Fuck That

Had a discussion with Serendipity on the finer points of politically correct translations and PCization of language in general.

It all started with her quoting some dead Roman guy and my hastily transcribing her quote for the benefit of the English speaking vulgus pecus present, by use of the word man, when we all know how essential it is to respect the Latin difference between homo, hominis: “Man, human brothers” and vir, viri: “a man, a real one, with a hairy chest and all that”…

To me, it was essentially a matter of adding capitalization and turning a gender specific man into an all inclusive Man. Her position was that human, and nothing less, was required in order to give an appropriate translation and spare me the wrath of the progressive masses. And she might be right on the second count, but I must disagree on the first: while “human” is indeed a fine way to translate it, I must stand by my use of the non-gender-specific Man. And I would furthermore ask: WWCD?

Answer: Cicero would most likely use Man and laugh at the mere suggestion that a woman might have a valid opinion on such a matter.

And that is precisely my point: Romans were not particularly nice people when it came to a lot of progressive social concepts. Gender equality would only be one in a million. To the patrician authors of such Latin quote, a rough 99% of their fellow humanoid bipeds were barely bestowed with a mind of their own… let alone entitled to voice it outside of domestic issues.

Ugly bastards? Sure.

Does it mean we have any right to rectify their speech in the name of modern enlightened ideas? Hell no.

On a vaguely related topic, I came across this entry, glossing over the versatile uses of the Mandarin equivalent to good old American English fuck[ing]. What actually stopped me longer than usual wasn’t the overall topic (I am not intent on learning Mandarin and I am quite past the whole “har har, curse word in a foreign language” stage of my life), but rather a small detail in the way examples were given.

For, you see, our esteemed linguist saw no harm in giving us a fair helping of expressions, the utterance of which I can only assume is strongly discouraged in the presence of easily offended Mandarin speakers. But on the other hand, could not bring himself to spell out “the common f-word” in his example translations, favouring instead a quaint euphemistic “pop” wherever the word “fuck” ought to have been (which, by the way, brings a whole new world of interesting meaning to that old Pop Goes the Weasel nursery rhyme).

And to that I say: What the fuck?

People, if we are gonna be afraid of using big words and expressions that could possibly tickle the broom firmly planted up the rectum of some of the stiffer upper-lipped members of our readership, maybe the field of language and linguistics is not a really good choice. Political Correctness just does not have its place in the realm of traduction.

Analyse all you want, comment on the semantic implications, fustigate the male chauvinism of such or such expressions but do not fuck with the original. If the original says fuck then you must say fuck. You are not here to think about the children, you are here to give the most faithful transcription from one language to another.

And I will illustrate pointless rant-of-the-day #2608 (by the way, do you know how many children are dying of starvation while you are reading these lines, do you?) by narrating this absolutely authentic anecdote, such as it was recounted to me and my fellow students by a particularly skilled and entertaining teacher, shortly after its occurence:

A few years ago, while reviewing the results to their annual entrance examination, some particularly prestigious school noticed a huge discrepancy in comparison to previous years.

All the students seemed to have failed the ‘foreign language’ part miserably. And by “all”, I mean an awful lot, which is way more than this school had ever seen.

Of course, given the school’s reputation (prestigious, as we said) and the type of test (a no frills, Version & Theme doublet with stringent quality requirements), getting such catastrophic results would have merely required one lone mistranslation per copy.

But it was hard to conceive how but a handull of these highly trained candidates might have screwed up a single item of punctuation in their translation, let alone let a full mistranslation slip by.

The explanation to this debacle, it turned out, made for a valuable lesson that our professor was eager to impress on us:
“When you see the word ‘shit’ in a text, with no room for ambiguities or discussion, you do not translate it by a euphemism. You do not render it as ‘excrement’, or ‘poo-poo’, or anything else. You translate it as ‘shit‘. Period.”

I think that quite sums up the problem.

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