Sunday, January 31, 2010

Babel

You know how some things just don't translate well? The problem with having to write in French when you're basically English is that you can only 'think in French' so far. Sooner or later you're going to have to translate something that you think of in English into French, with variable results.

Some French words seem to me to perfectly match their English counterparts. 'Oeuf' is just fine for 'egg'. "Vert" works for 'green'. 'Chat' practically is 'cat'. And how do you say 'appalling'? -- 'épouvantable'. Isn't that fantastic? When I was in Germany with a friend, we were flipping through the dictionary and collapsed into giggles over the word 'uberspannt', which means stressed-out, or 'overstrung'. Her German cousin later made us t-shirts with the word on them.
Photo by Sebastia Giralt

But sometimes the results are rather less felicitous. Angus is currently doing a speech on the Greek Gods (thank-you Percy Jackson books). He did a rough copy and then while he was at school I was looking up a few words so I could help him edit it that night. One of the words he'd left in English was Zeus's 'thunderbolt'. I looked it up. I looked it up again. I switched to a different dictionary. I did everything I could to avoid having to write that Zeus's symbol was an 'éclair'.
FEAR ME.

Photo by Paul and Hien Brown

Talk about losing something in the translation. I can't get this image of this hugely muscled shirtless dude with luxuriously white hair and a beard, standing on top of Mount Olympus, hurling chocolate-covered cream-filled pastries down on the targets of his displeasure.

7 comments:

Amber said...

It somehow smacks of the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. Deceivingly sweet and delicious. ;)

Nat said...

The Boy loves the Percy Jackson series... fun fun books.

I quickly checked Wikipedia in French and they call it Le Foudre. (Not La Foudre ... The book in French is called Percy Jackson et le voleur de foudre.)

When Zeus unleashes it, it is called a coup de foudre (also what we metaphorically call love at first sight.)

Un éclair really means is one bolt of lightening. Une éclair is a dessert. Yes, I know it's complicated.

Julie said...

don't you just love the french language when the article can change the meaning of the word from yummy cream filled pastry to death by electrical charge?

one of my favorite french words? pantoufle.

suzicate said...

Hurling eclairs could make for a lot of friends in my book!!!!!

Peg said...

This is my first visit to your site and I'm sure not my last. Now I'm gonna have a REALLY hard time getting that image of Zeus out of my head! Hilarious. Thanks for the lesson.

alison said...

Leah just started The Lightning Thief, and she's so hooked. Given the choice, I think I'd rather be hit by a pastry than a thunderbolt.

Patti Murphy said...

What a waste of pastry. Zeus should be hurling Christmas cakes. They'd cause more damage and they're épouvantable (or however you spell that).