Archive for the ‘translation’ Category

This is supposed to be my down time, my catch-up time. I’m supposed to finish with my semester busypaper work and get back to the middle grade novel. I need to get that sucker in line so that I can seriously start thinking about–

Scratch that. Gang way! New idea comin’ through!

Yup, the brain seriously hijacked me this afternoon and got to thinking about a whole new YA novel concerning a couple of doofuses who decide to… well, I never was too comfortable talking about things before they were written. I think it’s a really strong idea but I seriously need to finish one thing before pressing on with another. Seriously. Like I think my wife will go out and purchase a new Prius simply so she can use it to run me down if I don’t finish at least the middle grade novel I started this semester.

One thing I will talk about is titles. No matter how good an idea is, it’s never set to go until I have an appropriate title. If the title doesn’t work then I’ll never be able to focus on the the writing. Why? Because titles matter. They matter the same way a character’s name matters, the way smaller animals on the food chain need to know who the predators are matters.

Yes, it may be psychological, but titles serve as talismans to me. And so for this new YA novel I have it in my head that the title needs to be so absurd that it only has meaning within the context of the book, and yet echoes everything within. I’m thinking it needs to be a one-word title (just intuition, nothing more), either a piece of slang or the nickname of one of the characters. It’s about a couple of teen boys and I’m seriously thinking of having them swear like sailors, only to replace all their swear words with unexplained absurdities.

“Hey! Tinklewaxer!”
“Bite the lava, mon friar!”

And naturally, being boys, they would insult each other by making fun of each other’s names. Kids like to do that. In second grade we used to howl that there was a professional football player named Dick Butkus (we pronounced he last syllable as ‘kiss’). And our teacher’s name was Miss Bilkis. And if they got married she could be Mrs. Dick Bilkis-Butkis.

In a flash (not necessarily a brilliant one) I thought that one of these teen doofuses needed to have a last name that could be plundered, something like Fortinbras which would allow for many different bendings. But then there’s all the connotation with Hamlet, and I didn’t want to go there (see how my brain hijacks my ability to focus?), so then I thought Furtenbach.

Literally, from the German, fords the brook. Now maybe we’re getting somewhere.

So this doofus has a buddy and what does he call him? Fartinduck. Yeah, boy humor. Could that be the title of the book? Maybe if I made it less obvious, like Fartenduq? That’ll fool a lot of people.

So then later I’m describing all this to my eldest daughter and talking about how funny it would be for people to go into the store to ask for the book without realizing what the title means until the ask for it and say it out loud for the first time. “You got a copy of that book Fartin… oh.” Reminds me of when here was this indie movie out called Spanking the Monkey and just saying the title made people uncomfortable. Best of all, I think I must have called Moviefone a couple times a week to hear that guy say

Your selection… Spanking the Monkey… is now playing at…

because he really put some gusto into the way he said it. The memory of it cracks me up to this very day. What is that, 14 years now? Sheesh!

So, what got me started here? Oh, right, the meandering of my accursed brain. well, plenty of time to work on some more nicknames and insults while I’m finishing up that middle grader over there. Just, right over there.

Any day now.


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The weirdest things bother me. I suppose everyone has their pet peeves. Today, however, what chuffed me was landing on the following:


That’s very interesting… but what does it mean? Were it not attached to a post discussing a common writing device as an obscenity, as a failure of ability — You know “Has X become a dirty word?” — I’m not sure I would recognize it as anything other than a keyboard scramble. The problem is, as a visual representation of an obscenity, the example above offends.

Yes, I do believe there is a correct way to represent profanity, and I learned it from reading comic books.

There are two elements necessary to create the appropriate substitute profanity, length and symbol. Length is merely how many letter characters are being replaced in the original word with symbols. So for example if you were replacing the work dren or zark you will require four symbols. Similarly, frinx or grife require five symbols, and so on. You can find the meanings of these words, and many others here or, if you prefer, the Classics of the English Language.

Now, as for symbols, the only proper ones available are “caps lock numbers,” those symbols you get when using the caps lock on the number keys. The exception is the exclamation point, a common feature above the 1 on modern computer keyboards that replaced the cent symbol. (Why we haven’t eliminated cents in our daily lives is beyond me, because a penny doesn’t buy anything but a pocketful of dead weight, but I digress.) Basically, anything between the 1 and 9 keys are what you want, non-letter and non-punctuation symbols that serve as your stand-ins for the letters you are replacing. So the available symbols for cursing are @ # $ % ^ & *.

There are two reasons to avoid punctuation. First, you want to reserve them to actually punctuate the profanity in question. Second, adding punctuation in the middle of a word only confuses the reader. Parentheses are considered punctuation as well, because our eyes have been trained to see them outside of words, as something that groups something else. As a result, when used in the middle of a substitute profanity the flow of reading is interrupted while we try to figure out why the word has suddenly been broken down into an algebraic formula. In conjunction with this last point, since we do use letters to represent numbers in mathematics they shouldn’t be pressed into service in representing profanity as well.

Unless, of course, the above example is really a cypher. Hmm. I hadn’t considered that. No, I can’t think of any 11 letter profanities. At least not any with a repeating letter represented by (.

