Happy Interpreter

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Random thoughts on interpreting, translation, language, and happiness. Any comments, questions, suggestions? Feel free to contact me: @kusznir
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Украина, Английский

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Happy Interpreter 5 Jul, 19:14
Relentless Anxiety

YouTube videos on interpreting and translation in Ukrainian are rather scarce. If I find one, I can easily forgive some small drawbacks, e.g. imperfections in sound recording.

That's especially true for "Heпозбувна бентега", the legendary Arsenal discussion named after an iconic Ukrainian translation meme.

It's been there for over two years, but for some reason I only discovered it last week. The sound... will make you feel you are actually there :) 

Also, check out the other translation-related videos posted by Mystetskyi Arsenal on their channel.
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Happy Interpreter 1 Jul, 22:30
​​Week Commencing

Many years ago, while reading Though the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher, I learned how language – or, to be more precise, culture – can make some people develop certain “superpowers.” E.g. indigenous people of some-land-far-away could easily define compass directions, because their language pushed them to do so. Rather than going left or right (relative directions) they would go east or west (absolute directions). This didn't really work outside of their homeland (some quite small islands), and still, I was impressed.

Recently, I’ve discovered that people speaking corporate English can have a similar superpower. The thing is, in big international organizations and corporations they often measure – and allocate – their working time in weeks. Now comes the surprising part: the weeks are numbered, from 1 to 52. In business letters, instead of “the first week of July” one often writes week 27.

The superpower I’m speaking about is knowing exactly which days of which month(s) they mean even without looking at the calendar!

For speakers of British English, including those from the former British colonies, there’s a more “human” way to do the same: w/c. No, that’s not exactly water closet in this case. It’s week commencing. Thus, week 27 becomes w/c 1st July. 

If you ever need to convert a regular date into weeks or back, check out this simple website: www.whatweekisit.org
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Happy Interpreter 30 Jun, 20:00
Happy Birthday, Anna!

Sorry for the brief absence; these weeks have been quite busy and hectic, although not entirely devoid of some occasions to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak. 

Even today, while a wonderful interpreter/translator Anna is having her birthday party, I'm "encaged" at home, finishing one of those fast and urgent translations for which "the deadline is yesterday".

Anna's channel, @word4power, is in Russian. Some reasons to subscribe:

🔹 Live reports from busy interpreter's life

🔸 Deep contemplations on language

🔹 Books to read, videos to watch, jokes to laugh at

🔸 Useful vocab

🔹 Awesome author! 😉
🎉 Happy BD, Anna! 34
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Happy Interpreter 15 Jun, 14:23
​​Serendipitous Patriotism

This is yet another self-denigrating story: I’m going to tell you of a very noticeable slip of the tongue that happened during my consecutive interpretation last week. Interestingly, it brought me a round of applause.

A bit of back story for those of you who don’t know me IRL: I’m a taciturn person of quite a Finnish temperament, and I look a bit Finnish, too. I visited Finland twice and felt at home. Though my knowledge of the language hardly went beyond the words sauna, linja-autoasema, and kiitos, I liked lots of their music – and the music of the language itself – so I kept listening to Finnish radio long after my Finnish voyages. To the best of my knowledge, I have no Finnish ancestors, but in some metaphorical, figurative sense it’s not too big of a stretch for me to imagine that I’m a Finn, or that my native country is Finland. And this is exactly what pulled a stunt on me a couple of days ago.

I was interpreting for a lady from Visit Finland. It went like this:

The speaker: [begins her presentation with a well-known fact about Finland]
Me, in Russian: As you may know, for the second year in a row, the happiest country in the world is UKRAINE…

Of course, I corrected myself immediately. But the audience liked my mistake more than the truth. I got a round of applause.

If you find this story entertaining, press the smile.
If you want another story of serendipitous patriotism – back from my university days – press the flag.
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Happy Interpreter 11 Jun, 09:18
Equanimity for Interpreters and Everyone Else

One of the things people keep asking me about is how to deal with anxiety while interpreting. While part of the answer is surely honing up one’s interpreting skill, another thing I find useful is mindfulness meditation.

