Found in translation

Sunday 26 February 2012

My wife and I stumbled over this placard outside a terrace restaurant in the Rua Mayor in Salamanca – a rather pretentious place with imposingly elegant waiters. The English translations had obviously been done by someone with a dictionary and a vague memory of the English classes at school – if you know Spanish, you can see that each word has been translated absolutely literally, with no real understanding of what the English actually means. Viz -


Our letter cooks castilian


… what the Spanish really says is “(here is) our menu of Castilian cookery (or, dishes)”, or perhaps 'Our Menu of Castillian Cuisine' might be more authentic in English. But the Spanish has been translated word by word, like this -


OUR – full marks here, and the dictionary hasn't let him down

LETTER – unfortunately, he seems to have taken the first dictionary meaning – carta = written communication – and not looked far enough to see the secondary meaning – carta = list of dishes in a restaurant

COOKS - this is where the flash of half-learned grammar comes in: in declining the verb cocinar, the 3rd person singular is cocina, so in English it must be 3rd person singular of 'cook' which is 'cooks' … and how clever to remember to put in that irritating terminal 's' ! The trouble is that it is not a verb at all, but a noun – cocina = tradition of cookery

CASTILIAN - full marks here again – the adjective castellana translates without problems in the dictionary to 'castilian'


Unfortunately, as you see, when the words are all put together (the way you tend to do with languages) they magnificently make no sense at all in English !


House of lids


… straight dictionary problem here: tapa indeed used to mean a lid of any sort – but tapas is the much more common metaphorical usage, referring to the superb Spanish tradition of small dishes of food available in bars to have with your drink. The metaphor is that the food 'covers' like a lid the effects of the alcohol in the wine or beer, so that you “don't drink on an empty stomach”. The little plate of food acts like a tapa, and you're likely to have several tapas (plural), in an establishment (or 'house' = casa ) where they advertise a list (carta) of tapas. But surely the dictionary would have had tapa = lid, and then tapas = plates of food ? If not, it must have been a very very basic dictionary.


After chuckling over the placard, my wife thought that it was only right to tell the restaurant that their placard was rather comical. She spoke to an impressively portly man wearing a long apron and an air of authority (and other clothes, of course). He didn't find the matter funny at all, and was in fact distinctly annoyed and insulted. So we left, with the definite impression that we had found the person who had translated the placard all by himself...

10 Apr 2012
On hating
3 Feb 2012


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