Friday, October 02, 2009

Adventures in Translation

I work in a translation office a few times a week, starting very early in the morning. As in 6:00 a.m.

Things there stay on an even keel most days. But sometimes, a little adventure waits among all that text.

This morning, it was a snippet of conversation between a journalist and a well-known Arab personality. The journalist mentioned security concerns, and the Arab personality responded with a rude and dismissive Arabic phrase to the effect that he was sick and tired of hearing about security. The language was pretty strong, but no matter how I may feel about what he said or the way he said it, it’s my job to translate it. And here was the conundrum. You see, while we’re committed to accuracy, we’re also a family outfit, and we prefer to keep our copy clean.

How rude was that phrase? you may ask. Well, in English it would go something like this: “Security, your sister’s [unmentionable body part]!”

Yup. That rude.

What to do?

I did what I always do when I find myself in a translation conundrum: consult with my colleagues. For a few moments, we were serious as we considered phrases that would satisfy the demand for accuracy, at least in spirit, while avoiding an unnecessary and potentially very troublesome descent into profanity.

And then, inevitably, came the laughter.

“Security, my foot,” one colleague suggested. When I heard that, I couldn’t resist suggesting a polite, archaic American expletive denoting the backside. “How about ‘Security, my Aunt Fanny’?” I answered, getting some giggles from our editor.

Finally, we settled on “Security, hell!” and moved on.

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