate “nincompoop” to the Dutch phrase nicht om poep, which means “the female relative of a fool,” might hold some weight. “To poop” is an English verb used today to describe the action of going to the toilet, but in the past it was a verb which meant “to cheat” or “to fool.” This verb probably came from the Dutch verb, “poep”, which means “to shit” or “to fart,” which highlights interesting connections between the many meanings of these verbs.

According to Francis Grose’s slang dictionary of 1785, “nincompoop” has experienced a number of spelling variations. There have been recordings of nickumpoop, nincumpoop, nink-a-poop, ninkompoop, ninkumpupe, ninny-cum-poop. In Grose’s notes, “nincompoop,” regardless of how it is spelt, is the word used to describe someone, “who never saw his wife’s ****,” (the asterisks are printed, exactly as printed here, in Grose’s dictionary). An alternative etymology is offered by a later slang collector, John Camden Hotten, who in 1860 suggested the ‘corruption of ‘non compos mentis’ (not of sound mind).

Despite the uncertainty about the origins of the term, its use has always been pretty clear. “Nincompoop” is either used to refer to a fool or a simpleton. The “nincompoop” is a human being, lacking in intelligence and who flaunts his or her stupidity without shame in front of others. Favourable synonyms of the terms include, jackass, idiot, dunce, imbecile, or moron. Any term used to describe an ignorant simpleton can be replaced with the British phrase, “nincompoop”.

However, there are also a few instances in which “nincompoop” has been used to refer to something other than ignorant stupidity. “Nincompoop” has also been used to mean a suitor who lacks self-confidence and it was used by Thomas Shadwell in his 1672 play entitled, “Epsom Wells,” to refer to a hen-pecked husband.

It’s worth mentioning that “nincompoop” is still regularly used by the British in the 21st century in general conversation. It is used as a soft, teasing term amongst friends and loved ones, for the most part, rather than as a cutting term meant to cause pain to someone else or make them feel uncomfortable. The British love for silly-sounding words is probably one of the most important factors in the longevity of this particular 1670s phrase.

 

You wouldn’t Adam ‘n’ Eve it!

With the passing of yet another year, the world has already begun to look forward toward a fresh start and a new beginning. What better duo than Adam and Eve, the starry couple from the very beginning of time, to send us bouncing into 2014 with a cockney rhyming slang phrase on the tips of our tongues?

“Adam and Eve” is the cockney rhyming phrase meaning “to believe” and used by many as a substitute for the verb in the East End of London. It’s not uncommon for a Londoner to enter a room and spark up a story of outrage beginning with, “You wouldn’t Adam ‘n’ Eve it!” but it’s also highly probable that most Londoners who use the phrase know very little about where it comes from and when it first became part of the Eastender’s standard vocabulary.

A brief history of Cockney Rhyming Slang

In the very early part of the 19th century, the first East London police force was formed by Sir. Robert Peel. Police officers earned the nickname, “Peelers” or “Bobbies,” (Bob being the shortened version of Robert). They were some of the first victims of Cockney Rhyming Slang, which was specifically created by East London’s lower classes so that they could communicate with each other without running the risk of the “Bobbies” catching on to what they were saying.

Modern changes

As we move into 2014, you might not Adam ‘n’ Eve it, but Cockney Rhyming Slang continues to go through some big and important changes. For example, it’s less likely that popular, Cockney rhyming phrases would be heard in and around the East End London. Most Cockney speakers are now found a little bit further out in Essex. During the past five decades, East Londoners have been slowly moving out of London and Cockney Rhyming Slang has been duly migrating out with them.

In the 19th century, Cockney Rhyming Slang was a dialect used by East Londoners, born in and around the Bow Road area. However, it is now more accurate to say that most white, working-class people from the south east region of England are the common speakers of Cockney Rhyming phrases.

Grappling to hold onto traditions

Fearing that Cockney Rhyming Slang will one day die out completely, a number of East London schools have been part of a project to teach the phrases to young children. “Apples and pears” (meaning stairs) and “Have a Butcher’s hook,” (meaning look) form part of an East London campaign designed to get Cockney recognised as an official dialect.

This educational program not only hopes to encourage the younger generation to begin reutilising as many Cockney Rhyming Slang phrases as possible, but it also aims to revive East London (Cockney) foods and traditional dishes, as well as East London (Cockney) customs.

Over 100 dialects are spoken by children in East London schools. Cockney, if we consider it to be a dialect, is one of the largest. This explains the recent push towards making Cockney Rhyming Slang part of the East London primary schools’ language program. If you don’t Adam ‘n’ Eve it, feel free to get the full story in London’s Daily Mail Online.