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Stewart´s corner (20.10.00)

About those "laws"…

Stewart's corner

Spørsmål angående engelsk kan stilles til språkrådgiver Stewart Clark ved Studieavdelingen, e-post:, tlf. 73 59 52 45, faks: 73 59 52 37

About those "laws"

Murphy's Law

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". One source says this Americanism is named after a fictitious and useless mechanic in U.S. Navy called Murphy who featured in Navy educational cartoons in the 1950s. Another source mentions Edward A. Murphy, a U.S. Air Force engineer in project MX981 that tested human acceleration tolerances. One experiment involved mounting a set of 16 accelerometers to different parts of a subject's body. Although there was a 50-50 chance of installing each meter correctly, all 16 were fitted the wrong way round.

Parkinson's Law

"Work expands to fill the time available for its completion". This law was formulated in the 1950s by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, an English writer. An example of this law is that if you have 10 minutes to read "Universitetsavisa", you will manage it. If you have an hour, if will take an hour to read it. Peter Principle This is a theory that any employee within a hierarchy can be promoted until he or she reaches the level at which they are no longer competent. The Peter Principle was formulated by an American educationalist Laurence J. Peter in the 1960s. One of those who recognized the validity of this theory was the ex-English football team manager, Kevin Keegen, who said that he resigned because he felt a bit light for the job of managing England.

Russell's paradox

The easy way to grasp Russell's paradox is the logical contradiction of a poster on a wall that states "Post no bills". It was formulated by the British philosopher and Nobel prize winner, Bertrand Russell in the 1920s. The core of the paradox is that if an object is defined in terms of a class of objects that contains the object being defined, this results in a logical contradiction.

Tricky words

silicon - silicone

Silicon (Norw. silisium) is a chemical element with non- metal semiconducting properties. It is the basic material used for making microchips: "This is Silicon Valley". The word rhymes with "bun". Never confuse the English silicon with the Norwegian silikon. Silicone (Norw. silikon) mean any of a class of synthetic materials which are polymers with a chemical structure. Silicones are generally resistant to chemical attack and are used to make rubber and plastics. A common example is silicone breast implants. The word rhymes with "bone".

despite, albeit, although, though

Despite (Norw. til tross for) means without being affected by/in spite of. Do not write "despite of", use just "despite". "He was still playing tennis, despite his age". The phrase "despite the fact that" sounds pompous and should be avoided. Replace it by although. Albeit = all be it, is an archaic-sounding word that still survives. It is best to avoid it except in poetry. Instead of writing that "the project was bringing results, albeit slowly", I would suggest "the project was bringing results, though/although they were rather slow". Although (Norw. skjønt, selv om) means even though and is mainly used at the beginning of a sentence or phrase: "Although we ran, we did not catch the bus". Though (Norw. skjønt, selv om) means the same as although but they cannot be always interchanged. Though is used at the beginning, middle and end of a sentence or phrase: "We did not catch the bus, though". Though is less formal than although.

civil engineer, civil service

These are two tricky words to note in Norwegian-English translations. First, civil engineer, which means an engineer who designs roads, bridges and dams. (The degree of sivilingeniør in Norwegian should be referred to as a sivilingeniør degree in English. You can explain it in brackets as "degree in civil engineering" only if you mean "bygg". Otherwise, use the subject area: "degree in electrical engineering", "mechanical engineering" etc. or the more general "graduate degree in engineering".) The second potential translation problem is the alternative to military service, which is not Civil Service as this refers to the permanent, professional groups forming a state's administration. Two suggested translations for sivilarbeidstjeneste are "civilian service" or "civilian service for conscientious objectors".


I wish to thank those who pointed out that in my last column referring to letterheads, the postal abbreviation for Norway changed this year from N to NO.

Enlightening English editing

In The Moscow Times an ad under the heading "interpreting" advised, "bet us your letter of business translation do. Every people in our staffing know English like the hand of their back. Up to the minuet wise-street phrases, don't you know, old boy".

A notice in a Madras newspaper proclaimed: "Our editors are colleged and write like the Kipling and the Dickens".