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flame rising from Bunsen burner

Robert Bunsen – his burner and its impact on the gas industry

flame rising from Bunsen burner

A Bunsen burner

Article by Dr Fred Starr PhD, FIMMM, FIE, MIMechE, CEng

When thinking of key German Scientists, I recollect our Chemistry Lab, at my school in Stockton-on-Tees, where adorning the polished benches, was, in a sense, the greatest of all scientific devices, a set of Bunsen burners. Artifact of every Mad Scientist movie. The first real job for our aged, silvery haired, and distinguished Chemistry master, Mr Dee, was to show us how this amazing device worked. When the slider was closed, flame was luminous and wafted around in a lazy manner. True magic came with the opening of the slider, when the burner was noisier, and although now a transparent blue, was obviously hotter. “Never allow the flame to light back” he proclaimed. “The gas that’s produced will kill you!”
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Home office or work from home?

Thoughts on working from home and the term ‘home office’, by HE Translations director Herbert Eppel

Like many language service providers, I have been working from home for many years now, as described in the Leicester Mercury article from 2009 under the heading “Home work – we love it!”, which is available for your delectation here. Although the article didn’t foresee corona, it could perhaps be regarded as rather prescient in that it described a growing trend towards home working and envisaged a future in which this could become the norm, rather than an exception.

During the corona pandemic the term Homeoffice (alternative spelling: Home-Office) found its way into the standard German Duden dictionary – see here. Intriguingly, and perhaps mildly entertainingly, when Germans say or write Homeoffice, more often than not they refer to the activity (e.g. “ich mache Homeoffice“, literally translated as “I am doing home office” but indicating “I am presently working from home”), rather than a physical space.

In any case, the question of whether ‘home office’ is also used in English was recently debated in translator circles. The answer isn’t as clear-cut as one might think, and not just because of the potential confusion with the UK Government’s Home Office, which in a strict technical sense is the government department responsible for security and immigration within the country, analogous to an interior ministry or Innenministerium in German. The controversial activities of the UK Home Office in pursuing “hostile environment” actions against non-UK citizens mean that most will want to avoid ambiguous language that might suggest they have any connection to such an entity. Saying one is in The Home Office at present might worryingly suggest entanglement in labyrinthine bureaucracy and queues, or even the threat of impending expulsion.

In any case, I for one have no hesitation in referring to the dedicated room from which I run my translation business as my home office. And this is the point: someone who only works from home occasionally or perhaps temporarily, e.g. during the pandemic, may not have a dedicated room in their home, in which case they couldn’t really refer to their home office. It seems perfectly logical that those who do have such a room refer to it as their home office, and there can be little doubt that the term will rapidly become more common, as evidenced by the fact that it is already included in the Cambridge Dictionary, for example. If the term does indeed take hold in English, in future will people say they are homeofficing or just use the shorthand acronym WFH? And will a mistranslation somewhere say “I am conducting an interior ministry”, adding a religious dimension to mundane domestic labour?

Person staring into distance on beach

Naming that indescribable ache to be somewhere else: Fernweh in days of lockdown

magical misty seascape

Dreaming of faraway lands

Many of those locked away in long days of lockdown feel an indescribable ache to be someplace else, not just anywhere, somewhere nice and new and interesting. The German language already has a precise word for that aching far away feeling, and the German word has lately been been filling a void in the English language: Fernweh.

Fernweh isn’t just a case of “Get me out of here” or “Beam me up Scotty” or a desire to be nowhere at all, it’s a longing for faraway places that erase the ache and relieve the longing, and so the word is used in German travel adverts and even printed prominently on brands of activity clothing.Continue reading full article…

Fred Widmanstatten pattern

Widmanstatten meteorites

Article by Dr Fred Starr PhD, FIMMM, FIE, MIMechE, CEng

In an earlier posting I mentioned the barely explicable Widmanstatten structure, seen in the iron-nickel Marburg meteorite, which was found by local people as result of Alfred Wegener offering a reward. Although a good deal is known about the Widmanstatten pattern or structure, I want to explain, why, in my view, there are some unanswered questions.

Fred Widmanstatten pattern

Etched section from part of a meteorite discovered near Muonionalusta, northern Sweden

To see the Widmanstatten structure one must take a slice from the meteorite, grind and polish the surface so it gleams like a mirror, and then gently etch it using a weak solution of nitric acid, dissolved in alcohol. The underlying structure is then visible to the naked eye. It has the appearance of a pattern consisting of fine strips of paper laid on top of one another. Sometimes the strips are at right angles. Other times they can be at 30° or 60°.

The German Professor, Fritz Heide, published the “Kleine Meteoritenkunde” in 1934, one of the first books on meteorites. It was subsequently brought up to date by Frank Wlotzka and translated into English in 1994. Although missing more recent accounts of meteor phenomena, and in situ investigations of the asteroids and planets, it remains one of the standard works on the subject. Nevertheless, this book, and what I have read on the internet, doesn’t really tell us where Widmanstatten meteorites come from. Heide and Wlotzka were more interested in the stony meteorites, that are much more common.Continue reading full article…

Alfred Wegener: Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane, 1929

Alfred Wegener: author of the theory of Continental Drift

Article by Dr Fred Starr PhD, FIMMM, FIE, MIMechE, CEng

It was just a mention from our Welsh Geography master, in one of the better schools of Stockton-on-Tees, where, back in the 1950s, I first heard of what is now loosely called Continental Drift. It was also from this teacher that I learnt that there was a paper called the “Manchester Guardian”. The only paper you can trust, he affirmed. Since 1961, under its new name, “The Guardian” I have been buying this left wing rag ever since. His purchasing of the Guardian and his espousal of what was then a somewhat weird account of Earth’s geological history, suggests that my Geography master was in a small but thinking minority. He was also against nuclear power, when the rest of Britain was all for it!

