Category Archives: Lost in Translation

Hello, my name is Marissa. But you can call me…


-Marissa Tomko

Of the sea.

That’s what my first name means.  Not only is it a little weird due to its non-standard pronunciation (muh-REE-suh), but I happen to want to be a fish. That my name has to do with water thrills me. Is it a coincidence? Probably. But I would like to think otherwise.

My best friend is obsessed with tiaras. She always has a bow in her hair, and her birthday is a month long event in which she shamelessly commands our friend group to wait on her hand-and foot—charmingly of course. She’s a princess, aptly named. She answers to Sarah.

My most normal roommate is named Erin, a name which means peace, and is associated with Ireland. This surprised me until I realized that Erin happens to love a good drink and is always the balancing variable in our house. She is a peacemaker if I ever met one.

The point that I’m trying to make is that I believe our names define a large part of who we are. Of course, the definition of everybody’s name does not match them perfectly. But to what extent do our names decide our lives?

According to The Week, names have more of an impact than we realize. It notes research that says there are more dentists named Dennis than is proportionately normal. Personally, I associate dentists with the Hermey’s of the world, but I realize that not everyone believes in elves.

Does having an unique name make you unique? Maybe. But not because your name might be something cool, like Seawillow. (I went to high school with a girl named that. She ruled.) Live Science theorizes that a unique name given by parents is just another symbol of their parenting styles. If a kid’s parents wants him or her to be different, the name is not going to be the reason for success. Chances are, those are the parents that are going to raise their child in a way that cultivates an off-beat outlook on life.

Some names aren’t unheard of. In fact, we hear some of them so much that we might start to develop stereotypes surrounding them. Christine’s (or Kristine’s) are always the voice of reason in my life dramas. The Matt’s I meet are all like my brother—goofy, laid back, and the person everyone wants to be friends with. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this thread on Reddit that recently blew up. Matt’s are described as awesome and likable, and the sketchiest people I have encountered are also sketchy to the rest of Internetland—I am not alone!

Associations with names are not just serendipitous; The Week notes that they have the ability to tell the world about our ethnicity, education, and class. Case in point: my name is pronounced the way it is because my Mexican grandmother’s accent deemed it so. Holler at my culture.

There are lots of names out there. How do parents choose just one?! No matter what yours is, I just have one request: have a sweet signature. Nothing is more attractive than a sweet signature.

Image by Alan O’Rourke.

It’s pronounced “Rine-hites-ge-boat”


-Casey Klekas

In case you missed it, April 23 was German Beer Day—well, the official one, anyway. It is a day to celebrate the 497th anniversary of the German Beer Purity Law, known as the Reinheitsgebot. Besides appreciating the oldest food-quality regulation in the world, it is a day to celebrate the German character in its fantastic, meticulous, compulsive rigidity.

On April 23, 1516, the Duke of Bavaria, William IV, signed the Reinheitsgebot, or “purity order,” into effect. Among other things, the law contained a list of ingredients that could be used in the production of beer, a list three words long—barley, hops, water. Violation would be met with the swift punishment of confiscation of the accused kegs without monetary or sudsy compensation.

The idea was to discourage brewers from using grains that were needed for food, such as rye and wheat, thus making barley a brewing staple. Hops were found to prevent early spoilage of beer, acting as a sort of natural preservative. Their antibacterial effect also helped make beer a safe (and swell) alternative to questionable drinking water. This decree also partially reflected the German’s insatiable thirst for purity.

In 1871, Germany was born. Before the wars of unification, Germany was only a loose configuration of kingdoms. The Kingdom of Bavaria demanded that their ancient Reinheitsgebot be adopted by all of Germany, which meant bye-bye to Belgian style beers, fruit beers, spiced beers, and even the Hefeweizen (no wheat!). This also meant that Bavarian-style lagers and pilsners would forever define what we think of as German beers.

