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Best Translations Aren't Always Literal

Lesson 4 in the 'Real Spanish Grammar' Series

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Cancun beachfront

Beach at Cancún, Mexico.

Photo by Ricardo Diaz; licensed via Creative Commons.

Excerpt from feature story: ¿Eres de las mujeres que durante los últimos meses de 2012 se inscribió en el gimnasio para sudar la gota gorda y lograr el ansiado "verano sin pareo"?

Source: Emol.com (Santiago, Chile). Retrieved Jan. 11, 2013.

Suggested translation: Are you one of those women who during the final months of 2012 signed up at the gym in order to work up a sweat and get the bikini summer you've been waiting for?

Key issue: A translation that hews closely to the original isn't necessarily the best, and this sentence provides a good example. A word-for-word translation would go something like this: "Are you among the women who during the last months of 2012 enrolled in the gymnasium for sweating the fat drop and to achieve the awaited 'summer without cover-up'?" But that's difficult to understand, and it doesn't convey the tone of the original very well.

This sentence has one everyday idiom, a phrase that has a meaning apart from its words. "Sudar la gota gorda," although having a literal meaning of "to sweat the fat drop," means to put forth an extraordinary effort, and it doesn't necessarily have to involve sweating. There are probably dozens of English phrases that could be used synonymously, depending on the context: "to put forth a yeoman's effort," "to work one's tail off" (or something more vulgar), "to give it one's all," "to work like a horse" and "to work up a storm," among many others. And if you want to convey the idea of sweating, as would be appropriate in the context of the original sentence, there'd be "to sweat blood" or "to sweat like a hog." My suggested translation was arbitrary; I thought it fit in well with the tone and context of the original sentence, but there is no one right choice.

The original sentence closes with a less common phrase, "verano sin pareo," which the author put in quotes as a way of showing it to be an unusual phrase or one with a special meaning. A pareo (the word comes from the English word "pareau," which in turn comes from Tahitian) is a type of swimsuit cover-up, something like a sarong, worn by women. The phrase commonly appears in ads for products or services designed to help women attain a slender body, and there's no exact English equivalent. But "bikini summer" comes close to conveying the idea.

The suggested translation also made two other changes for stylistic purposes: "Are you one of the women" was used instead of "are you among the women" because the former sounds more natural or colloquial. And while ansiado normally would be translated as "awaited" or "long-awaited," the phrase "(that) you've been waiting for" was used for the same reason.

Other notes on vocabulary and grammar:

  • Eres is a familiar singular second-person form of ser.
  • Although último can mean "ultimate," it more often means "last," making último a fickle friend.
  • Inscribirse is a reflexive verb. When it means "to register for" or "to sign up for," it is typically followed by the preposition en.
  • As in this sentence, the preposition para followed by an infinitive is often used to indicate the purpose of one's action.
  • Lograr typically means "to achieve," "to get" or "to attain."
  • Ansiado is the past participle of ansiar, which usually means "to wait" or "to long for." The reflexive form ansiarse can refer to worrying or being anxious.

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