Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hatmatilka to some, poetry to others

Sometimes my job involves reading contracts. They start out shiny and smooth on the surface, impenetrable. I tend to get a lot of other work done before I read a page. Then I’ll reward myself with coffee, sit down again and realize I haven’t absorbed a thing. That’s when I pick up my pen and start drawing. ?? and "what in the.." and before I know it that contract has lost its hermetically sealed look and become something a bit turfy and easy on the eye. The work gets fun then and I argue my way through each clause until I’m done. It’s a lot like reading Wallace Stevens, actually.

Except that, working in Prague on contracts written by non-English speakers in English, I’m bound to find a humdinger of a sentence that just doesn’t work backwards or forwards. So sometimes I send it over to my Czech business partner, ask him to think about it in Czech and then in English again and see what we can figure out. (His hourly rates are a lot better than the lawyer‘s.) It mostly works.

Yesterday I sent him one of my humdingers, prefaced with "gobbledygook coming your way!" Gobbledygook was a new word for him and we looked it up. Lingea Lexicon gave us hatmatilka as its Czech equivalent. My etymology dictionary told me that hatmatilka is from the expression hat' mat', which is similar to hatla patla and halabala and related somehow to Halí belí, the Czech song and nursery rhyme that Caroline currently has stuck in my head from incessant singing. If anyone can tell me what hat' mat' means I’d be most appreciative. In the meantime:

hatla patla and halabala = seem to mean slapdash or shoddy. I love learning words like that, they just seem to stick in my mind somehow.

Halí, belí...
Halí, belí, koně v zelí
a hříbátka v petrželi.

Whoops, the horse is in the cabbage
And the colt in the parsley.

Okay, enough procrastination, back to clause 10.4.1.


Ellen said...

Ah the joys of contract deconstruction. The best story I have on that is the time (a month ago) when I rewrote a few clauses that had been written in typical vague and complex legalese just as an example of the content I wanted and the partner's lawyer got back to us that our lawyers had done a great job in terms of clarifying the situation...

Julia said...

I can so totally see that happening. By the way, what is the German word for gobbledygook?

tuckova said...

You heard about the Rogers/Aliant comma bungle, right? I've been thinking about that a lot; I think that perhaps all legal writing requires a proofreader, translated or not. Maybe two proofreaders.

Ellen said...

Since you asked (German word for gobbledygook)... I looked it up on not really expecting an answer BUT I've 3 possibilities:
das Geschwafel: (silly or stupid talk)
das Kauderwelsch: (confusing and full of error talk)
schwülstiger Amtstil: (bombastic bureaucratic style)