Monday 21 June 2010

A Hyphenated Insult.

Translation is funny thing isn’t it?

Ha, ha, ha , he, he.

No, I meant funny as in strange, not funny ha-ha.

Here’s a case in point – imagine you had to translate “Va te faire enculer sale fils de pute” from French into English; where would you start?

Well first of all you wouldn’t have to translate it, the person saying it, a former French World Cup striker, was speaking to another Frenchman, soon-to-be-former French World Cup trainer in the dressing room at half time - so they probably clearly understood each other.

The French Football Federation, who sent the player home -preferably in disgrace - certainly understood, so no need to translate it for them either.

Interestingly it seems that the player was sent home not for what he said but for declining to apologise a few hours later after the anger and sweat had settled.

I’m English and if someone stands on my toe in the queue at the post office I will blurt out, “Sorry.” But the French just don’t seem to do it.

My bank here – I live in France – once sent a cheque back to England that I had been desperately waiting for because they didn’t recognise it as a cheque and after a lot of phone calls I managed to get the cheque back and proved to my local cashier that it was bona-fide. After he cashed it, thus averting the poorhouse for my family, he proceeded not to apologise but to tell me off!

The French player uttered his now infamous retort when the trainer asked him to try and score a goal or at least kick the ball in the direction of the two white sticks with the net, I guess he felt like he was being told off.

So how should we translate it - would you do it word for word or would you try to rephrase it as an Englishperson would say it - or would you try to imagine what a footballer in a similar position, a tad unhappy with his trainer, might say?

Luckily we have just that sort of precedent – Roy Keene, though ok he’s not exactly English - more Irish. But a few years ago, also at the World Cup he too wasn’t happy with something the trainer said and just before he got sent home he came out with a- “I didn't fucking rate you as a player and I don't fucking rate you as a manager. You're a fucking wanker and you can fucking stick your fucking World Cup up your fucking arse.”

I guess we need a fuck in the translation somewhere then.

A few years ago I was teaching English to a group of 7 year old and, following a colleagues advice, I started by seeing what words in English they already knew. Someone suggested “football” which was great as I had a follow up activity with a ball and we also needed to cover the vocabulary of the body. Someone else offered ‘weekend”, a word the French will employ without even thinking and then a small lad raised his hand.

“Fuck you” – his brother had been playing Grand Theft Auto on the play station.

Then everyone asked me what it meant and wanted me to translate it, though judging by all the giggles it was unnecessary.

Sometimes we loose a lot of nuance in translation.

The Guardian Newspaper reported the French incident and offered the following translation - "Go fuck yourself, you son of a whore." - which I think you’ll agree is a pretty good effort, it’s got the fuck in there at least even if it ignores the “sale”.

However, don’t you think that “go” softens it? I know it’s there in the French but would anyone English actually say that? And would they use “yourself”? - It all sounds too polite to me.

When was the last time anyone in England called anyone a “son of a whore”?

So should the translator be faithful to the words or the feeling and emotion?

When I finally decided it was time to read a book in French I bought an English copy s well to ensure my understanding was correct. I chose Agatha Christie’s The Thief of Baghdad – I figured a detective story would hold my motivation – and I promised to finish the chapter in French before looking at the English. (oops, just realised i wrote this before).

Chapter one, in French, ended with the words “and (main character) sat and thought about all the things that had happened that day.” In the English version there were another two and a half pages! Clearly the translator considered it to be surplus.

As did the Guardian with “sale”.

When I have worked as a translator I have always worked first with understanding before finally expressing, that is I express the French the way an English person would. Usually this gets me into a lot of trouble with the client because the English version is usually several pages shorter than the French – even though they are paying me by the word they just can’t believe I have said the same thing.

And in this case I would render the French “Va te faire enculer sale fils de pute” eight words into three.

Give or take a hyphen.


Anne Hodgson said...

7-year olds! What a blast.

Have I ever shown you this? There's a reference to Dick Cheney, who used "go fuck yourself" before congress.

Good riddance. The Irish must be pleased.

BTW, I calculate my fees based on the original number of letters.

popps said...

Thanks Anne, you hadn't shown me that and i enjoyed it, i also will try your method of billing.
If you don't know this then i think you might enjoy it.
it seems the right place to put it anyhow.

Vicki said...

'Google translate' converts it to "Fuck you dirty son of a bitch" so the "son of a whore" issue was avoided.
There was no BrE version, so I couldn't see if it would say "bastard".
Not sure if it was the Indian accent or canned laughter, but that video made me laugh. Thank you!

Anne said...

Hehe, must do a follow-up exercise then on the parts of speech ;-)

popps said...

bastard, son of a bitch - i wouldn't use either in that degree of anger, but maybe i should wash my mouth out with soap.

Mary said...

GAWD -- what can one add to this discussion? I am blushing.

This World Cup is living up -- I mean 'down' to the hype. I am so confused by whatever is happening to France, England, Italy, Spain and delighted by Brazil and Argentina.

Must say I did enjoy looking back at your September 2009 post about your electrical bill. Loved Martin's comment -- and your answer '?' even more.

[Further to my earlier G-20 comment, protesting has already started against the overbearing security (1 billion dollars worth!)and the first confrontation has just begun.]


popps said...

Looks like it's all happening in Canada too then Mary, keep us posted.

Anonymous said...

Good brief and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you on your information.

popps said...

Use that language carefully mate!

Anonymous said...

hey your blog design is very nice, clean and fresh and with updated content, make people feel peace and I always enjoy browsing your site.

- Norman

popps said...

Hi Norman, glad you could drop by. The design here is minimal - taken from the choices blogger offers, so i get no credit.
I do what i can with the content.
By the way, blogger thinks you are spam , i saved you from the spam box - there must be something you are doing, or showing, that the filters don't like.

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel

popps said...

Not an expert Daniel, but interested. thanks for coming, bienvenu.