The English word translation derives from the Latin word “translatio”, which comes from “trans”, across + “ferre”, to carry or to bring (“-latio” in turn coming from “latus”, the past participle of “ferre”). Thus, “translatio” is a “carrying across” or a “bringing across”: in this case, of a text from one language to another.

Working as a translator is like getting paid to solve puzzles all day. Sometimes the puzzles are easy, and you speed through them, other days they’re like monster brain teasers that follow you everywhere. Translators know, read and learn things that almost nobody else knows. It is for these reasons that there are many proverbs about translations and translators. Some are funny, others even show the sheer reality.

Quotes are meant to be tools of inspiration and reflection. There are hundreds of thousands of proverbs about any subject one can possibly imagine as they are used by people on a daily basis in their lives.

There are a few particular translation proverbs that really inspire you or get you thinking. So, enjoy some of the most exciting ones.

“Words travel worlds. Translator do the driving.” (Anna Rusconi)

“Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.” (George Steiner)

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”. (Mark Twain)

“The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of a tapestry.” (Leonardo Sciascia)

“When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more, nor less.” (Lewis Carroll)

“Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” (Anthony Burgess)

“There are three grades of translation evils: 1. errors; 2. slips; 3. willful reshaping.” (Vladimir Nabokov)

“Translators have to prove to themselves, as to others that they are in control of what they do; that they do not just translate well because they have a “flair” for translation, but rather because, like other professionals, they have made a conscious effort to understand various aspects of their work.” (Mona Baker)

“Translation is like a woman: if she is faithful, she is not beautiful; if she is beautiful, she is not faithful.” (Russian Proverb)

“Translation is an interestingly different way to be involved both with poetry and with the language that I’ve found myself living in much of the time. I think the two feed each other.” (Marilyn Hacker)

“Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle.” (Mariano Antolín Rato)

“Translators never come to rest; they are constantly in two places at the same time by building associations that carry the foreign into the known of their own language.” (Rainer Schulte)

“What is lost in the good or excellent translation is precisely the best.” (Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel)

“If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.” (Rene Magritte)

“Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often-forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.” (Paul Auster)

“The translator’s task is much harder than that of the original author.” (Theodore Savory)

At the end, a quote that can be representative for each translator and for each translation.

“To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one’s own style and creatively adjust this to one’s author.” (Paul Goodman)

So, I hope we have convinced you how important translation has always been. Though it seems rather simple, things are not quite so. Think about what the target audience would understand, or rather, would not understand, if the translator did not exactly express the idea conveyed in the source text. It’s as if, following road signs, instead of going to the right, you would go to the left.


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