The reign of the Reinheitsgebot endured two world wars and the partition of Germany. Tragically, it didn’t live to see Germany’s reunification, having been declared illegitimate by the European Union as an interference with a free-market.

Thankfully, in 1993, the Provisional German Beer Law, or Biergesetz, reinstated the Reinheitsgebot with only minor changes. Wheat was now OK, as the Germans were no longer dealing with medieval fears of famine. Yeast was officially included, although it had really been there all along. Before the 1800s, no one knew those microorganisms existed, nor their vital role in the brewing process. They normally just scooped some germy sediment out of the last batch of beer or else hoped for some sort of natural fermentation. Cane sugar was also allowed in the production of ales (top-down fermentation), but still not in the treasured German lager (bottom-up).


To this day breweries will label their beer as being in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. This mark of quality has lasted nearly 500 years. So, next time you are in the German beer section, check the bottles for the little golden words that read something like, “Brewed under the purity law of 1516.” Tip your hat to the German people in all their meticulousness and enjoy half a millennium of beautiful tradition. Prost to the Reinheitsgebot!

A Beginner’s Guide to the OED

-Brianna Huber

I am what you might call a “word nerd.” I love the wide range of expression the English language conveys and will never pass up an opportunity to expand my vocabulary, so when I discovered the OED, I couldn’t believe I’d gone so far through life without it. What does OED stand for, you ask? I learned a few years back that it’s how English majors refer to the Oxford English Dictionary.

What sets the OED apart from most other dictionaries is that it doesn’t just tell you the definition of a word–it gives a word’s etymology, different forms or spellings, and various definitions across time along with examples of its usage. For instance, the adjective “gay” hasn’t always been used to refer to someone who is homosexual. If I look it up in the OED, I see that it is the root word for “gaiety” or cheerfulness. It first appeared during the second half of the 11th century and meanings included “beautiful,” “lively,” “showy,” “lewd,” and “lighthearted.” The “gay science” referred to the art of poetry as early as 1693. The modern use of the word “gay” didn’t establish itself until the 1960s.

I feel like the notion of “gay” once meaning “happy” is fairly common knowledge, but the OED really gets interesting when I go to look up a fairly common word and find a history that I wasn’t expecting. The next thing I know, I’m word hopping from page to page and an hour has passed. I find that modern slang words tend to be particularly interesting. For example, the only definition listed for “jizz” is “the characteristic impression given by an animal or plant.” The first recorded usage was in 1922. With an innocuous definition like that, I wonder how the word attained its current usage.

While that example is fairly simple, some words have a much more rich and varied history. One notable example is—forgive me for saying this—the word “faggot.” We all know how the word is used now, but it originally referred to a simple bundle of sticks or twigs. It can also be used as a verb, referring to the act of bundling a group of sticks together. What I find particularly interesting though, is that the word has a connection to heresy. The phrase “fire and faggot” once referred to heretics being burned alive. I have to wonder if there’s a connection between this use of the word and its modern usage in condemning the LGBT community. Is calling someone by that name indirectly calling him a heretic? (I could go and look up the word “heretic” now, but I’ll leave that to you.)

The English language is a motley tongue that spans centuries and has borrowed words from almost every language imaginable. Work started on the OED in 1857 with the intention of creating a record of all the words that make up the English language from the time of its earliest records to the present day. The OED is still added to on a regular basis. As of November 30, 2005, the OED contains more than 301,100 main entries (as opposed to word variants).

The OED is available in print in the reference section of most libraries, and if you are a University of Oregon student, you can access the online edition for free through the library website with your Duck ID. I encourage all of you to find words that interest you, crack open the OED, and see where it takes you.

Sweet Dreams: Interpreting Your Nighttime Journeys

-Marissa Tomko

Have you ever had a dream that you just can’t get out of your head? Maybe it was scary, too real, or just plain weird. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but when I do, I tend to think about them for a couple of days and wonder where they came from.

