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Spanish phrases and words #1

From Chris Royston, weekly collaborator here at Into Spanish Translation Blog:

This week's entry deals with money/coins/currency. A Spanish idiom in this category is "Pagar a uno con la misma moneda", which translates literally as "To pay someone with the same coin". I have heard in English "To pay someone back in his own coin/in kind", but at least to an American ear this sounds antiquated. A more current equivalent is "To give someone a taste of his own medicine". Yet another version is "To give tit for tat".

A skinflint or tightwad in Spain would be described as a "pesetero" deriving from the prior currency, the peseta. I don't think we'll see anything similar with the euro since adding the same suffix would result in "eurero", and this doesn't quite sound right in Spanish.

Thanks for contributing this Chris! I would also add the following:

- "Le sale el dinero por las orejas" means literally "He has money coming out of his ears". Some English equivalents would be "He's made of money" or "He has money to burn".
- "Es moneda corriente" (literally translated, "It's usual/established currency") can be translated as "It's an everyday occurrence".
- "Dinero contante y sonante" (literally, "Counting and sounding money") can be translated as "Hard cash".

Want more? Don't hesitate to visit Colloquial Spanish blog!



New weekly English-Spanish phrases section

Christopher Royston over at Colloquial Spanish blog was kind enough to accept my proposal to contribute Spanish idioms and their English translations on a weekly basis to this blog. So you and I will be enjoying his findings from now on!

Please keep in mind that he will mainly be discussing idioms in Spanish from Spain and their equivalents in English from the US, and some of these idioms will not apply or be slightly different in other English and Spanish-speaking countries. In any case, I am sure that we will all enjoy this new section, which will summarize and complement what is being posted on Colloquial Spanish blog.

Chris is from the US and his parents are also Americans. He went to kindergarten in the Balearic Islands, Spain, then went back to the US and returned to Spain 10 years later, living in Madrid for 3 years. Back to the States, he raised a family with two bilingual children —speaking English and Spanish of course. He's indeed a Hispanophile and his goal is to gather a great collection of Spanish idioms and their equivalents in US English. He's been gathering these for years, and with the help of his blog readers he intends to fine-tune and expand them as much as possible, and eventually write a book with his findings and the cultural differences that can be inferred from them.

Lots of luck with this great project, and welcome to this blog Chris!



Excellent resource for Spanish translators

Talking about translation pitfalls, I recently came across a blog from an old classmate in translation studies at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Javier Perez's La duda ofende is an awesome blog dealing with frequent translation errors, unnecessary borrowings or calques from other languages, spelling issues and many other important aspects of Spanish translation, and it's written in Spanish. If you are a professional Spanish translator, you should definitely and avidly read La duda ofende's frequent posts, which will help you fine-tune and polish your Spanish translation and writing skills. I can't recommend it enough!



English-Spanish translation pitfalls #3

One of the most common pitfalls in English to Spanish translation arises from differences in the use of the passive voice. In English, the passive voice is used very frequently. It is true that many people, including many language professors, discourage its use in English, but the truth is that the passive voice is very well rooted and indeed very useful in the English language. However, this is not the case in Spanish. For more clarity, and instead of giving you an academic definition, I will give three examples of active vs. passive voice:

Active voice: "You need to do this"
Passive voice: "This needs to be done (by you)"

Active voice: "A storm struck our house"
Passive voice: "Our house was stricken by a storm"

Active voice: "You can install this program"
Passive voice: "This program can be installed (by you)"

As mentioned earlier, in Spanish we hardly use the passive voice, and —even though it's grammatically correct— the abuse of the passive voice makes a Spanish text sound rather clumsy and unnatural. A good writing style indeed demands more than just correct grammar.

However, the passive voice may be considered good style in Spanish when the agent of the sentence —the element performing the action— is unknown, as in "I was pushed and felt flat on my face" —pushed by whom? We don't know— or we don't want to specify it, as in "they were fined for speeding" —by the police, but it's too obvious. We could render these sentences into Spanish as "fui empujado y me caí de bruces" and "fueron multados por exceso de velocidad", both using the passive voice, and that would be fine. However, even in these situations, when the agent is omitted because we don't know it or prefer to ignore it, we could do without the passive voice in Spanish. And this is one of the reasons why the passive voice is rare in "original writing" in Spanish, so it should be as rare in texts translated into Spanish. These are some ways to translate those English sentences in the passive voice without using the passive voice in Spanish:

"I was pushed and felt flat on my face" could be translated as:
—"Me empujaron y me caí de bruces"
—"Alguien me empujó y me caí de bruces"
—"Recibí un empujón y me caí de bruces"

"They were fined for speeding" could be translated as:
—"Se los multó por exceso de velocidad" —reflexive passive voice here, this one is indeed more frequently used than regular passive voice in Spanish. Very often it's the best and easiest option to avoid a regular passive voice and sound more natural.
—"Los multaron por exceso de velocidad"
—"Recibieron una multa por exceso de velocidad"

None of these Spanish translation options used the regular passive voice. So even when the agent is unknown/inconvenient to specify and the passive voice would be considered good style, this great variety of translation options highlights the fact that a natural Spanish text would use very few passive voices. It takes some effort and skill to avoid passive voices in Spanish when translating English passive voices, but you get the knack more easily and quickly than you would imagine if you consistently try to ask yourself what I consider the Golden Question for translation: "How would I express this if I was writing in Spanish from scratch rather than translating from English?"



Nice discovery

While at Technorati, I discovered the interesting English-language blog "Colloquial Spanish", which offers daily Spanish expressions and their equivalents in English. It is indeed worth a read.

Some examples of expressions mentioned on this blog:

Spanish: “Irse por los cerros de Ubeda” literally means “To go through the Hills of Ubeda”, Ubeda being a town in Spain. The English equivalent is “To go off on a tangent” or “To wander off the subject”

In English we use the phrase “To twiddle one’s thumbs” to signify that we’re lounging about or being in between activities. In Spanish the equivalent phrase would be “Rascarse la barriga” which literally means “To scratch one’s belly”

For the latter one, I left a comment suggesting the alternative and rather funny Spanish expression "Tocarse las narices" (To touch one's noses). So yes, I took the time to leave a few comments during my visit. The author seems to know his Spanish well and his blog is lots of fun. Enjoy!


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