To the moon and back

By Gabrielle Dahms

A journey of 10000 miles

Navigating the genre of environmental nonfiction is a daunting task for the translator! Ana Salotti took us on her journey.

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Standardizing terminology within a company is a difficult task, the more so because Spanish has 20+ varieties. BY MARIO CHÁVEZ

A quick definition of terminology is the creation, organization, and classification of terms. A glossary is just a list of specialized terms. Monolingual glossaries were the ancestors of our modern dictionaries.1 Translators have been using lists of terms since the beginning of our profession, aided now by increasingly—and sometimes maddeningly—complex terminology software, one example of which, MultiTerm, they’re quite familiar with. → continue reading

Wordplay: Brits vs. Yanks

By Jonathan Goldberg

We have of course all been exposed to various—if not many!—examples of the differences between British and American vocabulary, but can we ever get enough? The answer, thankfully, is “no.” So let’s explore some bathroom … well, terminology, if not exactly humor (with help from the French and Spanish).

This word, most commonly used in the United States, is a euphemism for lavatory, because it eschews any mention of toilet activities performed there. Lavatory, meaning a place where one washes (as well as the apparatus itself), is itself a euphemism, as is W.C., which is short for water closet. Both of these terms are more prevalent in Britain than is restroom.

Bathroom is another word used in the U.S. to mean a restroom, toilet, lavatory, or W.C. Other synonyms in American English, although far less frequently used, include lav, john, loo, and can. Spanish displays the same modesty in the expression cuarto de baño, literally bathroom (or simply baño). In some Spanish-speaking countries, the term W.C. is adopted as is from the English, although pronounced differently. But Spanish has three other words used to indicate public toilets. One is servicios, meaning services, obviously a euphemism. Another is aseos, which without the s has a variety of meanings in Spanish, including cleanliness. The third is lavabo, from the word lavar, meaning to wash.

The common denominator of all these low-key words is that they suggest only the bodily cleaning-up activities performed after the toilet has been used for its primary purpose. The English word toilet is derived from the French toilette. Originally, the French word meant “a cloth on which items used for grooming are placed,” vaguely similar to the present-day (British) English toilet or toilet-bag—“a waterproof travel bag for holding toiletries (soap, toothpaste, etc.).” Later, the French cabinet de toilette came to mean the room in which one washed, from whence its present-day meaning of a W.C., or restroom. British English has adopted the word toilet to mean also the act of dressing and preparing oneself, as in “he made his morning toilet and went to breakfast.”

In the U.S., one stands in line; for example, waiting to use the restroom at a sporting event. (Although in New York, one stands on line.) In Britain—and indeed in English-speaking countries where British English is in use—one waits in a queue. Queue is, in fact, used in the U.S. in this sense, but only in the field of information processing, to mean “an ordered list of tasks to be performed or messages to be transmitted.”

French has the same word, queue (pronounced differently). This has at least two meanings. The first is that of a line or queue, identical to the British use. (In French you don’t stand in line, you make the line—faire la queue). The second meaning is “tail”—as of an animal. The visual similarity between a line of people and the tail of an animal is clear.

A further use of queue, “a braid of hair at the back of the head” (albeit a somewhat arcane definition) also bears that visual association. The Spanish word for queue (line of people) is cola. As in French, this has the additional meaning of “tail.” However, the word tail in English is used not only to denote the wiggly protrusion of animals but also (among other interpretations) the tail end of an animal or object—such as the tail of an airplane.In the latter respect, the meaning is similar to that in French and in the Spanish of some Spanish-speaking countries, because queue and cola are both used in those two senses of tail. (The Spanish word cola has the additional sense of glue. Cola also exists in English, as in the brand names Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, having acquired the meaning of a carbonated soft drink, but it has its origin in the fact that Coca-Cola was originally composed of an extract from the kola nut, as well as from the leaf of Peruvian coca. Kola is also a language spoken south of Lake Chad, in Africa.

