NABOKV-L post 0014341, Sun, 10 Dec 2006 22:12:27 -0500

VN on Philistinism (lost in translation)
[EDNOTE. Sandy Klein sends this link to an article, "Clash of Translations," from the Turkish Daily News. -- SES]

Clash of translations
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Elif ªafak

The other day I was watching a U.S. TV series with Turkish subtitles when I heard the leading female character exclaim, “Oh, just ignore him, he is so philistine…” All at once, there appeared the Turkish subtitle on the screen and to my astonishment, I noticed the word “philistine” being translated as “Filistinli.” Thus distorted, the whole sentence had become “Oh, just ignore him, he is so Palestinian…” I stared at the screen, flabbergasted. [ ... ]

They talk before they listen. They jump to conclusions before they fully probe ready-made assumptions. Interestingly, according to Vladimir Nabokov, this is what precisely “philistinism” is all about. In a brilliant article titled “on Philistines and Philistinism,” Nabokov claimed that a philistine “is the conformist, the man who conforms to his group.” As such, “philistinism is international,” Nabokov argued. “It is found in all nations and all classes.” Based on this, he gave the most perfect definition of the word: “A philistine is a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his or her group and time.”

I kept watching the series. To my dismay, a few minutes later, that infamous word was uttered again. “Such philistinism…” said one of the actors, in an overtly reprimanding tone. I instantly zapped to another channel in order not to see the Turkish subtitle.

Search the archive:
Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies: