Via LS an anonymous cartoon of the gulf between what we (would like to) think we have said and what we (are understood to) have actually said:
Why don’t we say what we think? Why do the inventors of magnificent flying machines gibber like madmen? Why, in our case, do excellent Spanish bars produce hilarious English menus?
I think the local branch of the Habermas sect would preach to me that we are victims of a capitalist conspiracy, which actively seeks to do down richly deserving (although admittedly slightly whiney) literary-sociology PhDs and instead pays top money to people who invent cool stuff. I don’t buy this. For one, Genesis 3 seems to suggest that communicative incompetence predates modern bovine economics.
Instead, as millions of first-year economists and linguists will have explained elsewhere, it’s a simple question of resource allocation. On the one hand, for lonely inventors or cooks the proof’s in the pudding, and elocutionists and translators who seek to gild these particular lilies do so at their financial peril. On the other, the higher the risks and rewards in a particular line of business, the greater the value we place on people’s ability to wriggle effectively in both thought and speech. There’s a direct relationship between proximity to the killing, stealing and fucking Commandments and the importance of getting one’s words right. That’s why politicians are generally pretty fluent, and why (except in weird markets like the English courts) interesting legal translation commands a 100% markup over the best of the rest. Brian Steel’s Soapbox documents some of the relatively scarce failures to obey this rule.
Chi po non vo,
chi vo non po,
chi sa non fa,
chi fa non sa
et così il mondo
A number of the examples on this blog have been sent to me by Spaniards embarrassed by their own organisations. Several could do far better themselves, but their allocation to other tasks both demonstrates David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage and refutes those smart-arse Italian proverbialisers.
Sometimes the world is actually better off when the best-qualified are kept clear and the fuckers get the translation.
- The worst translator in the world? “Quoth she, so much I hate this nation, / I’ll damn this author in translation”
The London Magazine, 1734:
Verses occasioned by Mr. Budgel’s modest Proposal, in the Daily Post-Boy of Aug. 31. to give the Publick a new and accurate Translation of a late celebrated French Treatise, on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans, and which has been already translated.
Dulness, good goddess, chanc’d to
- Augustine attacks Jerome’s Vulgate for diverging from traditional fucked translations
A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of
- The worst translation ever published, hotel foyer penalty shoot-outs, lovers of pigs: paving on the road to hell
Between thieves, who profit from mistranslation, and fools, who know no better (and no profit), there lurks an intriguing class: lunatics, whose often considerable mind is whisked off to unexpected places by absurd fancies as to the nature of their task. The bigot Barnaby Rich writes in The Irish Hubbub (1617):
And as the irish are thus
- Borrowed glory
Tim Parks slags some prominent Italian-English literary translators and praises some lesser-known ones in the New York Review of Books:
The problem is that it is hard for the wider public or even the critics really to know whether they have been given a good translation, and not easy even for the editors who have the