In a piece he wrote for The New York Times, psychology and neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer says that dreams are “actually careful distillations of experience, a regurgitation of all the new ideas and insights we encounter during the day.” By this logic, we should be able to connect our nighttime visions with our day-to-day lives and figure out what it all means. I researched the ten most common dream symbols and what the stand for. So read on, and follow those dreams!

Being Chased

If you’re dreaming about being chased by someone or something, it means that you are running away from a menacing or scary presence in your life.


If you find yourself scantily clad in dreamland, it means that you are in a vulnerable state. Maybe you feel like you over-shared in real life, or that you fear having to expose a lesser-known part of yourself.

Losing Teeth

Your smile is one of the first things the rest of the world sees, making it an important factor in your physical appearance. If you dream about losing your teeth, you might be feeling insecure about how you look lately.


If you experience a free-fall in your slumber, you might feel like you have lost control of a situation, and don’t know where to turn to get it back. You also might be feeling a lack of comfort and support in your life.


Dreaming about death means that you fear something coming to an end. This could mean you are coming upon a major life change, or that you are feeling emotional about a tumultuous relationship.


If you are taking tests in your dreams, you are seeking accomplishment in your life. Your academic performance in your sleep is most likely linked to how prepared you feel about your upcoming hurdle.


Water is indicative of your conscience. The type of water in your dream is symbolic of your current mindset—a placid lake means you are calm, while rafting waters represent excitement or uncertainty.


Quite often, flying occurs in lucid dreaming. This means that you are able to control your actions in your dream, and are aware that you are doing so. The ease with which you are able to take flight is representative of the power and knowledge you have in certain circumstances in your life.

You’re Lost

If you find yourself struggling to find direction in your dream, that is probably exactly what is happening to you during the daylight. You have reached a fork in the road, and don’t know which way you should go.


If you’re running late to your dream function, you are likely feeling some apprehension about a decision you have to make. You might feel like you need more time to figure things out.

Follow Marissa on Twitter!

Image by Hans Splinter from

Save the Date: Thanksgiving’s Long Road

-Marissa Tomko

In elementary school, learning about Thanksgiving was a simple affair. We dressed up as pilgrims and Indians (probably in a politically incorrect manner), and sang about turkey and Indian corn. We were led to believe such a powwow occurred annually since the autumn of 1621, when the English settlers in Plymouth celebrated their plentiful harvest with the native Wampanoag tribe—the tribe who taught the pilgrims to fish, hunt, and grow crops on a land that was theirs for years. However, the official day of Thanksgiving wasn’t set for more than three hundred years after those festivities. Like most things in the history of our country, the birth of modern day Thanksgiving was not that simple—it was tangled and complex.

Although the events of 1621 are believed by many Americans to be the start of an annual tradition, the harvest celebration wasn’t meant to be repeated. In fact, on subsequent days the settlers devoted to giving thanks revolved around fasting, not eating, and were based in Puritan traditions.

In 1777, the Continental Congress stated that the thirteen colonies were to celebrate annually to give thanks for defeating the British at Saratoga. However, a fixed day for such celebrations was not made official. In 1789, President George Washington declared an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, but it still did not become an annual tradition.

Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863, thanks to a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. She believed that having an official day of thanks would create a more united country, and stop a civil war from breaking out. She wrote letters to the country’s leaders, and was eventually heard-President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. This marked the beginning of the modern holiday, but the celebration day did not remain set.

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week in order to give retailers a longer holiday season so that they could rake in more money. This decision was not accepted by all Americans, and in 1941, the president signed a bill that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November, which is where it stands today.

Image from

A Little Taste of Africa

-Kerri Anderson

Amongst a small shopping complex on Martin Luther King Blvd in North East Portland, sits the Horn of Africa. Behind the counter Mohamed Yousuf and his wife Khadija prepare platters of lukku hurdi (chicken and yellow curry) and foon hoola diima (lamb in a house-made sauce)— traditional dishes of Northeast Africa— to serve to tables of eager customers.