I meditated almost daily since September 2015 till early 2018, and recently resumed the practice thanks to a subscriber of this channel. Unexpectedly, I quickly found the practice contributing to my interpreting career. Interestingly, my intuitive finding was later confirmed by the famous interpreter and educator Andrei Falaleyev. In his 6th textbook, Камея (2017) he included some meditation instructions accompanied with explanations why this thing might be worth your time and effort.

My story with mindfulness meditation started from the enthralling and compelling book 10% Happier by Dan Harris, a memoir-like narration of how a TV anchor and reporter started practicing. In late 2017, Dan came up with another book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics (co-authored with Jeff Warren and Carlye Adler), by which he tackles some of the challenges and objections that unnecessarily preclude thousands of people from reaping the benefits of regular practice.

In short, if you can read Russian and would like to check out Falaleyev’s introduction and instructions, drop me a line, and I’ll copy that page for you. If you can’t read Russian, you probably have no idea who is Falaleyev anyway – but I can retell his argument here if you want :)

In any case, here’s Dan Harris sharing his story in Yale. Enjoy watching.
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Happy Interpreter 5 Jun, 13:50
Happy Birthday to... Me? 

I had my birthday yesterday. The best way to celebrate is, of course, to interpret till 9:30 pm, and that's exactly what I did. 

But intead of speaking of work, I'd rather describe an unusual birthday present I've got. A subscriber asked me whether I had a Patreon account; thanks to her, now I have one, and this channel already has the first patron. 

My account is of the simplest kind, with no "tiers," no bells and whistles. Those who want to support the channel, select an amount, and then it is recurrently charged from your account to Patreon, on a monthly basis. 

To get to know most of my audience, I had to pay for advertising at some point. It's a tricky thing: some of "subscribers" one gets in such a way are merely bots that unsubscribe soon after, but if for a hundred of bots I finally get to meet a real person like you -- I didn't mind the extra expenses. From now on, anyone can help me with those. 

The three best birthday presents I'd appreciate are the following:

1️⃣ Write to me if you haven't done sone so yet: @kusznir. Next month I'm going to do a presentation about this channel, and I'd like to include a slide on the diverse professions and occupations of my readers, as well as their geography of residence or work. So please, tell me where you are and what you do. Also, this a wonderful occasion to let me know what you'd like to read about!

2️⃣ If you like this channel, or any particular post -- please, share it with your friends, whether in real life or on social media. 

3️⃣ Again, only if you want to do so: support the channel with your $ on Patreon. This will help to partly cover my advertising expenses. For one-time donations, I also have a PayPal account, and if you are in Ukraine, there's always @PrivatBankBot for you. Again, my channel is very democratic; even without any donations, you are getting the same opportunities as big donors :) Cheers!
🎉 Happy BD! 42
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Happy Interpreter 4 Jun, 10:01
One More Reason to Deplore Brexit

Let's begin with a quote from John Oliver's show:

"Brexit — I believe, is short for 'brain exit,' the official word for when everything that makes sense goes out of the window and everyone is just stupid all the time."

While I do appreciate all the good things coming from the European Union, its language quite often seems to be a mixture of legalese and officialese. The Brits, the only EU nation for which the English language is truly native, often were the only beacons of style and taste in the dark sea of bureaucracy. This is especially true for their diplomats, lawyers, government officials, military officers, scientists, etc. — the educated folks, I mean. If Brexit entails the loss of this style, EU, I'm afraid, will be left devoid of the major part of its charm, its gravity and grace. I wonder why this huge peril is often overlooked or, at best, deemed an afterthought in discussions about Brexit.

To see the British magic in practice, let's take one example: a lawyer elaborating on some EU legislation changes. It's not a well-known speaker, not some popular video — the only reason I discovered it was getting ready for an event. But man, was it worth it!

