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Consequences: Profundity, Mistranslation and Crystallised Phrases

Thande

Happy New Decade!
Published by SLP
#4
Fascinating article @Thande. Also a truly fantastic title.
Thanks - one of those cases where I had an idea and tried to keep it on track, when it would be easy to wander off into related areas...
There is, of course, the equally fascinating category of 'phrases who's meaning has changed because everyone just assumes a different meaning was meant originally'

The exception that proves the rule being probably the most notable one.
...like this one, which would be interesting to cover in a different article.

edit: Also, the mention of "Canadian Memes About the T/V Distinction in French" was a reference to some that @Bruno has linked to on social media.
 
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Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
#5
If Chuck "Leo Caesius" Häberl was here, he'd probably mention how an obscure word used by Paul in 1 Corinthians was mistakenly assumed to mean "homosexuals", and that much of the Biblical case against LGBT rights comes from sloppy translation.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#8
In our increasingly interconnected world, with automated (but flawed) translation becoming increasingly common, what new flawed or time-specific interpretations of the language will become frozen and preserved in the aphorisms of English—or indeed the reverse?
There's an interesting phenomenom online of people altering an aphorism and saying the original is a flawed or misleading translation, which then catches on because it's a Good Story. One example is "curiosity killed the cat" actually ends "but satisfaction brought it back" as the 'original' term, when that's a variation that didn't exist until the early 20th century (and "curiosity" is itself an alteration of "care [worry] killed the cat").

I've also seen "blood is thicker than water" actually means "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", but as far as I can tell there's no real evidence for that. But it sure sounds good.
 

Youngmarshall

Well-known member
Sea Lion Press staff
Location
Occupied Northumbria
Pronouns
he/him
#9
I've also seen "blood is thicker than water" actually means "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", but as far as I can tell there's no real evidence for that. But it sure sounds good.
That one's a fascinating one for me. One I've looked into before

As far as I can tell the first person to ever claim that is an American in 1994, it's interesting how quickly that 'true origin' has spread in the 26 years since then.

One interesting little thing on translations I dug up recently is Napoleon's justification on why he turned on Louverture and attempted to undo emancipation on Haiti.

There's a letter he wrote to Talleyrand about this in which he says

"Que dans le parti que j'ai pris d'anéantir à Saint-Domingue le gouvernement des noirs, j'ai moins été guidé par des considérations de commerce et de finance que par la nécessite d'étouffer dans toutes les parties du monde toute espèce de germes d'inquiétude et de troubles "

Now I don't speak French but a lot of English language sources translate this to

“My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Haiti is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of the blacks in the world.”

And that feels wrong because well where's the second 'noir'? A more accurate translation is probably the one offered below.

"That in the decision I have taken to annihilate the government of the blacks in Saint-Domingue, I was guided less by commercial considerations than by the necessity of smothering in all parts of the world any kind of seed of worry and trouble."

But you still find the first one in reputable sources on the revolution.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
#10
There's a letter he wrote to Talleyrand about this in which he says

"Que dans le parti que j'ai pris d'anéantir à Saint-Domingue le gouvernement des noirs, j'ai moins été guidé par des considérations de commerce et de finance que par la nécessite d'étouffer dans toutes les parties du monde toute espèce de germes d'inquiétude et de troubles "

Now I don't speak French but a lot of English language sources translate this to

“My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Haiti is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of the blacks in the world.”

And that feels wrong because well where's the second 'noir'? A more accurate translation is probably the one offered below.

"That in the decision I have taken to annihilate the government of the blacks in Saint-Domingue, I was guided less by commercial considerations than by the necessity of smothering in all parts of the world any kind of seed of worry and trouble."
The second one is definitely more accurate. In fact the first one is a gross mistranslation.
 
#11
This reminds me of a controversy in American Catholicism over which circumstances allowed for the use of fertility-awareness methods. The original text in Italian OORC in context said "serious reasons" but a common translation provided by many American activists stated "grave" reasons, ie, only in cases of life or death. The controversy was largely resolved when the internet came and the Vatican put up the official translation of the document.
 

Thande

Happy New Decade!
Published by SLP
#13
On the last point, one thing that seems to be common is to go for the "classic" translation in the title, and a more accurate one in the text - eg, keeping "Phantom of the Opera" as the title of a new translation, but only ever referring to "the Opera Ghost" inside.
The former is arguably a (mild recognition) example of the whole 'Title recognition is more important than whether the content resembles anything' thing we were talking about the other day.