Guests do not receive silverware with their meal but instead, eat with their hands from one large platter that is placed in the center of the table for the entire party to share. Eating here is not just about the flavorful dishes on the unique menu, but about gaining an authentic cultural experience.

“We give [the table] a platter and they eat together like the culture. If it is a private party, we give you an upstairs room and you take your shoes off and sit down on the floor to eat, like the culture,” Mohamed says, who moved to the U.S. in 1989 as a refugee originally from Ethiopia.

The Horn of Africa, which opened its doors three years ago, is just one of many African-inspired eateries cropping up in North East Portland that are owned by African immigrants or refugees like Mohamed and Khadija. The growing African population that provides a necessary network of support has helped make Portland one of the most popular cities for refugees to relocate to in the U.S. Refugees are forced to leave their home countries in order to escape war, violence, and political corruption.

Mohamed fled his home in Ethiopia when he was 17 to escape the brutal attacks he could have faced from the government due to his participation in the political rebellion movement during the Civil War.

“All the younger people from my ethnicity was killed because of the movement we were in. All of the revolutionaries had to leave,” Mohamed says. “Either you go to jail or you are killed.”

Mohamed relocated to a refugee camp in Sudan before moving to Cairo, Egypt to study business and English at university on a UN scholarship. After marrying Khadija, Mohamed moved to California in 1989. Khadija stayed behind to work as a chef for foreign diplomats, but she was able to follow her husband five months later, and the couple moved to Portland to start their new life.

“I’m happy. I’m safe. I didn’t die.” Mohamed says. “This is home now.”

Mohamed says he never wanted to work for a company, but always hoped to start his own business. Mohamed decided to combine Khadija’s cooking talent with his business and English skills and open a food cart at the Portland Saturday Market. The unique East African cuisine was an instant success at Portland and other festivals on the West Coast. When customers started asking where the real restaurant was located, the Yousuf’s worked to save enough money to lease a building.

Yousuf and Khadija opened the doors to their restaurant three years ago. Today, Horn of Africa offers an insightful view into the cultural differences between America and Africa. “It’s a big difference,” Mohamed says. “Back home, they don’t worry about tomorrow.”

Learning to adjust to America’s focus on individual success instead of depending on family for support was one of the biggest differences Mohamed noticed. “Back home there is more sharing, here it is very individual,” he says.

Today, Mohamed and Khadija are both American citizens and have two daughters who speak both their native African tongue and English fluently. It is important to the family that the girls are raised with an understanding and pride of their culture and heritage— something many refugees try to maintain.

While the network of African refugees continues to grow, a small community is developing near the area of MLK Blvd offering a refreshing taste of African culture.

Stop by one of the grocery stores, barber shops, or restaurants and talk with the owners to learn more about their story and the places they come from.

Check out Kerri’s feature story, A Home Between Cultures

Double Meanings: To "Go Both Ways"

-Neethu Ramchandar

For years I’ve made fun of her. From everything for her skinny arms to her goofy habits. She made fun of me right back –it was a part of being best friends in middle school. She’s still one of my closest friends, which gives me the license to continue to make fun of her.

Krishna Goparaju is a student at the University of Missouri Kansas City studying medicine. She’s brilliant. She recently told me a story about a high school experience that I’m excited to share.

Krishna was sitting in her high school history class minding her own business. However, when a debate started she decided to jump right in. Not wanting to take a strong opinion on either side of the discussion, she raised her hand and said “I go both ways.”

In India, this would have meant that she supported both sides of the discussion. It was a diplomatic statement that she had hoped would sooth a lot of angry minds.

When her class erupted in laughter, Krishna was baffled. She sunk into her chair and focused on the empty piece of paper in front of her. It was only much later that a classmate took pity on Krishna and explained to her that the sentence she had blurted in class insinuated that she was bisexual.

This phrase is used commonly throughout the world. In many Asian cultures, going both ways means that the individual is supportive and not wanting confrontation. However, just miles away, Western nations used it as a discreet way of explaining that an individual likes to have sex with both men and women.

