I want to thank Susan A for her recent comments on my post. I’ll also thank DSewell, even though his comment consisted of calling me “nothing but a racist” and launching into an angry diatribe about Los Angeles and Hispanics in general. Why so tense, Mr. DSewell?
Let’s all lighten up. I’ll return to a topic I’ve addressed in the past – namely, my fumbling attempts to relearn Spanish. As I’ve written before, I was semi-fluent at one point, but lack of practice has dropped me to intermediate level at best.
Like every language, Spanish has its fair share of untranslatable phrases and idioms. For example, a few years ago, my mom and my aunt were speaking in Spanish. My mother let loose with a comment that made them both laugh.
Naturally, I asked what she had said. My mother informed me that, strictly translated, the phrase translated into something like “Your stepbrother’s bus is driven by a rage-filled monkey with pneumonia. And he’s very punctual, if you know what I mean.”
Yes, it all makes sense now.
Of course, it’s not just the quirks and exceptions that are frustrating to learners. It’s the faulty translations that well-meaning individuals foist upon the rest of us.
To give you an egregious example, recently I saw a sign outside a nightclub. The sign read, “You must be twenty-one years old to enter.” The very helpful Spanish translation beneath it read, “Necesita tener veinte y uno anos para entrar.”
There was just one problem. The “n” in the word “anos” was missing a tilde, the punctuation mark better known to English speakers as “that wavy line thingy above the letter.” The absence of this diacritical mark altered the sentence’s meaning, just a little.
Instead of saying, “You must be twenty-one years old to enter,” the sign read, “You must possess twenty-one assholes to enter.”
I think we can all agree that even the most determined club-goer is unlikely to achieve this high standard. We can further agree that few doormen or bouncers would be eager to check patrons to verify their adherence to the club’s policy.
I propose a system. Before anyone is allowed to translate anything into Spanish, they must demonstrate their proficiency by repeating the following tongue-twister at a fast rate, and then explaining what it means:
R con R cigarro
R con R barril
rápido corren los carros
cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril
I heard this little ditty a lot growing up. My mother said it often, and then watched amused as I, and the other American-born members of the family, tried in vain to master it. I still can’t do it, but at least I know that it has something to with railroad cars filled with sugar travelling at a high rate of speed.
No, it doesn’t make sense. But then again, when was the last time you saw someone selling seashells by the seashore?
My point – exactly.