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Gerald Erichsen

Translation Tip: Don't Sweat It Too Much

By January 12, 2013

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A characteristic of an idiomatic phrase is that you can't always tell what it means even if you know what the individual words mean. But it is possible to make an educated guess sometimes. This week's lesson in the Real Spanish Grammar series, on taking a nonliteral approach to translation, uses the idiom "sudar la gota gorda" as an example. Word for word, the phrase means "to sweat the fat drop." Before reading the lesson, can you guess how it might be used in a sentence?


January 14, 2013 at 10:57 am
(1) sfree says:

Idioms, I believe, are the most difficult to translate between languages.
They embody culture and language constructs that literal translations are fraught with dangers, notwithstanding the fact the the translator’s command of the languages significantly bear upon the results.

I agree with Mr Erichsen that the meaning of the idiom are what should be translated.

Here is my version. It’s verbose and long-winded. This time, I strove to use simpler words.

I like Mr Erichsen’s version better, specially the “bikini summer” . It’s concise and lucid.

Are you one of the ladies who during the final months of
2012 joined the gym working very hard to melt that fat away
so you can fulfill your wish of enjoying summer on the
beach and not hiding your body behind a large beach towel?

As always, I welcome your comments.

– A Student

January 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm
(2) Spanish Guide says:

You’ve done well. I’d suggest only to end your sentence after “body.” “Not hiding your body” — that’s the key to the meaning.

As to translating idioms, I wish I could remember now how I’ve seen English idioms translated to Spanish when I’ve watched English-language subtitled movies in Latin America. The only one I remember, and it’s not even an idiom although it illustrates the issue, goes back many years. I watched “Back to the Future” in Mexico City, and at one point the main character is asked how did so well at adeptly getting out of physical danger or something like that. His answer was “7-Eleven,” a reference with an obvious meaning to U.S. viewers at the time. But the subtitles “translated” that to “videojuegos” (videogames) — getting the idea across but ignoring the literal meaning. The culture you’re in really can make a difference in how words are understood.

January 15, 2013 at 2:23 am
(3) sfree says:

Thanks for your comments.

You’re right.

In an effort to include ‘pareo’ in the translation, I took the risk and the sentence came out a bit stilted.

As to watching Spanish language films subtitled in English, including those dubbed, is a good way of learning either language.

One peril to watch out for (and we are in agreement) are the idioms and cultural constructs.

Thanks again.

— A Student

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