One way or another, we’re all familiar with the term. It’s even appeared in popular media. In the Megan Fox movie where she gobbles down people in slutty clothing and pretends to be a good actress – I believe it’s called Jennifer’s Body – she uses the phrase “I go both ways” to insinuate that she kills both men and women.

Urban dictionary only provides two definitions for “going both ways.” Both have sexual innuendos. However, I think it’s important to always be aware that language is malleable. We change it based on tradition, dialect, and trend.

Although Krishna may have suffered a slightly embarrassing moment, especially in her fragile teenage state, I hope that her friends eventually get the exposure to enough dialects and languages that they understand- language changes and we have to change with it.

A Suggestion in Spanish

-Neethu Ramchandar

Thank you Mr. Jehle.

Understanding language is important. It’s unfortunate, but true. And the more languages you know the better. You can get better jobs, faster promotions, travel opportunities, and much more.

This is probably why the University of Oregon requires all Bachelor of Arts students to complete two years of a language. I’ve been told that these two years can’t compare with the knowledge you gain while traveling abroad, but we acquire a fairly basic level of verb conjugations and a collection of short phrases to talk about ourselves.

Me llamo Neethu. Yo tengo viente años. Soy de Nuevo Mexico. Yo tengo un hermano y el tiene viente y tres años. Yo soy un periodista.

That’s about all I got.

It’s a shame that through those years of Spanish class, I don’t remember more than a few simple sentences. Instead I remember the torturous hours spent in front of my computer slaving over online exercises. Sure many of them were simple, but they were so tedious. Not to mention that even the slightest mistake in verb conjugation would result in yet another “retry” screen.

It was during my third term of Spanish that a friend decided to pity me. We were sitting next to each other on the big grass lawn in front of the library. It was a warm day and we were both cranky over our homework assignment. To add to my crankiness I found that she was done at least thirty minutes before me. I’m not a horrible student, so this was something I needed to investigate.

My discovery was in this one simple website- or rather a link on a website. It doesn’t break any of the rules that professors warn us against at the beginning of class. It doesn’t translate sentences or find you words. I suggest using for that. This website simply lists Spanish verbs and their various forms.

It’s a website created by the Department of International Language and Culture from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The home page is not very helpful. It lists courses and contacts for people that we will probably not have the chance to ever meet- or need to meet. In fact it was created by a man named Fred F. Jehle. I don’t know much about him other than he retired from teaching in 2003 and created an incredible website.

Anyways, I suggest ignoring most of his website and navigating to the second link that reads “Spanish Verb Forms”.

Use it, book mark it, reuse it.

It’s with this single website that I survived (I mean enjoyed) my Spanish courses. I hope it helps you as well. Especially during those dreaded online activities.

Miscommunications in Mexico

Sara during her trip in Mexico.

-Neethu Ramchandar

Language- even if you become proficient in a language, you must always be aware of its constant changes and connotations depending on where you are speaking.

Sara Clark, International Studies graduate student, shares her story delving into the meaning of Coger. When the Spanish began to conquer Mexico, the conquistadors took goods, land, and people. They would rape the women to show power over the people. Although in some Spanish speaking countries, such as Spain, the word Coger is synonymous with Tomar and means “to take”, the connotation of Coger quickly transitioned when Spanish men began “to take” Mexican women.Today, In Mexico, Coger has a very sexual and vulgar meaning.

Clark had learned Spanish for a few years now, she had studied abroad In Spain when she was 20 years old, but now she had decided to make a significant shift. “I decided that I wanted to work among the Latino community,” Clark explains. “And for that, I needed to know a different dialect of Spanish.” To accomplish this, Clark set voyage to Mexico where she quickly found her Spanish to be splattered with differences. Caught in a linguistic hullabaloo, Clark often relied on her friends for translations and connotations.

