Once in a Blue Moon

Tous les trente-six du mois

This is the French expression for "once in a blue moon". Curiously, blue moons DO occur, on the night of "no moon", once every 28 days. Whereas, no month has a 36th day! The number 36 crops up quite a bit in French as a "nobre indéterminé et avec un valeur d'intensif" - for example, "to see stars" is "voir trente-six chandelles". In 1895 Georges Polti published a book entitled "Les trente-six situations dramatiques", translated in 1916 by The Writer, Inc (Boston) as "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations".

Point du Jour

This is the motto of Lowestoft, England's most easterly town. The expression means "day break" and (not unreasonably) the town expected to host a number of people waiting to see the first British sunrise of the new millennium, on 1st January 2000. However, because the earth is tilted on its axis, the sun rises due east only in September. By January it is more to the south-east. So the first part of Britain to be struck by the sun's rays on 1st January turned out to be the South Foreland, in Kent, where the new millennium dawned at 0758 GMT followed six minutes later by Lowestoft.

Point vierge

Thomas Merton uses this expression on pages 128 and 155 of "Confessions of a Guilty Bystander". He offers no translation, but speaks of the pre-dawn, when there is an open-ness to all the most wonderful possibilities ("the gate of heaven is everywhere").

On Meaning and Reference

Frege's 1892 study "On Meaning and Reference" notes that the planet Venus may be called "the morning star" or "the evening star" depending upon where in the world you are. Similarly, I say the French for "French time is one hour in advance of GMT is NOT "L'heure en France est une heure en avance...." but rather "L'heure en Angleterre est une heure en retard...." It all depends upon your vantage point.

Cast your bread upon the waters....

For an interesting comparison of how to translate images, compare Chapters 11 and 12 of the Book Ecclesiastes in AV (King James) and TEV (The Good News Bible).

Signs and Symbols

What's the difference? See pages 105 and 106 of a biography of Walter Benjamin by Julian Roberts (Cambridge University Library 749.37.c.95.55). Unlike a sign, a symbol is not referential - it does not point to something, it simply is something. The Ancient Greeks spoke of a symbolon while the Romans used a tessera - half a broken bone or pot, which may be united with the other half in order to prove the identity of the bearer.

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