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Lost in Translation

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When I first started driving in Bucharest, my Romanian father-in-law sat beside me to provide directions and some moral support. Every time I got annoyed with another driver (which happened quite a lot), he would say, “Hey, calm down, don’t be so nervous“.

In reply, I would gnash my teeth, and growl, “I am NOT SCARED – I’m bloody annoyed with this idiot in front, but I am not a nervous driver.’

Yes, that’s what I mean, you are very nervous.

Not nervous *GRRRR*

Ooooh yes, you are – there you go again!

Eventually, we worked out that “nervoasa” in Romanian does not mean nervous, or somewhat scared, as it does in English, but irritated, annoyed or stressed! Such are the differences between similar sounding words in different languages, even within language groups where the roots of those words may even be the same.

So, when you are next in a Spanish-speaking environment and you are a bit disappointed with the service, do not tell them that the servicio stinks, because the waiter will probably claim (quite innocently) that it is actually cleaned and disinfected daily. If you just ask for servicio, you will probably be directed to the back of the establishment!

Sometimes, we might even mix-up words that only sound vaguely similar. Many years ago, while in Spain on my first ever teaching job, an Irish colleague asked me what those attractive wine bars were called, and I told him, Bodegas. He thanked me, went on his way into the hot, dusty streets of Cordoba in search of a glass or two, and trying to keep the word in his mind, asked for the local Bordello. That the person he asked happened to be an elderly Catholic Priest in a cassock, really didn’t help matters at all, and he was rewarded with a heartfelt slap in the face and a fire-and-brimstone lecture, not a word of which he understood.

So, when a Romanian speaker wants to say, ‘I will do it; get out of here‘ in his own language, he may say, ‘Fac eu; iesiti‘.

Given that in Romanian the ‘s‘ (in this case) is pronounced ‘sh‘, and an ending of ‘…iti‘ is pronounced ‘its‘, the unsuspecting English speaker may well hear something else!

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