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March 4, 2019

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March 22, 2017

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A Congress of Chimpanzees: Translation (almost) Blunders

April 2, 2019


          We all have moments that keep us humble and remind us we are only human. Any experienced translator can will tell you that the editing phase is absolutely critical, and it can last even longer than the initial translation phase. None of us are perfect. So in the spirit of making others feel better about their own mistakes, I am going to share a couple of my own near-blunders, which thankfully never made it to publication, and about which Tom and I can still share a chuckle.

          One common formatting procedure is to change city names in citations to their Anglicized counterparts. For example, Roma becomes Rome, and Milano becomes Milan. 

          I must confess that every time I see the name Bologna in my work, my hands instinctively want to type Baloney. Why? Here is my theory: although the name of the city of Bologna is spelled and pronounced (mostly) the same in English as in Italian, there exists a meat derived from mortadella that is spelled "Bologna." However, in the U.S.A. it is pronounced "baloney," as if our predecessors made it to the second "o" and gave up. American baloney has a first name and a second name, and apparently neither of them correspond to the majestic Italian city. So it remains in my subconscious.



          The second anecdote comes with a moral.

          The Italian text of a work I was translating listed several groups of animals. In English, we have some technical, and sometimes fun, names for groups of animals: a gaggle of geese; a pack of wolves, a murder of crows, a grumble of pugs, etc. I made sure to carefully match each animal to its appropriate group name; that is, until I reached a group of chimpanzees. Now what is a group of chimpanzees called? You can imagine my relief when google informed me that I was not in fact the first user to ask this question (t is comforting to know that one is not alone in the world in terms of one's own ignorance). "What do you call a group of chimpanzees?" One generous user's answer: "Congress." I happily went to type, "a congress of chimpanz--" And it was at that moment that I suddenly realized I had been the victim of some subtle political satire.



          What's the lesson? Verify everything you read online!

          ...and that a group of chimps is called a "band."

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