It was years afterwards, when I took up a casual interest in geology and fossil collecting that I learnt that it was the German, Alfred Wegener who was behind the idea of Continental Drift. But learning about the geology of Britain, I was struck by the fact that that hundreds of millions of years ago this country was covered by deserts. If it was that hot, at 55 degrees north, what was it like at the equator, I wondered? Literally boiling hot??? Continental drift would explain it all, but why didn’t died in the wool, professional geologists ask such an obvious question, instead of rejecting the theory.

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Glass of mulled wine and pinecones

Glugging glue wine as Christmas comes unstuck

Glass of mulled wine and pineconesDon’t sniff, but are spicy Brits glugging glue this Christmas? Bountiful bottles of Glühwein selling from UK supermarket shelves might suggest people who come unstuck in extended isolation are reaching for a remedy or trying to put a broken Christmas back together, but in fact this import is the traditional German equivalent of mulled wine, also known as spiced wine, and has no known connection to glue. A humble red wine heated with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and even raisins is a widespread winter drink in Europe and nicely disposes of otherwise undrinkable dregs of cheap wine. Although traditionally this potion goes by different names in different lands, now in English it is flirting with a hot new name from abroad, and we are provisionally adding it to our growing list of German words used in English.
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Paper glider

Ludwig Prandtl 1875-1953 – The man behind the science of aerodynamics

Article by Dr Fred Starr PhD, FIMMM, FIE, MIMechE, CEng

Ludwig Prandtl with his fluid test channel

Ludwig Prandtl is shown next to the water channel which he used in his early boundary layer investigations.

Ever wondered why you have to brush the dust off a piece of furniture? Not being able to blow it away? And were you puzzled that golf balls are knobbly rather than smooth? Surely a smoother ball should be more streamlined, and fly further? Or when boarding a jumbo jet, asked yourself why do the wings have to be so long, almost to the point of being floppy? Wouldn’t square shaped wings, attached along the length of the fuselage, be more sturdy?

The man who supplied us with the answer to these questions, the last one, being at one time a state secret, was Ludwig Prandtl, the greatest of all German Aeronautical Scientists. And a great bunch they were. Prandtl was there at the start of the business, when, although Lilienthal had died in his glider experiments, and the Wright Brothers had flown, there was no clear idea what kept an aircraft in the air. No one, in fact, had any idea, how best to design the most important attribute of an aircraft, the wings.

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Portrait of Johannes Kepler

Kepler: the first cosmologist

Johannes Kepler 1571-1630

Another view

Article by Dr Fred Starr PhD, FIMMM, FIE, MIMechE, CEng

Johannes Kepler was, arguably, the first and most important scientific son of Germany, long before it came to be a nation. Kepler was a true genius, who had to move from one country to another to earn a living and to avoid religious persecution, and he can also be claimed for Europe itself.

Kepler’s insight into how the planets move round the sun showed the need for a new physics of the Universe. That is, one that proposed a rational and testable scientific theory. Before Kepler, the belief that the sun, moon, planets and stars revolved round the Earth once a day, being kept in position with invisible rotating crystalline spheres, required no further discussion. Copernicus was stuck with circular motions for how the planets moved, as was Galileo.Continue reading full article…

Plugin or plug-in?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We remember reading somewhere that there is a demonstrable pattern in English: two separate words become a hyphenated compound, then eventually the hyphen disappears. In other words, most if not all hyphenated versions are ‘on their way out’, the only question being how long it will take.

In the case of plugin vs plug-in, the hyphenated version still seems to be the clear winner in the hybrid car market, for example – see Wikipedia page here. Google Ngram Viewer also shows the hyphenated version in the lead, although the rapid decline of the hyphen is obvious from the chart here. See also the pertinent discussion at English Language & Usage Stack Exchange here.

Conclusion: we will write plugin henceforth, except in cases where we want to differentiate something from a (code) plugin, e.g. “they were looking for a plug-in charging point”, which makes it clear that they were not looking for a piece of software 🙂

Binoculars

Do we have a British Covid Stasi?

By HE Translations team member Mike Gayler

BinocularsDuring the Coronavirus crisis there have been a number of allegations that people in Britain are ‘behaving like the Stasi’ or that we have a ‘Covid Stasi’, but how do these claims stack up against the reality of Germany’s past, and how does it relate to Britain today?

The Stasi was the official state security organisation for the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany. The full name was Staatssicherheitsdienst, and is acknowledged to have been both pervasive and effective. Its main task was to perform surveillance on the citizens of the country in order to quell dissent, although it operated in foreign countries through espionage and covert operations.

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