[tlhIngan Hol] law' puS with the -taHvIS and type-9 clauses preceding each element

Alan Anderson qunchuy at alcaco.net
Tue Feb 16 09:13:39 PST 2021

reH latlh qabDaq qul tuj law' Hoch tuj puS

We know what it “means” by fiat. We know what it “says” by analysis of its grammar. They’re not quite the same thing.
Some are trying to reconcile the discrepancy by twisting the grammatical analysis to match a particular interpretation of the given meaning. Some are trying to reinterpret the meaning to match the analyzed grammar. Neither strategy is wholly satisfactory, and I believe any such reconciliation is unnecessary.

My stand is simple: Taking the law'/puS formula as a given, it literally says “Always, on another’s face, fire is hottest of all.” Based on the authority of Power Klingon, it is literally translated as “The fire is always hotter on someone else’s face.” But its *practical* meaning is just as a ritualistic phrase intended to acknowledge a dishonorable goof by the speaker and invoke the cultural custom of dismissing it. It really has nothing to do with faces or fires, and I personally see no productive reason to focus grammatical attention on it.

Consider someone speaking French, telling her friend “Elle cherche une belle-mère.” It literally means “She is looking for a mother-in-law.” However, a French-English phrasebook of the 1950s might explain it as “Her father loves her better than her mother.” A student of the French language might be puzzled by how wanting a mother-in-law can be interpreted as having an extra-loving father. In truth, both phrases are merely code for “Her slip is showing.” Perhaps something similar is going on here.

Or, as I believe is likely, it’s just a bad translation. Either way, I don’t think the literal words are worth worrying this much about.

-- ghunchu'wI'
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