On Compromise

26 03 2013

The last week or so we’ve been joined at work by a couple of colleagues from Timisoara in Romania. As is so often the case, I’ve been stunned by the level of English our visitors command. I speak not one word of Romanian, but they are entirely comfortable conversing and writing in English. Their entire support infrastructure (which they linked through to in Romania via the Internet to demonstrate to us) was in English. Every specification and document used by the entire development team is in English. Their command of my language is so good that they were freely laughing at subtle word play and making jokes themselves.

Yesterday though, I was reminded that language is not just the words, but the idioms used by native speakers. In Romanian, it seems, a compromise is described as “keeping both the goat and the cabbage happy”. It struck me how pastoral the image was, and I struggled to think of the English equivalent. The best I could come up with was “squaring the circle”.

In looking for an illustration, I discovered that the French have a similar phrase: Ménager la chèvre et le chou… Managing the goat and the cabbage. It would seem it comes from the old puzzle about crossing the river with (in this case) a wolf, a goat and a cabbage. In English, it’s more usual to puzzle over a fox, a chicken and a sack of corn.

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