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A translation blip means obligatory chocolate for Japanese men on Valentine’s Day

Since the 1950s, Japanese women have showered the men in their lives with chocolatey gifts on Valentine’s Day, and all because of a tiny translation error made by a Japanese chocolate executive with a zest for Western traditions amidst post-war economic difficulties in Japan.


The Japanese Valentine’s Day Tradition explained…

When a Japanese woman wants to express sincere love for a man in her life, she’ll buy a very special chocolate gift, perhaps one in the shape of a car or a golf ball. She might even buy him a box of rich, creamy chocolates, filled with his favourite liquor.

The strange thing is that in modern-day Japan she must also buy chocolates for the men she couldn’t care less about. Cultural customs in Japan dictate that Japanese women are bound to buy chocolates for all the men that they know, even if they only choose to treat them to a standard, nothing-to-shout-about, chocolate bar on Valentine’s Day – a clear indication, in itself, of a certain lack of regard.

The giving of “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” plays a huge role in Japan’s Valentine’s Day traditions in the 21st century. Chocolate buying and giving is one of the most direct ways in which Japanese women can express their true feelings towards the men in their lives.

Chocolate traditions and blips in translations

Millie Creighton, a UBC professor of Anthropology, devotes part of her time to studying how the Japanese observe holidays. Her research reveals the ways in which the Japanese have incorporated the traditions and customs of Western holidays into their Eastern lives. Part of that research dates back to the 1950s when Valentine’s Day was first introduced to Japan.

Creighton’s discovery shows that an executive from a Japanese chocolate company took the idea of Valentine’s Day from Europe and convinced a number of Japanese department stores to promote the holiday as a way of improving the post-war effects on the Japanese economy. The Japanese executive in question misunderstood the traditions of Valentine’s Day in Europe and, thanks to the blip in his translation, Japan believed that chocolate-giving on Valentine’s Day was a one way affair – women sending chocolate gifts to men.

During the 1950s, Japan was keen to learn about Western traditions and to copy Western cultures. It was a country starved from “luxurious” items available in the West and so when Valentine’s Day first appeared on Japanese soil, there seemed to be no-better product than the Western sweet treat of chocolate for Japanese women to offer to the men that they loved – particularly on a day which was all about celebrating the joys of romantic love.

Modern developments and chocolate obligations

In the early years, chocolate-giving was reserved for the “special man” in the life of the Japanese female. It was treated as an act of romantic love. Since then, the tradition has developed to include “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” – the cultural custom which can be observed in Japan today.

Whether the giving of chocolate to all men seems strange or not, the tradition is loyally followed in Japan every year. Japanese women buy their chocolate gifts based on their feelings towards the men they are buying for and, in return, Japanese men get a very honest idea about what the women in their lives really think of them.

Could a Hebrew text translation reveal where King Solomon’s treasures are hidden?

University of St Andrews professor, James Davila, is the first to translate an ancient Hebrew text, the Massekhet Kelim (“Treatise of the Vessels”), into English. Davila’s translation of the text, taken from the 1648 Hebrew book, Emek Halchah, reveals further information about the whereabouts of King Solomon’s treasures.

ark of the covenant

Image showing the Ark of the Covenant being carried, Auch Cathedral, France. Photo by I. Vassil, released into public domain through Wikimedia

King Solomon, the third King of Israel who ruled for 40 years from 965BC to 925BC, remains a popular figure from ancient history. He has been documented as being incredibly wise and a very extravagant king. The Book of Kings makes reference to his 700 wives and parts of the Bible claim that he composed 1005 songs and 3000 proverbs. Amongst the many treasures belonging to King Solomon, lost when his temple was annihilated by the Babylonians during 597 and 586 B.C., was the infamous Ark of the Covenant (a gilded case which was constructed almost 3,000 years ago, to hold the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses, by the Israelites).

Davila’s translation of the Treatise of the Vessels, the first ever translation to have been made of the text into English, brings to light a number of references which allude to the possible whereabouts of King Solomon’s treasures and the Ark of the Covenant. The snag is that the references made are vague to say the least and even Professor Davila himself believes that whoever wrote the original script in Hebrew was influenced in his/her writings by popular legends and a variety of scriptural interpretation methods that would have formed part of the traditional methodology used at the time.

