Thursday, April 2, 2015

Let's get it right. And then adjourn for a long weekend.

This seems like a good time to take a break, for writer and reader alike. Today’s Mexico City Headlines will return on Monday.
    Also on Monday, some occasional features not seen for a while on this site — including By the Numbers, Quotables and commentaries not necessarily related to the headlines of the day — will, in the spirit of the season, be resurrected.

A few style notes before we adjourn for the puente. You may have noticed that the accent mark over the second-syllable vowel has returned to the newspaper name Excélsior. That’s because it belongs there. Why was it left off for so long? Two reasons, neither very good.
    The paper itself omits the accent mark in its logo, so a lot of us are simply used to it not being there. But the logo is in all caps, which explains the absence. Accent marks are often left off all-cap text, such as on signs, though they really shouldn’t be.
    Also, the name itself is unusual; it’s a Latin word that hasn’t really come down into Spanish. You won’t find it in most dictionaries here. It’s a comparative of the adjective excelsus, meaning elevated  or lofty. The infinitive of the related Latin verb is excellere, which makes it obvious where all this is coming from. So I like to think of the newspaper name as meaning, in spirit if not nearly literally, something like Onward and Upward.
    Whatever its meaning or status, Excélsior is the name of Mexico’s oldest existing newspaper. It should be spelled the way the owner of the name spells it, which in normal type is with the accent. It shall be thus here as well.
    The rule of thumb for most English-language publications in Mexico is that proper names in Spanish, including place names, are spelled in the English text as they are in Spanish, accents and all. Thus the surname Rodríguez, not Rodriguez. And the state Nuevo León, not Nuevo Leon.
    The exception is the name of the country itself, which is firmly entrenched in the English language with its own pronunciation. Thus Mexico, not México.
    Of course, other Mexican place names could make the same claim of entrenchment. But let’s not go there. Start expanding the exceptions, you’re creating more work than it’s worth. Thus Cancún, not Cancun. And Ciudad Juárez, not Juarez.
    The basic rule of spelling the name the way its owner spells it makes it easier to deal with Anglophone foreigners, usually Americans, with Spanish names. In most cases those names lost any accent mark long ago. Thus Jerry Garcia, not García. Indicted Senator Menendez, not Menéndez. Yankee great Alex Rodriguez, not Rodríguez.


You may also have noticed that the abbreviation for the militant Guerrero teachers organization CETEG has appeared here in the past sometimes as Ceteg. CETEG is right. Ceteg is wrong.
    I was for a while following the lead of whatever newspaper I was quoting. But that gives too much authority to inconsistent sources. Better to follow the rule. Which is this:
    In abbreviations based on initials, those in which each initial corresponds to a word in the full name go in all caps. Otherwise only the first letter is capitalized.
    CETEG stands for Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación en Guerrero, a one-to-one correspondence (those little prepositions and articles don’t count). Hence, CETEG.
    Pemex, on the other hand, is short for Petróleos Mexicanos. It’s made up of clusters, not initial letters. Hence, Pemex, not PEMEX. Still, you’ll see PEMEX as much as Pemex, in both Spanish and English. But not here.

Finally there’s the issue of “ministry” vs. “secretariat.” The English-language wires out of Mexico and even some Mexican government sites seem to prefer “ministry” as a translation of secretaría. I’ve never figured out why, and nobody’s ever given me a satisfactory reason for it.
    I can’t see why “Public Education Secretariat” (or more informally “Education Secretariat”) isn’t  a better translation of “Secretaría de Educación Pública” than “Public Education Ministry.” Or why Emilio Chuayfett, who in Spanish is the secretario de educación, should be referred to as the “education minister” rather than the “education secretary.”
    For Brits, obviously, “ministry” is more familiar. That may have a lot to do with the Reuters preference, and others. But by that logic, those of us using American English — the lingua franca on this site — would translate secretaría as “department.” Nobody does that. It’s terrible.
    I tend to associate “minister” and “ministry” with parliamentary government, which of course doesn’t apply to Mexico (although there are those who think it should). But that doesn’t seem to be the issue here. 
    What I suspect is that most editors and translators don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference which term is used, so they go with what they’re used to, or what they like better, or what their predecessors have established, or what they believe is more reader-friendly. 
    That’s fine. But I’ll stick with “secretariat” and “secretary” if I may.

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