Lost In Translation

Lost in translation – when there simply is no “mot juste”…

Article from Ryanair in-flaght magazine, italian language

On a recent Ryanair flight to Beauvais airport, Paris – there to spend an all-too-brief weekend with two of my offspring – I happened across an article in the in-flight magazine that caught my eager linguist’s eye. It was a single page on which there were around 70 words.

Six of the words in question were Italian ones, and even though I don’t personally speak Italian, it transpired that I didn’t need to – for the definitions which accompanied them reminded me why cultural awareness is such an important issue when it comes to translation.

The focus of the article was “words that don’t exist in English”. Of course, having worked in the world of translation, I’m only too painfully aware of foreign words which have no direct equivalents in English. Indeed they have (both literally and metaphorically) caused me umpteen headaches over the years.

So here, for your didactic delectation and delight (courtesy of Ryanair!) are the Italian words for which there is no one-word equivalent in our native tongue…

BELLONE – A hunk who’s rather pleased with himself.

SPREZZATURA – The effortless technique of a great artist.

MELINA – Two players on the same team kicking the ball back and forth to kill time.

BAFFONA – An attractive moustached woman.

SLAPPARE – To eat everything even to the point of licking the plate.

OTTOBRATA – a picnic in October

Looking at this list, it’s easy to see that vocabulary evolves to suit the needs of the local people. Italian food is so fabulous that it was no surprise to find that the Italians have a term for licking the plate clean.  Ditto the concept of a picnic in October – certainly, up here in Scotland we probably don’t require a term for this, given that it isn’t a scenario we’d envisage too often (or at least not without packing thermal underwear).  And as for the term “bellone”, well, I couldn’t possibly comment as to whether the Brits might require a term for that…

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