It's not just about the accent. Take a look at the little tidbits of language the lawyer inserts here and there throughout her presentation:

lo and behold
fair few of you
music to one's ears
to get out of jail free
to vary wildly
borne out in practice
[annexes] sitting there in the back
of a kind
earlier on
a little caveat

Also, the video contains a cute slip of the tongue. There are two expressions in English: "dry as dust" and "dull as ditchwater." At some point the speaker accidentally mixes the two together, and says "dry as ditchwater," — which is absolutely hilarious — yet quickly corrects herself.

And one more little gem. For years my friends and I admired the figurative word "пробуксовывать" in Falaleyev's translations from English into Russian. OK, but what's the beautiful word to translate this concept back into English? Now I know: slippage. Thank you, Claire Dwyer.
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Happy Interpreter 3 Jun, 11:42
Farewell to Olha Seniuk

Last weekend, Olha Seniuk, a legendary Ukrainian translator, bid adieu to this prosaic world, thus joining her husband, translator Yevhen Popovych, in eternity. Olha died on the day of her birthday – she just turned 90.

Olha worked with a whole bunch of Germanic languages: English, Danish, Islandic, Norwegian, and Swedish. Among other authors, she translated Astrid Lindgren, Selma Lagerlöf, and Tove Jansson.

If you've got a copy of any work of literature translated by Olha, leaf through its pages. Or better yet, find a translator who's still alive and hug them.

P. S. If you'd like to know more on Olha's story, check out this wonderful article by BBC Ukraine.
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Happy Interpreter 27 May, 12:16
5 Books from Bill Gates

While the attitudes to Microsoft and its operating systems can differ, one could surely benefit from its founder's acumen when it comes to selection of good books. 

Recently, Bill gates recommended 5 books to read this summer. You can either read about the books in his blog post, or watch an even shorter presentation in the end of this post.

I'm not the fastest reader in the world, and I also have to finish a translation of a brick-sized volume. Thus, for my own summer read list I've chosen just 2 books out of his 5:

🔹 Upheaval. Yet another wonderful book by the 80+ year old lifelong learner Jared Diamond, who authored Guns, Germs, and Steel (a Pulitzer prize winner), and many other profound books. In his most recent book, Jared shares how 7 different nations survived crises. Interestingly, he draws parallels from personal crisis therapy. Aslo, as an example of a personal crisis in his own life, Jared recalls the good old times when he wanted to become a simultaneous translator (sic!). But that's worth a separate post.

🔸 The Future of Capitalism by Paul Collier, a much younger scholar who just turned 70. Well, this just sounds like something I'd read anyway — such literature often makes it to airport stores, and thus has a good chance of grabbing my attention. Also, some of the ideas in the book seem to have something in common with The Dismal Science by Stephen A. Marglin, a copy of which I've bought quite some time ago, but it's too relishable — one doesn't simply sit down and read it! 😄
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Happy Interpreter 25 May, 12:34

Here in the Slavic world, one may envy the English language for the lack of problems with feminitives. Indeed, in English most professions, occupations, and titles (and, for that matter, nearly all other common nouns) are gender neutral.

Moreover, wherever there were any traces of gender in the titles, the most feminist thing to do is to remove them.


Stewardess ➡️ Flight Attendant
Maid ➡️ Housekeeper

However, even in English it's not always that simple. Let's consider the person leading a board or a committee.

Traditionally, the title was — and often still is — "Chairman." In the past, most people in such positions actually were men. Fortunately, as the society moves forward, we gradually embrace leadership based on merits rather than on one's gender. So, how do we call a woman in this position?

The best solution, just like with flight attendands, is to use a gender-neutral title: chairperson or simply chair (the same is true for an ombudsperson). Interestingly, some people seem to perceive these terms as "not manly enough;" in India, for instance, a chairperson is usually a woman, while a man would still be a chairman.