However, at the same time as referring to the Treatise of the Vessels as “entertaining fiction,” Davila is also quick to note the striking similarities between what is written in the Hebrew text he has just finished translating and what has already been revealed through earlier translations of the “Copper Scroll.” The Copper Scroll, thought to be about 1900 years old, is made of copper and makes references to the location and contents of hidden treasures. Both artefacts refer to “vessels” or “implements”, made of silver and gold. One particular section of the Treatise of the Vessels translates to, “seventy-seven tables of gold, and their gold was from the walls of the Garden of Eden that was revealed to Solomon, and they radiated like the radiance of the sun and moon, which radiate at the height of the world.”

Davila believes that the writer of the Hebrew text was simply creating an entertaining story. He doesn’t believe that the writer created the text to act in any way as a map to help others find King Solomon’s lost temple treasures. Davila also believes that the style of the writing in the text also lends us some interesting insights into the many kinds of Jewish legends that were popular during the Middle Ages. Professor Davila is further quick to add that this text helps us to see the many ways in which people during the Middle Ages understood and interpreted the Bible and how these interpretations are not part of the official interpretations that we have studied over time.

Whether the text refers to the same hidden treasures or not, the actual location of such wealth is not revealed in the text at any stage. There’ll be no Indiana Jones-like crusade for Professor Davila in the coming weeks, but the translation does at least provide another entertaining piece of fiction… particularly for those with a real interest in ancient history and a fetish for rich, extravagant King Solomon.

Don’t be a nincompoop!

British English is full of fun and fanciful terms. The phrase, “Don’t be a nincompoop!” is just one prime example.

British termImage courtesy of

“Nincompoop,” meaning fool or idiot, was traced back to its first usage in the 1670s by Jonson in his Dictionary of 1755. He believed the word to have come from the Latin legal term, “non compos mentis”, which translates to insane or mentally incompetent or not of sound mind. However, there are a number of etymologists who decidedly disagree with this explanation.

For example, some experts believe that “nincompoop” has actually developed from a proper name. Nicodemus, a derivation of Nicholas, has been cited as a possible example, as it was used in the French language to denote a fool.

Another band of etymologists, however, believe that “nincompoop” might simply be an invented word. The Oxford English Dictionary also believes that the origins of the word can be dated back to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and that there were a variety of versions of the word in use, including nicompoop and nickumpoop.

Folk etymology, like the kind John Ciardi from A Browser’s Dictionary uses to dismissively relate “nincompoop” to the Dutch phrase nicht om poep, which means “the female relative of a fool,” might hold some weight. “To poop” is an English verb used today to describe the action of going to the toilet, but in the past it was a verb which meant “to cheat” or “to fool.” This verb probably came from the Dutch verb, “poep”, which means “to shit” or “to fart,” which highlights interesting connections between the many meanings of these verbs.

According to Francis Grose’s slang dictionary of 1785, “nincompoop” has experienced a number of spelling variations. There have been recordings of nickumpoop, nincumpoop, nink-a-poop, ninkompoop, ninkumpupe, ninny-cum-poop. In Grose’s notes, “nincompoop,” regardless of how it is spelt, is the word used to describe someone, “who never saw his wife’s ****,” (the asterisks are printed, exactly as printed here, in Grose’s dictionary). An alternative etymology is offered by a later slang collector, John Camden Hotten, who in 1860 suggested the ‘corruption of ‘non compos mentis’ (not of sound mind).

Despite the uncertainty about the origins of the term, its use has always been pretty clear. “Nincompoop” is either used to refer to a fool or a simpleton. The “nincompoop” is a human being, lacking in intelligence and who flaunts his or her stupidity without shame in front of others. Favourable synonyms of the terms include, jackass, idiot, dunce, imbecile, or moron. Any term used to describe an ignorant simpleton can be replaced with the British phrase, “nincompoop”.

However, there are also a few instances in which “nincompoop” has been used to refer to something other than ignorant stupidity. “Nincompoop” has also been used to mean a suitor who lacks self-confidence and it was used by Thomas Shadwell in his 1672 play entitled, “Epsom Wells,” to refer to a hen-pecked husband.

It’s worth mentioning that “nincompoop” is still regularly used by the British in the 21st century in general conversation. It is used as a soft, teasing term amongst friends and loved ones, for the most part, rather than as a cutting term meant to cause pain to someone else or make them feel uncomfortable. The British love for silly-sounding words is probably one of the most important factors in the longevity of this particular 1670s phrase.


Where does the word Christmas come from?

“Christmas” is an Old English word, constructed from the combination of two words, namely “Christ” and “Mass”. The first recorded Old English version of the phrase, “Crīstesmæsse,” dates back to 1038, but by the Middle Ages the term had already morphed into “Cristemasse;” a slightly more modern version of the phrase.


The origins

The two separate parts of the word can be traced back to Greek, Hebrew and Latin origins. “Christ” comes from the Greek word “Khrīstos” (Χριστός) or “Crīst,” and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Hebrew word “Māšîaḥ” (מָשִׁיחַ) or “Messiah,” which actually means “anointed,” has also played a considerable role in the construction of the first part of the word “Christmas.” The second part most probably comes from the Latin word, “Missa,” which refers directly to the celebration of the Eucharist.

It is also believed that “Christenmas” is an archaic version of the word “Christmas,” whose origins can be attributed to the Middle English phrase, “Cristenmasse,” which when literally translated becomes, “Christian Mass.”

Christmas… the international holiday

Even though “Christian Mass” or “Christ’s Mass” refers to the annual Christian commemoration of the birth Jesus Christ, “Christmas” is an international holiday which, throughout the ages, has been celebrated by non-Christian communities and been referred to via a variety of different names, including the following:

  • Nātiuiteð (nātīvitās in Latin) or “Nativity” means “birth” and has often been used as an alternative to the word “Christmas”
  • The Old English word, Gēola, or “Yule” corresponds to the period of time between December and January and eventually became associated with the Christian festival of “Christmas”
  • “Noel” is an English word which became popular during late 14th century and which is derived from the Old French term “Noël” or “Naël,”  literally translating to “the day of birth”

“Xmas”… modern or ancient?

It’s also worth noting that, even though most people tend to view the abbreviation “Xmas” as a modern bastardisation of the word “Christmas,” “Xmas” is an ancient term and not a grammatically-incorrect modern construction. “X” was regularly used to represent the Greek symbol “chi,” (the first letter of the word “Christ”) and was very popular during Roman Times.

Ñoqui in Argentina is more than just an Italian meal

Ñoquis might be a popular Italian dish in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires, but its meaning goes a lot deeper than Italian gastronomy. In Argentine lunfardo, ñoquis is the word used to refer to someone who doesn’t work, but who still manages to claim a salary at the end of the month.




The lunfardo expression became a well-used phrase in Argentine during the 1970s and relates directly to a group of corrupt, Argentine, civil servants who, it was eventually revealed, had been continuing to claim their paychecks at the end of the month without actually having done any work.

When Mauricio Macri was first appointed Mayor of Buenos Aires in 2011, one of the first administrative decisions that his government saw through was to sack 2400 public employees in the city of Buenos Aires. Macri and his government claimed that the 2400 public employees forced out of employment were all “ñoquis” – that they had been continuing to receive their salaries at the end of the month without ever having showed up to do the jobs they were being paid for. Macri’s decision generated a huge conflict between his government and the city unions. Many strikes by public service employees were also organized as a result.

As well as being a popular lunfardo expression, eating ñoquis on the 29th of every month is a long-standing tradition in Argentina. The tradition dates back to the early 20th century when Italian immigrants in Argentina didn’t get paid until the end of the month. Food was normally very scarce by the 29th and ñoquis, made from just potato and flour, is full of starch and was one of the best ways for these Italian families to feed everyone on a budget.

The ñoquis eating tradition on the 29th of every month also relates to the notion of good luck, fortune and wealth. It’s customary to put money underneath each plate before eating to encourage wealth and prosperity in the future.

Origin of “It Takes Two to Tango”

The tango is a popular dance in which two partners move in relation to each other. Tango is always danced in couples, and both parts are essential.  “It takes two to tango” is a common idiomatic expression inspired in this intrinsic partnership and is used to describe a situation in which more than one person is paired in an active and complex related manner, with positive and negative connotations.

The phrase “It takes two to tango” first appeared in the song Takes Two To Tango that Al Hoffman and Dick Manning composed in 1952. However, the expression reached top popularity thirty years later, when US President Ronald Reagan used it during a news conference. Since then, “it takes two to tango” expression has made it to the headlines several times.


This common expression can be used to suggest that the active cooperation of two parties is required in some enterprise in order to succeed or accomplish the objectives.

In the same way, it can also be used to refer to the fact that agreements or consensual bargains require both parties to assent in order to be successful.

Quarreling Also Takes Two

Disputes and discussions also need the participation of two parties. Thus, in situations in which both partners don’t agree upon something, we can also say “it takes two to tango”.