• Carmen Marie Fabio

Lost in translation


As a kid growing up without the benefit of cable television, we bathed in the glow of whatever came on the screen of the local broadcasters, happily hypnotized by The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dress-up, and – of course – The Flintstones, every weekday at noon, usually accompanied by a bowl of Kraft Dinner.

In fact, we loved and knew every episode so well that we eagerly watched them on the French channels as well and that’s when I noticed many of the character’s names had been changed. While Fred stayed as Fred, the other main characters were referred to as Delima, Arthur, and Bertha. That just didn’t sit well in my black and white childhood mind.

I let it go (hey, grudges take energy) but never failed to take notice how some tenets held as de facto standards in English get rearranged in French.

Childhood television staples are one thing – but sayings that even our parents grew up with are subject to fluctuation in Canada’s other official language.

We know that when the cat’s away, the mouse will play but did you know that in French, the mouse doesn’t play – he dances?

While we ‘speak of the devil,’ our counterparts ‘speak of the wolf’ and something that costs you ‘an arm and a leg’ will cost ‘the eyes in your head’ in the east end.

Rules might be written in stone in English but in French, they’re poured in concrete and the straw that broke the Anglo camel’s back is the drop of water that overflowed the Franco vase.

We cap our pictures at a thousand words but, like most text in French, une image vaut mieux qu'un long discours.

While we shouldn’t count our chickens before they’re hatched, the French more bravely recommend not to sell the bear skin before you’ve actually killed the bear.

When I was once angry at a former job, my manager told me, “Mange pas tes bas.” The notion of being mad enough to eat my socks was funny enough to quell the anger. In turn, I taught him the English expression about excrement hitting the fan and the expression on his face once he visualized the concept was priceless.

My oldest son had a French babysitter at a young age and one of his first words was aïe-aïe! From that same sitter, I learned a bunch of colourful terms pertaining to toddlers that we just don’t have in English including a ‘pitch-à-terre’ that describes the beginning of a tantrum as the child throws him or herself on the floor, followed by the ‘danse du bacon’ which is pretty self-explanatory – the child then jerks and spasms much like a piece of frying bacon. As a mom, I found this incredibly accurate – and funny.

Sayings and idioms that add the spice, quirk, and colour to our respective languages are not easily fed into – and spat out of – Google Translate. Well, they are, but the results will be linguistically preposterous.

Live the difference.

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