You might think to yourself: yeah, India is just some backward, overly traditional country, but in forward-thinking western democracies they surely have this sorted out. Well, not really. Again, this is an official title enshrined in charters, statutes, ordinances, regulations, and laws; each organization abides by different ones, and they are very slow to change. As a result, if you go to the US Senate's website, you'll find both Chairs (heads of the political parties' conferences and committees) and Chairmen (heads of Standing Committees; Chairman/Chairwoman in the singular). 

And here is a real example from a meeting in Ukraine: two ladies, Hanna and Natalia, landed in the same panel discussion. Apparently, the organizers followed the logic of the US Senate, which makes one of the ladies a chairwoman, and the other a chairperson

P. S. One more important notice: whenever possible, please avoid using the second person (like the word "you" and the associated grammar) when addressing chairpersons. Learn more here.
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Happy Interpreter 20 May, 14:54
Interpreting and Technology

One of the most intriguing questions about simultaneous interpreting is whether we human interpreters are going to be replaced by machines anytime soon. While the short answer is "no," the landscape of interconnections between the world is a bit more complex than that.

To find out more, let's check out the eponymous publication compiled by Claudio Fantinuoli (December 2018).

In this post, let's just look through the terminology and briefly answer the question whether those technologies are already in use and whether they can have considerable impact on human interpreters.

Computer-Assisted Interpreting (CAI) -- tools aimed at improving the working experience of interpreters, both during preparation and during the very act of interpreting. Just like CAT tools, CAI tools would help with terminology, proper names, numbers, and other nitty-gritty details of subject matter.

A particular case of CAI is Computer-Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT).

Is CAI there yet? Meh, not really.
Should interpreters be afraid of it? Nope.

Remote Interpreting (RI) -- technically, any setting different from the traditional one, in which all the interpreters, all the speakers and all the audience are located in one room.

In other words, if the conference is in the hall and the interpreter is seated in some dusty closet, or if at least one speaker is joining through a conference call, that's already RI. 

The most extereme case, though, is a situation when the interpreters are not present at the venue altogether -- they are somewhere in their home cities, whether in their home offices or some kind of interpreting hubs (you know, something like call centers).

Is RI there yet? To some extent, yes.
Should interpreters be afraid of it? Yes.

Machine Interpreting (MI), also known as automatic speech translation, automatic interpreting, or speech-to-speech translation, is the technology that aims at replacing human interpreters with software.

Is MI there yet? Meh, not really.

I'll quote the author: 

"The success of these systems has been quite modest so far, as they fail to achieve the goal of quality and usability even for the most basic real scenarios in which interpreting is needed." 

Should interpreters be afraid of it?
To some extent, yes.
This is the kind of technology that can cause some real pain in the back despite it doesn't really work yet.

OK, that's it for today; I hope we'll explore the topic further in the forthcoming posts.
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Happy Interpreter 18 May, 12:28
Neil Gaiman

A sweet video for laid-bak Saturday watching and/or listening:

Tim Ferris, the author of Tools of Titans, The 4-Hour Week (and, basically, 4-hour everything) interviews Neil Gaiman, the famous fiction writer whom I was honored to translate a couple of years ago.

Among other things, Neil will share his reasoning behind writing fiction with a fountain pen, why it's necessary to always carry spare batteries, and how they worked together with the late Sir Terry Pratchett. You'll learn about the exact size of the notebook he chose for Stardust, and what effect it was supposed to have on the style of the narration.

So make yourself a cup of luxury tea and enjoy this classy conversation. ☕
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Happy Interpreter 16 May, 14:13

On Facebook, I signed this photo with the following joke: "A new president, a new Bible." Well, actually, this edition of the Bible has nothing to do with current Ukrainian politics, and it is not that new. 

ZeBible is a Bible in French, with brief comments and other Bible study tools for teens (did they mean Generation Z?). It was first published in France (2011), and quickly made its way to Canada and other French-speaking countries.

In many languages, the Bible was one of the first books ever translated and/or printed. No wonder, it has been a popular language learning tool for centruries.

