A few years ago, in one of the translator groups on social media, a colleague bemoaned the fact that self-employed people (which most translators are) don’t get Christmas hampers. No sooner posted than done! Lots of people joined in, names were drawn out of a virtual hat and freelance translators sent each other Christmas hampers. Well, strictly speaking, not hampers but cardboard boxes.

A hamper is actually a basket, as in picnic hamper or laundry hamper. Originally from hanap, it was a case for holding goblets. Who knew?! As a verb, to hamper means to impede, slow down or get in the way of something. I like to think it became a verb after people threw their goblet cases to impede something. Silly? Not when you remember that the word sabotage comes from the French word sabot, which was a kind of clog worn by the workers who interrupted production during labour disputes. Apparently, the story about them throwing their sabots into the machinery to stop it working is not true but throwing a spanner in the works is still used to describe events (or people) hampering progress. In Dutch, it’s not a spanner in the works that’s thrown, but soot in the food (roet in het het eten gooien).

Luckily, neither will prevent the exchange of Christmas hampers again this year.