The order and representation of symbols is totally up to the writer, though consistency is always best. For example, if in one place you were to write “Get the #^@* out of here!” it only makes sense later to have the character ask “What the #^@* is wrong with you?!” Unless, of course, what they are saying is “What the &*#@ is wrong with you?!” because that’s a totally different thing.

As a final note, comic books have a wider set of characters to choose from because they employ symbols not found on the keyboard. The inward spiral, for example, or sometimes a simple smudge. But even then, the same rules apply, and when they are broken those word balloons don’t look right. You get the idea, but it’s like when a kid uses a word wrong and doesn’t realize it; the intent is undone by the ignorance. Unless you happen to think that sort of thing is cute. I can’t help you there.

There. I got it out of my system. Now it’s off to farking work.

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verloren in vertaling

Which, in Dutch, means “lost in translation.”

While in Amsterdam I checked out a number of bookstores hunting down the impossible: a discovery. The art of discovering something uncommon (or at least uncommon in one culture that might be totally popular in another) carries a certain cache “That proves you were there/That you heard of them first” as John McCrea once sang. I always do this when I travel, keep an eye out for that one unique thing I can bring back and say “Looky what I found!”

This time I was on the lookout for children’s book authors whose primary language was not English. I had hoped to find some French editions of Polo books — because I knew they were out there — but frankly the French sort books on the shelves funny and the one person I tried asking about Regis Faller’s books looked at me like I was from Mars.

In Amsterdam I was casually not looking for anything specifically when I spotted a number of books by a gentleman named Toon Tellegen. At an Internet cafe I did a quick search and found a site that said he was an award winning poet and writer of children’s books. Good enough. Next time I was in a bookstore I checked out the poetry section and — holy macaroli! — the man has an entire shelf to himself! So then I’m back in the children’s section looking at his books, trying to get a bead on what he’s up to.

But I never studied Dutch, I took German in high school, and where there are a lot of words in Dutch that sound the same as their German counterparts they aren’t written the same and I felt totally lost. I debated with myself — do I get something her and look for a translation when I get home, or do I just wait until I get home? I finally decided I was going to pick up one of his books and, hang it, if they weren’t in translation I’d translate it myself for fun. I had Suze help me decide on a book based by it’s cover and that was that.

Information was scarce, scarce in English at least. And translations from various Internet sites proved rough at best. Here’s the summary of the book I purchased — Maar Niet Uit Het Hart — as I was able to translate it.

The squirrel must take farewell of the ant. And ‘ not with lamentation and what I your missing will rapidly return and and this way ‘, because to that the ant has a hekel. But that cannot promise the squirrel. He certainly that he will continue think of the ant and him might weet forget. In but from the heart the most beautiful animal tales concerning farewell have not been brought at each other. For the tales concerning squirrel, ant and other one the animals tone Tellegen was among other things rewarded with the Woutertje Pieterse price, gouden the owl and twice with gouden the griffel. In 1997, he received the Theo Thijssen-prijs for its complete oeuvre.

Okay, I get it. I think. It didn’t take long to discover that, to date, only one of Tellegen’s books has made into English translation, and it was a book of poetry. The poems I was able to track down were extremely interesting and I had high hopes for my translation because it was clear I was going to have to work the book out on my own.

One sleepless night I sat at the computer and tackled the first chapter — three published pages — of the book using on-line dictionary and translation site, Babel Fish, for better or worse. Within a few sentences I began to be reminded of all the German grammar I suffered through, all the strange little rules for verbs and those little things that change the meaning of words but have no direct translation themselves. I worked line by line, then broke down specific words or phrases when their meaning seemed jumbled.

The word stof, for example, came up as substance. But contextually the characters were looking through a window and everything was covered in substance. I took a chance that the word was dust and tried translating it back into Dutch to see if I was correct. I was, and then the game got more complicated. The word rozenstruik came up as shrubshrub shrub in translation. A simple phonetic reading of the Dutch word seemed to indicate that it was a rose bush but the word rose came up as nam toe, which translates as the past tense of to rise, or increase.

Then I tried something wacky: I tried a Google image search for rozenstruik and came up image after image of shrubshrub shrubs: rose bushes.

I never pretended to imagine the work of a translator to be an easy one, nor did I imagine that the Internets, in all their glory of tubes and whatnot, would make quick work of the subtleties of written translation. What I didn’t fully expect or appreciate until I spent the wee small hours of the morning at it was how much like a puzzle it was, like code-breaking, cryptography. Each sentence contains a literal translation, that in turn requires the reader to make an interpretative translation in order to recover the meaning, followed by a contextual translation that works with the author’s intended meaning for the whole. Awesome stuff.

It’s been a week or so since doing those first pages. I’m not on a deadline with this, it’s just something to do when I need a diversion. I sincerely doubt it will even find a state where it could be published; assuming it’s worth the translation for an English speaking market, I’m sure someone else will get to it before I could anyway.

But in an odd way it’s fun. One day I hope to discover what exactly the Ant and the Squirrel saw, and how farewell (which I suspect may be a euphemism for death) plays into it all. It’s certainly still a discovery for me as I unlock the mystery of what is written on the pages.

It feels like learning to read all over.

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