Nowadays, the world is more secular and the language learning material is way more diverse. Why bother with the Bible then? Well, having made its way into secular world, spiritual vocab has become a signature feature of educated speakers. If you want, I can make a separate post (or, better, a series of posts) with examples of originally religious words that acquired additional secular meanings.

The only difficulty here is that traditional versions of the Bible are usually written in the old language. Sure, those old versions can be quite beautiful; but imagine yourself a foreigner trying to learn Russian, grabbing the Russian Synodal Version (19th century) and finding all those "кольми паче" and "поелику же" :-) Of course, as a foreigner, you'd probably prefer a modern translation.

Same thing in France. One of the more traditional versions was authored by Louis Segond (again, 19th century; you can find it with later revisions). On the other hand, there are versions en français courant, and ZeBible is based on one of such attempts. Also, while working on the comments and Bible study tools, special effort was made to make the language simple and understandable to teens.
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Happy Interpreter 13 May, 12:30
​​The Olympic Facepalm

In some places, you almost expect misprints and mistakes. In others, you just don't.

If you are a teacher, you're likely to find mistakes in home tasks of your students. When buying a Chinese product, be ready for a mistake or two lurking in the product description. If you enjoy finding mistakes and misprints in my posts -- be my guest, Happy Interpreter is a virtually inexhaustible deposit of them. 

But when you're in The Olympic Museum in Lausanne... C'mon!

Below are 3 photos taken at one of the audiovisual installations . For one, these Polish words are written "bez polskich znaków," with basic Latin alphabet only. The authors, of couse, could claim that it was a limitation of the font, or of the file format, or anything -- but c'mon, there was even some Chinese there, so they surely had Unicode, or an equivalent.

More importantly, for some reason they decided to randomly skip letters in some words!

If the authors lack a couple of bucks to check a dozen words in a different language that they don't know but still want to use in an installation, why don't they go to some online forum, where language enthusiasts would gladly do it for free, or at least to Google Translate, which can produce automatic and generally correct translation of individual words?  

I'm unavailable for comment. ©️
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Happy Interpreter 9 May, 11:52
Bilingualism Makes You Smarter?

The habit of looking for information in pairs of conflicting opinions (like this and this, for instance) has one unexpected effect: at some point, opposites start "jumping at you" automatically.

A very recent example. On a recent vacation, while exploring the world of podcasts, I accidentaly bumped into a Russian Lifehacker's Podcast episode, "Как билингвизм может прокачать ваш мозг". The podcast claims that there are numerous benefits for the brain, e.g. boosting children's cognitive abilities, or delaying the onset of dementia by as many as four years. It also mentioned some very old research, according to which learning more than one language could be harmful for children (which was proven wrong later).

Yeah, right. As it appears, all the research behind the Lifehacker's Podcast episode may be skewed, not only the century-old papers. Just yesterday I bumped into a recent episode of SciShow on the same topic. It reminds us of research methodology issues and the so-called publication bias. In short, all the proofs of "linguistic superpowers" seem to be week and inconsistent.

Whether there is any or no scientific evidence for the benefits of language learning (or vegetarianism, for that matter), I've been doing it for decades and see no reason to stop. According to the host, Hank Green,

"Learning another language definitely has benefits that no one can argue with, like, for example, you will know another language."

Nuff said.
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Happy Interpreter 8 May, 12:38
Polyglot Gathering
29th May - 2nd June 2019
Bratislava, Slovakia

There's an event of which I haven't told... for quite a while, at least. Last year, at some point, I was quite eager to participate (and, at the end of the day, didn't go), this year I'm a bit calmer (OMG, does it mean I'm going?).

Broadly speaking, the event is for language learners. It nicely combines all the necessary explosive elements: food for thought, role models, lots of practice, and, apparently, fun. In fact, I know at least one person, a fellow EYP alumna, who takes part in this thing every year.

At the moment I'm wrtining this, the number of registered participants is 600+, and it keeps growing. 

Check out the preliminary program here.

