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Lost in Translation

That’s become a kind of cliche now – Bill Murray, sitting on his hotel bed in his dressing gown at midnight looking deeply vacant.511DGIPBIdL._SX215_

But there may also be a “gain in translation”. I watched a lovely little TED talk this morning where a young Chinese woman revealed that “happiness” translated into Chinese as “fast joy”. Now I appreciate that our – as in native English speaker – understanding of the word “happiness” is a whole lot different, but the Chinese translation does give one pause.

And then there are these delightful examples. Would they gain or lose in translation?

7 responses »

  1. But in what sense are these words untranslatable? Everything the writer says in her introduction is contradicted by the perfectly comprehensible glosses she gives for each of the words.

  2. I hear you. I guess she just wants one word in English that says the same thing. I got really interested in the “gaining in translation” thing after listening to Chris Bliss on TED.

    • Some of these choices of the ‘untranslatable’ are a bit iffy if she’s expecting us to marvel at the specificity of a word for a concept that’s never crossed our minds. ‘Culaccino’ is the diminutive of ‘culaccio’ meaning rump or rear end, and it is applied to the end of a loaf or sausage or anything arse-endish, not only to a glass print on a table. ‘Sobremesa’ means ‘over the table’, so presumably the word ‘conversation’ just got dropped after a while and the word became a noun. ‘Depaysement’ simply means ‘disorientation’ – she’s being terribly literal-minded over that . And a huge pinch of salt should accompany any ‘untranslatable’ Inuktitut ‘words’, because they are polysynthetic languages that collapse nouns, verbs and everything else into single words.

      Today I bought a bottle of Monkey Shoulder scotch for 22 quid and a nice, squat chunky new glass to drink it from. I resisted opening it until 6.30, which is why I’m more than commonly bolshy this early.

  3. They forgot ‘lekker’ as number 12!

    Love your blogs xx

  4. Hi, I haven’t watched Lost in Translation but after watching this video, I’m inclined to see it. This is a good exercise to point out direct translation. But honestly for me, direct translation doesn’t work as seen in this clip.


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