Translation (116)

Translation: Howard Shepherd and Dave Shepherd bring a certain je ne sais quoi to their discussion of translation.

Thanks to renaissance247 for the email suggestion of this show topic. (2:33)

Practical problems in translation; “good” and “bad” translation; the importance of accuracy (3:36)

Music bumper from “Foreign Affair” by Brad Wheeler (9:37)

Translating well-known texts: Martin Luther, Rainer Maria Rilke (10:33)

Song: “Strange Day in Mexico” by The Clintons (19:26)

Rude Word of the Week: “shmuck” (23:21)

Music bumper from “Make Me Understand” by Matt Thorpe (26:48)

Unfortunate mistakes in translation (including one on our very website!) (27:45)

Music courtesy of The Podsafe Music Network and the Ioda Promonet

Theme music by Kick the Cat

time: 36:39

size: 33.6 Mb

rating: PG-13 (Our Rude Word is a rude word in Yiddish, we use some other rude words to discuss it, and we talk about the rudeness of the name of the talk-back link on our website.)

The Future Was YesterdayBrad Wheeler
“Foreign Affair” (mp3)
from “The Future Was Yesterday”
(Origin Records)

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10 thoughts on “Translation (116)

  1. As a recent discoverer of your podcast, thanks for all your excellent work!

    And as a German-English translator living in Germany, I particularly enjoyed this episode and listening to you talk about Rilke in familiar American accents just as I was passing signs for “Imbisse” and all sorts of other mundane German words all around me – almost surreal.

    In general, however, I’d say that it is practically impossible to translate poetry – there is no way to transport all the elements that make up verse into another language. Having said that, I suppose that the same thing can be said for (most) prose, even if it isn’t as striking. When we translate, we tend to recreate a new text based on the original, even as we strive for some sort of equivalency.

    For the word schmuck, I would suggest that this could be a case of multisourced etymology. In other words, possibly both source words may have played a role in forming how people perceived and used the word. There is, perhaps surprisingly, a Facebook group dedicated to just this sort of thing:

    Anyway, thanks again and all the best,

    David in Germany

  2. Thanks for an excellent podcast!

    I was listening to your description of the challenges of simultaneous interpretation, and could not help but think that as a college student in an ASL-English interpreter training program, I will be doing this every day. As a sign language interpreter, simultaneous interpretation is the rule, not the exception! However, we always prefer consecutive interpretation when possible, as accuracy is greatly improved.

    Thanks again; this is still my favorite podcast!


  3. A couple of notes about translations… (I studied international marketing in grad school.)

    First, the story about the Chevy Nova not selling in Spanish-speaking countries isn’t true. Yes, it indeed means “no go” when written as two words, but as one, it refers to the same thing in Spanish as in English–a star suddenly increasing in brightness. My Mexican family remembers the Nova selling in Mexico and I’ve even seen a few still on the streets! How’s that for a car that supposedly “doesn’t go”?

    Furthermore, Pemex, the Mexican government-owned petroleum company has sold for years (and still sells) a regular grade of gasoline known as Nova, our equivalent of regular unleaded. When I pull up to the pump, I always ask for Nova and my car goes just fine!

    One story that truly is funny is the one about Parker Pens. As the story goes, they sold very well in Mexico, especially to young women. Why? The tagline in English was something like, “Because they don’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” But the translator mistranslated ’embarrass’ as ’embarazar’ which is a false cognate actually meaning ‘to make pregnant!’ So young women snapped up the Parker Pens that don’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!

    ¡Gracias! I love your podcast. Keep up the great work!


  4. Hi Word Nerds

    I just want to add a small correction to the show about Translation.

    You said in your last podcast in the “Rude Word” section that the word “shmuck” might come from the polish word “smok” that means “serpent” or “tail”,but it actually means “dragon” .

    I love your show!
    You’re doing a great job!


  5. BTW, it might be fun to do an episode on multilingualism.
    The reason I thought about this is that I was writing «dont», in French but with my “spell as you type” set to English. It reminded me of the time my iPod touch kept changing «dont» to “don’t” because it was still set to English.
    You’ve already talked about faux-amis but there are other things to discuss about living multilingually. Without going too deeply into sociolinguistics, you could talk about code-switching, loanwords, interference, etc.

    Just a thought.

  6. I wanted to tell you a funny story… just yesterday or the day before actually, Hilary Clinton gave Russia a “reset” button so that America and Russia can start over on a clean slate… but the Russian word on the button actually translates to “Overcharge” and not Reset. I think that’s hilarious, since they have people in the White House dedicated to making sure things like that are correct.

    Also, to me the MyChingo off your page (you implied you wanted to)… the site isn’t up yet to get an embed code, but it seems it’s a video talking and not audio service… you can try getting Snapvine which a lot of MySpace users have on their page. Everyone can play it and listen to all the suggestions and comments people record on it for you, which I think is a cool thing so we can all experience other listeners feedback.

    Just thought I’d let you know, keep on rocking on!

  7. Thanks, Michael! I appreciate being guided to an alternative to MyChingo! I knew there was something out there that would do it, and I couldn’t figure out how to plug into the Mobatalk thing.

    And all you blog readers should be aware that Michael is the mystery man also known as “renaissance247.” We just didn’t recognize his email user ID, because it didn’t come into our Gmail account. Thanks for the topic tip, Michael!

  8. It’s no problem. I had a Snapvine on my MySpace page before but got rid of it because people kept leaving nasty messages to me. All you do is call the Snapvine number and talk into the phone, like leaving a voicemail. You check it when it’s there. Though, I don’t know if you can extract a message to play on the show when you get a good one, I never need it for that so I never tried.

    I might actually leave a message if you use Snapvine because I never had a mic on my computer, but I do have a phone to leave you a message that way.

    Keep on rocking on!

    P.S. It’s weird that you didn’t get my name because I only send you email from my Gmail to your Gmail and my first and last name is what I have it set to show when I send a message. But ah well, it’s not that important.

    Carpe diem!

  9. [I tried posting this on the Forum, but got the message, “Invalid session, please resubmit.” I’ll just paste it here.]


    I loved the Rilke “Herbsttag”–listened to the podcast a second time just to hear the poem again. Because I’ve wrestled with translation work in my grad studies and occasionally for work-related reasons, I found Howard’s Translation Challenge a particularly intriguing listen. Any chance you could post online the three translations for us Germanophiles to compare to the original? (One by Bly, one by Howard, and one by his colleague.)

    When I was studying in Württemberg (decades ago), I met a student studying at the P.H. who amused himself by translating German idioms literally into English. My favorite was his rendering of “Das ist mir Wurst” (=I don’t care/It doesn’t matter) into “That is me sausage.”

    I have to say that until you mentioned it, I never thought about MyChingo having a rude meaning in Spanish. Maybe it’s because I just thought it was one of those hybrid nouveau marketing names (like Accenture or Verizon). In high school, we all learned the “bad” words with glee, so “Ch**** tu madre” was a common one.

    Keep up the good work, guys.

    P.S. For a Translation-2 podcast, you could talk about the differences in translation between versions of the Bible, for example, King James vs. NSRV vs. The Good News (or other “modern” recastings). Lots of variation there, partly for the purpose of making language more accessible to modern-day speakers, but what is the cost inherent therein? (That is, what is lost?)

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