If you' decide to participate, drop me a line, maybe we can somehow arrange the travel together.
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Happy Interpreter 2 May, 12:17
​​That Eeerie Feeling

This topic keeps coming up in conversations about translation. Each time I translate a work of literature -- no matter how fictional the plot may be -- some details surely come true in my life, either during or after the translation.

Last summer, while staying in a capsule hostel in Lviv, I chuckled at how similar my capsule was to the protagonist's "coffin" in the Artemis. Later, in November 2018, another hostel opened in Warsaw, resembling the thing from the book even more.

One could rightly object that almost anything could resemble it if all I've got was just a vague text description. Yet those who own a copy of the book may also recall the maps illustrating of the fictional city on the Moon. What if something like that existed in real life?

And it does exist! A couple of days ago I discovered Alvernia Planet, a Polish film studio right beside the highway between Kraków and Katowice. Interestingly, the studio has been there, it seems, since 2010 or so. Did Andy Weir use a Polish film studio as inspiration? I guess I'll need to ask him.

Check out this pic from the book (in the upper left corner) juxtaposed with the real thing in Poland, and imagine how surprised I was.
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Happy Interpreter 27 Apr, 13:16
The Better Schulmann of Our Nature

Recently I've mentioned that some contemporary book translations are of less-than-perfect quality. In case of non-fiction, one important step that's often omitted is scientific editing and correction. 

A certain Russian publishing house that intends to publish The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker, is extremely fortunate: they've entrusted scientific editing to none else than Ekaterina Schulmann, the famous political scientist who also happens to love this book and quote it in her lectures. A coincidence? I don't think so ©️

Speaking about quotes: Ekaterina discovered Stephen misquoting St. Augustine 😆 Watch the video for details (the story starts at 1:30). In this regard, the Russian translation is going to be better than the original, and I'm very much looking forward to it. 

What's more, Ekaterina has now got an official Telegram channel! I mean, last week she recognized and approved a channel managed by her fans who repost content from her FB. In fact, they even have audio and text versions of her videos.

As you may have guessed, Ekaterina sometimes writes in English.
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Happy Interpreter 25 Apr, 09:27
UTIC 2019

Good tidings, dear brethren and sistren! It seems, I'm taking part in a translation/interpreting conference in Ukraine this summer.

Two things about that:

1️⃣ Check out the program to see if you can be interested in any of the topics.
If yes, it makes every sense to take part: it's the only event of such kind in Ukraine, and it doesn't even take place every year. Besides, if you apply now, I suppose you'll get the early bird price.

2️⃣ It's no secret that my PechaKucha talk will be about this Telegram channel, so I'll be asking for your help at some point while preparing the presentation.

PechaKucha, in case you didn't know, is a brief TED-like format, where each speaker has only 20 slides, and only 20 seconds for each of them. This adds up to 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and then goes Q&A (another 6:40). I hope I'll manage to squeeze in something really exciting.

Meanwhie, thank you for being here and sharing this journey with me.
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Happy Interpreter 23 Apr, 17:20
Obscene Meditation

In the recent electorial frenzy, have you noticed how heated some discussions on social media were? Have you ever felt any unnecessary tension you wanted to let go of? If yes, I've got a tool for you: meditation.

‌Some opponents of meditation would say it's just some kind of useless self-deception. Some proponents would say it actually works. I'd rather ask you a question: if you get all worked up for [almost] no reason, losing peace of mind and letting the quality of your work sink -- isn't that a self-deception?

In this regard, even if one uses one self-deception to free oneself from another self-decenption, that's only fair. As Russians could put it, вор у вора дубинку украл.

In case you don't have any previous experience with meditation, guided meditations are often a good place to start. And if we slip in some cuss words, they can help many people relieve stress easier.

Here are 2 options: a lighter, more professionally produced one, and a longer, more philosophically profound one (especially closer to the end).

Attention: please do not watch the videos if you're somehow allergic to f-words and alike.
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