I saw the movie Gravity
in “versión original,” which in Spain means in the original language with Spanish subtitles. One subtitle taught an interesting lesson in translation. When Matt asks Ryan where she lives, “Where do you pitch your tent?” the Spanish subtitle read, “Where do you keep your toothbrush?” It was a good idiomatic translation. In Spanish, the word for tent
is also the word for store,
a usage dating back to medieval times when shopping was done at weekly or annual fairs where itinerant merchants pitched their tents. If that sentence had been translated literally, Matt would have asked her where her store was. So an alternative had to be found, and this sounded just as jocular in Spanish as in the original English.
Translation isn’t always so easy. Here in Spain, if something is very successful, it “leaves by the big gate.” This is a reference to bullfighting, where a matador who has a very successful fight is carried out of the main gate of the bullring on the shoulders of his crew, surrounded by cheering fans. You could translate it as “hits a home run,” but Spaniards don’t play baseball. You could just say “very successful,” but the verve of the expression gets lost in translation.
Similarly, there’s an expression, “They blamed him for everything. He even killed Manolete.” Again, this is a bullfighting reference. Manolete (1917-1947) is generally considered the greatest bullfighter ever. He was killed in the ring by a bull named Islero. To blame someone for Manolete’s death is a way of saying that the person is the culmination of all evil. I can’t think of any translation that would not be another lesson in loss.
I call my LiveJournal blog “Mount Oregano.” That comes from the Spanish saying, “No todo el monte es orégano.”
“The mountain isn’t all oregano.” That means that any path up a mountain – that is, any task you undertake – won’t be completely easy and agreeable or even fragrant. Except that monte
doesn’t exclusively mean mount
It can also mean uncultivated land covered with trees, thickets, or scrub. Or it can mean hills, or even the countryside in general – and in some of these senses, the saying makes more sense. Still, I’m sticking with “Mount” because “Scrubland Oregano” sounds like a weak title for a blog to me. “Oregano Hills” sounds okay but seems too far from the original, which can be a genuine concern in translation. This is a judgement call, however, and your opinion is as valid as mine.
One test for a translation is whether it both means the same as the original and has the same effect on the reader: If it had been expressed originally in the target language, how would it have been said? Sometimes this is a test with many right answers, but none of them are perfect.
— Sue Burke
Also posted at my professional website: http://www.sue.burke.name