Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ches roll

Ches of The Sensible Bond is on a roll right now with a series of charitable but frank and perceptive posts regarding the state of the Papacy.

One of his recent posts on the topic reflects on the dangers of mistranslations, how easily Pope Francis's homilies can mean something else when translated from Italian to Spanish and then into English, for example.

It  brought to my mind the case of the General Secretary of a trades union who was due to visit Japan.

He commissioned a straight translation of his designation on to a business card, so essential for doing business in Japan.

The translation described him, in Japanese as 'Head Typist' - not what he had in mind, I'm sure.

And then the tale of the Professor who was booked to speak at a symposium in Greece.

He thought it would be a good idea to begin his talk by addressing the audience in Greek but, arriving at Athens Airport, he realise that he had left the piece of paper with the Greek for 'Ladies and Gentlemen' behind.

Being a leading academic he employed some lateral thought processes and made a note of the nominations above the public conveniences in the airport.

Arriving on stage he then addressed his audience using the words copied from the lavatory signs at the airport.

He felt that the talk fell rather flat and afterwards asked his hosts what was wrong.

The presentation of the learned paper was fine, they said, but why had he addressed the conference members as 'pedestals and urinals?'

These anecdotes have little to do with the Catholic Faith except that, I do hope that most of the HF's pronouncements have suffered from similar poor translation.


  1. I did enjoy those examples of mistranslation and language confusion. There was one quoted in yesterday's Mail which amused me and showed well the dangers which can arise in translations.

    MP Iain Duncan Smith was at a recent EU conference listening to the German Chancellor talk. She dragged on so long that when it came to his turn to speak he said 'I will be brief because I have sat here like the rest of us for an hour and a half, and I have really lost the will to live.' His comment was translated as 'We've sat here for an hour and a half and I am terminally ill.' No wonder there were reported looks of concern!

    Yes I read yesterday - I forget where - that the English translation of Pope Francis' interview was a 'lousy misleading translation.' I wonder if there are more than one 'official' English translation of this?

  2. I'm just wondering, though, how long we can rely on the suggestion that all of the Pope's words are being poorly translated? I have read numerous words by such Italians as Eugenio Pacelli and Angelo Roncalli in English translations and have never had any difficulty in understanding what was being said by them. The difficulty here is that the Holy Father is quite frankly not speaking with too much clarity. If his words had the clarity of thought of a Pacelli or a Sarto the supposed problems of mistranslation would melt away like snow in June.

    Every Catholic is trying (some desperately) to give the new Pope the benefit of the doubt but there does come a time when a firm opinion will be formed. The second "big" interview, published the day before yesterday, will challenge many Catholics who are struggling to continue to give him that benefit of the doubt.

    1. One can't honestly rely on constant "mistranslation", "misinterpretation", etc., etc., ad nauseam. People are not that stupid. Such ridiculous cognitive acrobatics as exhibited by many defenders of given statements, etc. just brings Catholicism into disrepute. Credulity, nay, reason have been stretched beyond breaking point for some time. It's time for some honest and objective assessments of the many patently erroneous statements of the Pope - that is in true service of the Church founded on the Truth. And it is more likely to attract converts to the true Faith in its fullness and cause fewer to leave the Church for having been lead down false paths. If Catholics with a public forum are honest in assessing the deeply problematic statements in relation to the Faith and natural law morals, so that people are given to understand what the Church actually, officially, and unchangingly, teaches - none of which conflicts with but conforms to reason - the more likely people of honesty, goodwill will recognise the truth taught by the Church, and not be confused or misled by various apparently irrational statements by the Pope, the more likely they will convert. Falsehoods cannot bring conversion to the true Faith gifted us by God through the medium of His Church.

  3. Some of what he supposedly says scares me. Once again, I hope it's only poor translation...-Sigh- I'm praying for the Holy Father...


  4. Translations don’t have to be from one language to another to cause problems – or laughter. Local usage can trip one up also.

    In Italy they used to tell the story of a Northern Italian priest preaching a parish retreat in the rural South. In Italian the word for ‘to slip’ is scivolare. In the rural community the term was also used as a euphemism for: ‘to commit adultery’.

    In his closing sermon the priest – having heard a lot of confessions - expressed the hope that the local council would fix the pavements as many people had been slipping – “…even the Mayor’s wife!”