November 8, 2019 9:39 am
Thirty years ago, in the evening of 9th November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall took place, marking a moment of huge changes in world history.
The IATE term of this week is “checkpoint” and it is strictly connected with this historic event, which is often associated to the famous Checkpoint Charlie, one of the few official crossing points along the Berlin Wall. It comes from a combination of the verb “check” and the noun “point”, and is also known as “border post” or “border checkpoint”.
IATE defines this term as a “border crossing point for goods and people where customs and immigration checks are carried out”. However, this sense is only recorded from 1950 and its etymology has to be found in the aviation domain. In fact, back in 1940, this term designated “landforms or structures of known height against which the craft’s altitude could be visually checked”.
But, let’s take a step back to the night of 13th August 1961, when a 155-kilometre long wall was built to stop people fleeing from East Berlin to West Berlin. For nearly three decades, the Berlin Wall became the emblem of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain that split Europe into Soviet and Western spheres of influence after the World War II.
This barrier was made of panels of 3.6 metres of height, while the rest was composed of barbed wire, and it was under constant surveillance.
Nonetheless, there were some official crossing points along the wall that were meant to allow diplomats, officials and people with special permits to cross the border. The most famous was Checkpoint C, called Checkpoint Charlie by Western authorities and located in an area secured by American troops. This was the crucial point where Soviet and American tanks faced each other in 1961, at the peak of the Berlin Crisis.
Nowadays, the Checkpoint Charlie is known all over the world due to its bold sign, translated into English, Russian, French and German, warning those people about to venture beyond the Wall: “YOU ARE LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR”.
Trebbi, Dizionario aeronautico Inglese-Italiano, Italiano-Inglese, Dialogo Multimedia n. 36, Editoriale Domus, Torino, 2008.
Written by Elisa Callegari
Terminology trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. She holds a BA in Translation and Interpretation from the SSML University of Turin and a MA in Translation Studies from Paul-Valéry University of Montpellier. She studied Italian, English, French and Russian. Linguistics is her great passion and she has some experience in terminology, translation and formation of neologisms.
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