Wednesday April 14th 2010, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Non-Knitting,Wildlife

Pictures borrowed from Paul Higgins and Marlene Foard; I couldn’t get the black-headed grosbeak that showed up in my yard today to hold still long enough to shoot my own photos, much though I tried, Richard’s mega-camera in hand. Thanks to Sally for helping me identify the species.

Meantime: does Babelfish come in an OED version?

There’s an online listing for a silk/cashmere laceweight yarn, shipped from China, and where it should mention care instructions it has the rather marvelous sentence, and I quote exactly, “Abstersion explain:handwash in cold water and dry flat”.  I looked up abstersion at and it defines it as to wipe clean or to clean, from Sir Walter Scott.

So Walter Scott made up some random word forever ago, being, you know, novel, and some poor guy in China is trying to use it to communicate?

I told Michelle there was this weird word and she, always up for a vocabulary challenge, looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site–where they said, well, that’s not in our regular online dictionary, but if you pay for our super-duper advanced version, then we can indeed tell you what it means.  But it is secret knowledge, with initiation writes involved, a real fee-for-all.  (Or words to that effect.  I’m translating.)

She was stunned, going, “I have *never* seen that before on their page! NEVER!” It was like the old Google game where you try to come up with a search that gets you only one result on the page–I won!

So how on earth did this guy in China get a hold of that word and think it was the right one?

And now we’ll just, I guess, absterge that useless word from our vocabularies? (I just made it real easy to, huh?) My computer’s spellcheck Does Not Approve.  That’ll teach it.

16 Comments so far
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Googling “Abstersion”, your post shows up on page 10. Along with all the dictionary entries, there’s a company in China with that name and a band. A band?!

Comment by LynnM 04.14.10 @ 10:47 pm

I’m wondering if they really meant “asperges” or if the other word came from that. Asperges is the sprinkling of the congregation with water by the priest in a symbolic cleansing.

Comment by Jan 04.15.10 @ 5:21 am

Still page. 10. I’ll do my best to keep checking back and maybe move you up.

Comment by LynnM 04.15.10 @ 5:51 am

I single-handedly just moved you up to p.7! Readers, begin checking at p.7! Alison could become famous among Chinese abstersioners.

Comment by LynnM 04.15.10 @ 5:54 am

I have no idea why anyone would want to absterse that word from their vocabulary. I plan to ansterse it to mine.

Comment by twinsetellen 04.15.10 @ 6:01 am

Word games! Fun!

Wait. Your word game came from the same curious frustration I had while trying to make sense of a rather poorly translated set of instructions that came with the Knight’s Chinese ozonator…

Comment by Channon 04.15.10 @ 6:45 am

“asperge” is French for asparagus.

“Aspersion” is sprinkling. Back in my Mormon missionary days in Paris we had a devout member who was Hungarian. His French sometimes took weird turns. In a Sunday School lesson he said, and I translate, “The Catholics practice baptism by asparagus.”

Comment by Dad 04.15.10 @ 8:44 am

It’s a beautiful bird, and I’m so glad we can embiggen photos.

Thanks for cheering me on tax day.

Comment by RobinM 04.15.10 @ 9:06 am

Heh…I run into that page on M-W *all the time*. And then of course at work I find that I have to simplify, simplify, simplify…because I have so many co-workers for whom English is a second language, and if I’m not careful, I’m completely unintelligible to them!

Comment by RobinH 04.15.10 @ 9:10 am

Beautiful birds! Almost as beautiful as mine, but then you knew I was prejudiced.

Words, words, words! Shakespeare used to make them up all the time.

Fun #1: Alison, have you seen “Pickles” in this morning’s (Thursday) comics?

Fun #2: The gene pool could use a little chlorine.

Consciousness: That annoying time between naps.

Comment by Don Meyer 04.15.10 @ 9:24 am

Thoughts from a linguist who works as a translator/reviewer: this translation could be the product of machine translation, the result being a litteral translation of the Chinese in words that make no sense in English, at least in this context.

Case in point: yesterday, I corrected a translation from EN to FR where “wrap up”, at the end of the meeting, was translated “remballez”. 😐

I wish we could find someone who speaks Chinese and English with who you could test the possibilities…

Until then, this is thoroughly entertaining: beauty for the eyes (lovely birds) and gymnastics for the brain. 🙂

Comment by Suzanne in Montreal 04.15.10 @ 11:38 am

Just a link further to my comment about “asperges” (always with an “s,”). Pictures etc. As you said in email, spelling was basically up to the individual and Scott could well have had something like this floating around in his mind.

Comment by Jan 04.15.10 @ 1:00 pm

Wonderful birds and fun word games! As a copier and printer repair tech, I deal with English translations of Japanese manuals quite a bit. My favorite is supposed to be a warning to ground yourself to avoid static electricity damaging the part. It reads “Before removing the LED print head, sufficiently do to let escape the static electricity which is electrified in the human body concerning the metal part and the like of the aqueduct faucet, after that do that work.”

Got it!?

Comment by DebbieR 04.15.10 @ 4:38 pm

Hahaha! What a great story! (I also enjoyed reading all the comments.) The bird is really beautiful.

Comment by Monica 04.15.10 @ 10:18 pm

I love obscure English.
If I had all the time in the world, I would likely enjoy obscure Cantonese, as well.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 04.16.10 @ 10:51 am

that’s a new word for me too. I’m gonna email my sister that one. she’s a word geek

Comment by Carol 04.16.10 @ 6:10 pm

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