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That’s another biscuit

Translating expressions….

The profession of Translator is great but it can also be a minefield. Not everything is always exactly what it seems. For example, take proverbs, sayings, colloquialisms and expressions. Translators know that these all demand special attention, but they also need to recognise any sayings and expressions in the other language first, and this is not always that simple.

Boter bij de vis = Butter with the fish……

Sometimes proverbs, sayings, colloquialisms and expressions are so embedded into a language that they are hardly or no longer noticed. An example of this is Dutch sayings that look like an ordinary sentence, such as ‘boter bij de vis = butter with the fish’. The context of this translation being done will need to reflect on whether this actually refers to serving butter with fish in a restaurant, or whether it means ‘up-front payment’, which is the actual meaning of this expression. But maybe it could mean something else again, does the fish served with butter need to be paid for straight away? Furthermore, when someone says (in Dutch) ‘dat is een open deur = that is an open door’, does he/she mean that the door has been left open or does he/she mean that something is obvious or ‘speaks for itself’ or is a ‘no-brainer’?

Voor paal staan = literally ‘stand as post’…

Translators should be familiar with proverbs and sayings in both languages that they are translating. If there is an equivalent in the target language then he/she will of course use this. If not, another solution will need to be found to get the message across correctly. A translator who overlooks a proverb, will ‘stand as pole’ – look silly/dumb/stupid, or ‘become a laughing stock’ to throw in yet another expression.

Let’s have lunch one day

Someone who has attracted your attention invites you out for lunch. Wow! But, wait a minute, wrong…. ‘Let’s have lunch one day’ can just as easily mean the opposite, that you are actually not being invited at all. This expression can be used as a polite ‘brush off’. As long as you know….

Louis van Gaal

If you want to hear sayings that certainly cross boundaries, you just need to listen to Louis van Gaal. This soccer coach has produced a plethora of unbridled proverb, saying, colloquialism and expression translations. And they are being assimilated!

The ‘dood of de gladiolen’ = death or gladioli’

Van Gaal’s German “Der tot oder die Gladiolen” expression, from his days as coach at Bayern München, has already scored status as an official German saying; quite an achievement! And there are many more translated sayings that the Dutch coach had up his sleeve that are causing controversy in German and in English. We do not just come across van Gaal on the soccer field but he now also pops up in etymological dictionaries. Who else can equal him in that?

  • Posted in: General
  • Paul Kranendonk
  • 13.juni.2016
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