Many Americans might be unfamiliar with the term knickers, commonly used in England to mean women’s panties. Paradoxically, the word from which it is derived, knickerbockers, has its origin in New York. (The New York Knicks basketball team takes its name from this word.)

In England, women’s underwear is probably more typically designated today by the more chic French word lingerie, originally used to mean anything made of linen but now well ensconced in English as women’s underwear. The word bra is a short form of brassière, imported into English and still used in French. But the common French word is soutien-gorge, meaning literally a throat-holder, devised presumably by someone with a poor knowledge of female anatomy. (Brassière should not be confused with brazier, meaning “a container for holding hot coals,” or brasserie, a restaurant serving alcohol—although certain men might be excited by all of these concepts.)

There are many words in Spanish meaning bra, depending on the country of use. Sujetador—literally a subjugator—sounds daunting enough to make any woman want to burn her bra. Sostén, literally a support, also stays well clear of mentioning that part of a woman’s body which the bra serves to keep in place. Vive la modestie! As for men’s wear, knickers was originally used to denote men’s as well as women’s underwear, but the expressions in vogue today are shorts (boxers and briefs) in America and underpants in England.

This article appeared in an abridged form in the Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005 issue of Toga, the newsletter of the Plato Society of UCLA ( NCTA is grateful to the Plato Society for granting us its permission to reprint.

Untranslatable Words: Duende

By Andrea Wells

Linguists are always very enthusiastic about “untranslatable” words. Theory says that a word without a one-to-one equivalent in another language is considered a lacuna; a lexical gap between the meanings of the word, expression, or turn of phrase in the source and the target languages. However, whether a word is truly translatable or untranslatable is debatable, because usually these difficult terms are in fact obscure expressions with a local flavor that cannot be precisely or concisely defined. One of the most challenging words I have come across in my ten years as a translator and editor that has this essence of untranslatability is the Spanish word duende (doo-EN-day).

What does the word duende mean and why is it so difficult to translate into English? The Spanish word itself has actually entered the English language; a straightforward definition being “ghost, imp, or elf.” The Random House Dictionary defines duende as a “goblin, demon, or spirit.” In Ireland, a leprechaun could be considered a duende. Irish folklore says that such duendes possess a treasure, usually a pot of gold, which a human may take when the duende is not looking. The word duende, however, has a deeper and more interesting meaning. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, duende is “the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm.” Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, adds that duende is a rarely explained concept in Spanish art, related to emotion, expression, and authenticity.

It is in this context that I would like to share with you how researching this word has brought back some vivid memories of my childhood in Salta, Argentina. As I was growing up, my grandmother used to tell me stories of a duende that she described as a playful goblin who was always being noisy and making a general nuisance of himself. This duende was locally referred to as Coquena. This tiny goblin, said to wear a coat, shorts, and sandals, is believed to protect the llamas and other animals in the desert area of La Puna in the north of Argentina. But I also remember my grandmother using the word duende in an emotional context. When I used to dance, she would clap with excitement and great emotion and shout “you have duende.”Only now do I understand what she was trying to say.

In Spain, people use the word duende when they go to corridas to see their favorite toreros and flamenco dancers. The Spaniards claim that the gypsies are responsible for the creation of the word duende. When gypsies entered Spain from France in the mid-1400s, they faced brutality and persecution. But after years of being targets of this cruelty, the gypsies found a way to express their anguish through a particular kind of dance – flamenco. The flamenco dancer is said to have duende.

Others have used the word duende to capture the mood of emotion and passion. Many Spanish poets use it to refer to an inspiration and even something magical. For example, the poet Garcia Lorca wrote in an essay exploring the complex and inspirational flavor of the word’s meaning, “the duende is a momentary burst of inspiration, the blush of all that is truly alive, all that the performer is creating at a certain moment.” And, “The magical property of a poem is to remain possessed by duende … for with duende it is easier to love and understand, and one can be sure of being loved and understood.”

As language professionals, we all need that inner strength that inspires us to properly communicate through words the emotions and feeling of the writer or speaker. In this state, it might fairly be said that we have achieved duende.