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December 25, 2017  |  Merry instructions  |  457 hit(s)

Christmas is always an interesting time for the professional editor, what with so many instructions to be read. I've run across (so far) a couple of fun little language issues.

I.  An elegant gift I got this year is a Citizen "Eco-Drive" watch. The distinctive feature of these watches is that their battery is charged by exposure to light. Naturally, the manual goes into some detail about how charging works. I was interested to see this odd construction (click to embiggen):

(If you can't read it, it says "If watch is continued to be used without charging")

I had to think for a moment about why this seems off. I concluded that the writer was trying to use "continue to" in the passive, presumably out of some sort of all-too-common Fear of Passive. But passive doesn't work that way; you need a transitive verb, and "continue to" doesn't take an object. And hey, you don't even need passive—this could just read "If watch continues to be used …". (Note that "is used" is already in the passive.)

The instruction are in 8 languages, and I don't even know whether English is the primary. Anyway, a Christmas tip of the hat to the fellow documentarians at Citizen Watch Inc. and what I'm sure is a hectic writing and editing process.[1]

II.  I like popcorn and have been using our wok (!) to make it on the stovetop, which my wife finds odd. (I do use a lid on the wok.) So she got me a microwave popcorn maker; this lets you make your own popcorn in the microwave as opposed to using the yucky prepackaged microwave popcorn.

As I sometimes do, I looked over the instructions in other languages, and I made a delightful discovery in Spanish. The Spanish word for popcorn is palomitas, which translates as "little doves." Such a great image, and I already knew that. What I did learn was that a popcorn maker is a palomera:

I would never have guessed this, but it made sense as soon as I saw it. In Spanish, the ero/era ending "forms occupations and other nouns of agent from nouns," to borrow the Wikitionary description. So, a vaquero is a cowboy, aka an occupation involving vacas (cows). A zapatero is a shoemaker, a pescadero is a fish monger, a panadero is a baker, a rapero is a rapper. It can also be used for non-people things—a mantequero is a butter dish (also a butter maker), fregadero is a sink (fregar="to wash, scrub")[2], caldero is a pot (caldo="broth").

So it isn't surprising to see palomitas (thing) become palomera (thing for making the thing). However, it remains a mystery to me why this noun is feminine (-era). Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about Spanish morphology can fill me in.

Update Friend Jared filled me in.

I'll probably have more opportunity to read instructions in the next day or two. Let's see what other treasures I find.

[1] In case you're interested, here are the equivalents in a few more languages:

[2] fregar has other meanings in Spanish that need not concern us here.