There is Always Something Lost in Translation.


Every language has certain proverbs that do not make sense when translated into another language. Maybe it’s something you’ve heard your grandparents say growing up that you could never explain to your friends. There’s an ancient Italian proverb… “Traduttori? Traditori!” This directly translates into English as “Translators? Traitors!” Unfortunately, the meaning disappears when directly translated. This Italian proverb holds the same meaning as the English proverb, “Something’s always lost in translation.”

Translation is no easy task. It takes extensive knowledge to create a new document that does not betray the texts. One of the most difficult aspects of a translator’s job is to work with idiomatic expressions. Sometimes, there is an equivalent expression, but many times, there is not.

Here are some examples of proverbs from various languages that might not translate well into English:

  • German – “Geh mir nicht auf den Keks!” The literal translation is “Don’t walk on my cookie!” In actuality, it is an idiomatic expression meaning “Don’t annoy me!”
  • French – “Bons nageurs sont à la fin noyés.” The direct translation is “Good swimmers are often drowned.” It is used as a warning to someone becoming overconfident.
  • Latin – “Radix malorum est cupiditas.” This literally translates to “Money is the root of all evil.” However, it is used to mean “The root of all evil is desire.”
  • Danish – “Man skal smede mens jernet er varmt.” This translates to “You have to strike while the iron is hot.” It is meant to say “This is the moment. Take the opportunity now, and don’t waste it.”
  • Hebrew – “אין הנחתום מעיד על עיסתו.” This translates as “The baker shouldn’t comment on his own dough.” Its English equivalent is “Don’t toot your own horn.”
  • Greek“Ο πνιγμένος, από τα μαλλιά του πιάνεται.” The literal translation says, “The drowning man grips to his own hair.” Its English equivalent is “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
  • Spanish“Árbol que nace torcido, jamás su tronco endereza.” This literally translates to “A tree born crooked can never grow straight.” In English we would say, “Old habits die hard.”
  • Hindi – “अब पछताए होत क्या जब चिड़िया चुग गई खेत.” The literal translation is “What is the use of crying when the birds ate the whole farm?” It is equivalent to “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

 These examples confirm the significance of linguists and language service providers.  A linguist has the knowledge and skills that are required to create documents that have been translated correctly. Could you imagine life without proper translations? Thanks to linguists, we are able to communicate properly with people in every country. In this globalized economy, businesses simply could not survive without utilizing the advantages that translation services provide.

We hope you enjoyed this list that we have put together. Please, feel free to comment and share any proverbs you may know.


Related Links

Don’t Let FartHinder Stop You! (journeyofmixedemotions.com)

Valentines Day All Over The World

Myths about the Translation Industry: Anyone Can Be a Translator

Why would you go working in a foreign country? (lexiophiles.com)

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9 thoughts on “There is Always Something Lost in Translation.

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