Amidst all the technical documentation and judicial documents written in incomprehensible legalese, a translator sometimes gets projects that are a pleasure to work on, even though it’s 3 AM and he’s tired as hell.
Real translation isn’t TRADOS, words and termbases. Real translation is where you start to think, create and play… like a child plays a fascinating game, if you please.
And it so happens that recently I’ve had quite a few of those. Either I grew enough to get these projects in the first place, or I grew enough to see the fun in the projects that I get – it’s hard to tell, but what matters is that they were once few and rare, and now there’s more.
Introductions aside, recently I had to translate a saying – “Спасибо * за это” into English. At first glance, it could be as easy as “Thanks to * for this”, couldn’t it? Well, not if you remember that back in 2011, a curiously sounding Russian hashtag #спасибопутинузаэто trended worldwide, bewildering non-Russian-speaking users.
So, it appears we have an Internet meme to translate. Or do we? Every selfish meme out there has most likely mutated or evolved from something else, but what was it? It didn’t take many search requests to reveal the answer.
Back in the 1920s, when communism was an idea that people actually still believed in, the Bolsheviks made up countless crisp, well-ringing, and most importantly, easily recognizable slogans that people could repeat at meetings, demonstrations or elsewhere. One of them was “Спасибо Партии за это!” (literally, thanks to the Party for this!), first used quite enthusiastically, but then with growing sarcasm that culminated in 1981 when the party used it quite seriously and the frustrated Soviet people turned it into an outright political joke. Amazing what 60 years can do the same words being used by the same people.
Anyway, now that we know where this generally comes from, we can grasp the saying’s style and purpose and figure out how to translate it. As of now, I saw at least three layers I needed to bring across into English:
- The literal meaning “thanks to somebody for this”;
- The style and rhyme of a slogan. Ideally, the target saying must retain the original’s meter: */*/***/* as in “спаСИбо ПАРтии за Это”
- The sarcastic meaning acquired over time
So this little problem has eventually revealed itself to be an equation with many variables – not as easy as it looked first, right?
For some translators, social networks are next to everything. This is where they meet their clients, sub-contractors to outsource work to, this is also where they publicly ridicule other translators’ work, post super-smart double-sarcastic quotes, and like their own comments posted under their own photos. My friend lists include quite a few such professionals – so I wondered – why not ask them to help me out with a cool puzzle for a change?
So I posted a question on VK and Facebook, and carried on with the rest of the text… In a few hours, I returned to find… nothing, despite lots of people on-line.
In a bit, though, I was surprised to find a reply from my friend Elena Shkarupa, an aspiring artist rather than a practicing translator:
for it we owe the Party
Cool, I replied, but what about the */*/***/* meter? It has to be something like:
we owe the party X for it,
where X has to be one stressed syllable.
After some sore tinkering, we ended up with:
Let’s thank our Party boys for it
Let’s thank our Party’s guys for it
Let’s thank our Party’s men for it – finally proposed by Lena, less the excessive sarcasm
and even made some sample slogans:
In winter, it ain’t cold a bit
Let’s thank the Party’s men for it!
We’ll blow our enemies to bits
Let’s thank dear Kim Jong-un for this!
among a few others. Pretty good for 20th century-style propaganda.
So after an amazing voyage back in time and some great teamwork, we got this one cracked. So,
We solved a puzzle tightly knit
Let’s thank Elena’s wit for it!