One summer night, after visiting clubs and dancing with a group of friends, Clark was offered a ride home. Wanting to show off her independence she replied to her friends, “no problema, yo puedo coger un taxi,” (no problem, I’ll take a taxi). Their reaction to her newly accomplished independence was disappointing to say the least. As they erupted into laughter, Clark found herself confused as she repeated the phrase to herself checking conjugations and pronunciations.

Finally, Clark inquired to her friends who mockingly replied, “really Sara? Coger? You want to sleep with the taxi?” Clark had said that she had wanted to sleep with, not the taxi diver, but the actual vehicle itself.

“For weeks they teased me asking me if I wanted to Coger,” Clark says.

Lost in Translation

A traditional mridungum drum.

-Neethu Ramchandar

The soggy Portland leaves squish beneath my Converse as I make my way to the looming brown house. My personal cloud of doom senses my anxiety and splashes beads of rain to rest upon my cheeks in jest. Today I have my first private class with Subash Chandra, a globally renowned drummer, and I have been warned of what is expected of me – perfection.

My hand rests on the doorknob for a moment. I breathe slowly trying to exhale my jitters. In a dim hallway, I wipe at moist cheeks, no longer able to distinguish the sweat from the rain as the drops trickle down my neck.  I walk to the classroom – the only door with any light peeking from the cracks. I knock and nudge the door open. When the famous man sees me, he greets me in our shared mother tongue, Tamil. Great, I think to myself. No one mentioned to this percussion genius that, although I am bilingual, my fluency level is still infant in comparison.

The previously feeble jitters have now transformed into a distinct tremor in my hands. I let my thumb run over the calluses of my other fingers wondering if I am ready for this experience. His hands are much rougher with drumming experience than mine. They are thick and a dark brown with only the underside remaining a lighter white, stained with years of calluses. As my session begins I try not to look up. I focus on my hands and the quick circles they make as my fingers flutter across the drums. I force my mind to be a metronome, using the ominous tapping of the rain on the window to count so viciously that no other anxious thoughts may be entertained. One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two—and suddenly he says something.

Sabash,” he repeats and then adds in Tamil, “Why did you stop? Keep playing.”

Continuing the song, I wrack my brain for meaning. “Sabash” he had said. If only I could remember what that word meant. I knew his name was Subash, but he wasn’t nearly old enough to be dealing with Alzheimer’s and the need to repeat who and where he was. And then, it slowly dawned on me, hovering like a nimbus cloud. Criticism. I was a bit surprised that I had failed to meet his expectations of me so quickly. Within the first ten minutes of my tutorial I had let down all the people who had helped me reach this point; that’s quite an achievement on my part. As I wallowed in my pool of pity the word slipped out again.

Sabash” he says with closed eyes, either enjoying the song or hiding from the next attack of a melody. As I stop he opens his eyes and repeated in Tamil, “Sabash, Sabash, no matter what don’t stop.”

“No matter what?”  What was going to happen? Would he banish me from his classes? Would I be made the example of what a bad student was? Even worse, would he tell my dad?

And then, as quickly as the pool of pity had come, a high tide of determination washed it away. I straightened my back and focused on my fingers, striking so fiercely that each beat bounced off the walls and returned to invigorate the next beat. The next time the word slipped out, I ignored it. I was not going to let him so easily crush my efforts.

And yet, the harder I played and the purer the notes sang into the air, the more often he said “Sabash.”

I had been ignoring it for a while now and I wondered how many times I missed it. With my lesson coming to an end I try to study his face.

The skin sits loosely and he looks breakable with age. Only his hands looked steady, a reminder that as long as he lives, he will be a drummer. I know that after today’s lesson, no one would look at me and think the same. My drumming career is officially over.

As I walk to the car with my dad I hang my head in shame. My father glances down at me and asks what was wrong. Concentrating on the imprint my shoes leave in the sodden earth, I choke out “Dad, what does ‘sabash’ mean?”

He hesitates. I look up to see that every muscle in his face is fighting a smile. “Neethu,” he replies. “Sabash means ‘very good’.”