I hope this column doesn’t come across as too self-absorbed, but I will take the advice of someone on Twitter who recently said to me there was nothing wrong with celebrating one’s successes. Though on reflection, I’m not sure this is such a great success.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by leading German newspaper Bild about my iphoneography classes. In the article, I’m described as a Handy-Knipser and also (possibly) a Handy-Nutzer. I rather like these terms. The Handy-Knipser sounds a bit kinky, said one of my friends. But it reminded me of something I already knew from my previous job (I worked in a mainly German-speaking translation company), which is that “mobile phone” translates as “Handy” in German. Wo ist mein Handy? was a phrase I would often hear around the meeting table as a particularly tedious presentation was about to start. Handy is an example of what linguists call a false friend, a word in a foreign language that has been borrowed from another language but whose meaning has changed. In French “le footing” means jogging. Who knows how it came about. Perhaps an English person in about 1990 said of his newly acquired brick of a mobile phone: that will come in quite handy. And a German overheard him and mistakenly thought handy was the word for mobile and went back to Germany and spread the misinformation.
Of course I was thrilled to be featured in such a prominent publication. I’m told it has a circulation of 15 million. But then as I scrolled through it on Monday morning I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointment. They hadn’t quoted my online name. I was rather hoping my iphone would be buzzing with notifications of new followers on Instagram, Twitter and Flickr. Especially since it was a bank holiday in Germany on Monday, I had imagined thousands of Germans leisurely reading the article over breakfast and reaching for their mobiles to search for @rugfoot and then hitting the “folgen” button. If I’d had a social media manager, this oversight would have been a disciplinary matter, most likely followed by a first warning or even dismissal. But since I can’t fire myself, I can only be happy to have been featured at all and just get on with it.
But perhaps one reassuring thing about the article is how awful Google’s automatic translation is. I don’t think my ex-colleagues at the translation company should be too worried for their jobs if this is the standard of work Google’s finest robots can produce. But it does make me wonder, especially in the light of my social media manager’s abysmal performance on this one, whether I shouldn’t have left my old job after all.
‘Wo ist mein Handy?’ – ©Richard Gray