The Letter Kills, The Spirit Gives Life

(The Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:6)

Don't Joke With Translations

Let's get one thing straight right from the start. Translating is much more than a technical skill − it's an art. Every translator needs to have a deep understanding of both languages so that the end result – the translation in the target language – is a perfect image that reflects the original in all its essence.

This is no easy task. We often see translations that are wholly literal, without any commitment to the idea, or 'spirit', of the original.

When the translation fails to take the 'spirit' into account, the result is a word-for-word translation that often ends up confusing the reader − something that can lead to substantial losses, even in monetary terms − or conveys an erroneous, off-target interpretation. This is what we call a pseudo-translation (the letter that kills).

To illustrate this point, let's take a well-known phrase familiar to millions of people around the world, taken from one of the hit songs by The Bee Gees, I STARTED A JOKE, released in 1968.

The first stanza says:

I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn't see that the joke was on me, oh no.
I started to cry which started the whole world laughing.
Oh, If I'd only seen that the joke was on me.

Do you know what 'THE JOKE WAS ON ME' means?

Open a search engine, for example DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, or Google, and type

'letra e tradução I started a joke'.

Do this before going any further. Open at least two or three sites to see how it was translated. You'll see that the expression is rendered something like

'que a piada era sobre mim'.

Now that you know what kind of translation is available on the internet, check out the screenshot of the JOKE entry and the definition given by AVRO dx for the expression 'the joke is on (someone)'.

The joke is on (someone): (Alguém) que acaba levando a pior (quando alguém tenta fazer outra pessoa de trouxa ou idiota, mas que, no final, ela é que se torna o trouxa ou o idiota = when someone tries to make another person look silly or foolish, but winds up looking foolish or silly instead) (he tried to pull a prank on me, but the joke was on him because he was caught on film and it went viral = ele tentou pregar uma peça em mim, mas foi ele que acabou levando a pior porque as câmeras o pegaram e se tornou viral | she's a good-natured woman who likes to tease but also understands when the joke's on her = ela é uma mulher de boa índole e que gosta de zoar os outros mas sabe quando é ela que leva a pior | when did you start to suspect the joke was on you? = quando foi que você percebeu que você é que tinha levado a pior?).

Now do you understand the difference between a pseudo-translation (the letter that kills) and a reliable, well-thought-out translation (the spirit that gives life)?

AVRO dx is a comprehensive (English-Portuguese-English) reliable database containing over 250,000 primary entries, thousands of technical terms from all segments, over 3,700 pictures, plus helpful example sentences and explanations.

Watch the video below to learn more about AVRO dx and what it can do to help you and your career! 

Watch the video below to learn more about AVRO dx and what it can do to help you and your career!

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