7 Fun Questions from Foreign Translators

Many times, Gentle Reader, I get asked what I do with my days besides actual writing.

So much. So very much.

In fact more of my fiction writing career is spent not writing fiction these days, then writing fiction. (Non fiction is a different matter, for example I have an article in the Huffington Post on 10 Ways to Steampunk-ify Your Halloween.)

One of the many things on the list is responding to occasional questions from my translators. These can be rather fun, so I thought you might enjoy a glimpse. Often they force me to figure out the English language or my own ideas in concrete ways. At other times the remind me how humor is different in different cultures, or so much the same.

To protect the translators, who are generally enthusiastic and awesome and lovely people, I’m not saying anything about which language is asking which questions.

FS C&C Foreign Editions

These all pertain to the Finishing School books.

1. “Crikey, don’t you two look as fancy as fleas’ eyebrows!” I wonder what this “as fancy as fleas’ eyebrows” expresses. Surprise? Admiration? Disapproval? 

Admiration mixed with mild mockery and envy. It’s a play on the 1920s phrase “bee’s knees” or “cats whiskers.” I just invented my own.

2. Could you please be so kind and describe me in more detail how exactly mechanicals move – are the tracks on the floor – like the train tracks?

You can think of it as a single track with one wheel, like a train track but less than half, only the track part on one side, no slats. The other way to think of it is like an upside down cable car with the cable set into the ground.

I describe multiple tracks because each mechanical can run on its own single track (not because there is a pair for each mechancial) also this way multiples can run at a time.

3. “What, even her? You’d think she’d grog to the fact that you’d been pickled.” I’m not familiar with the usage of “grog” here.  Could you paraphrase it?

grog = suss = grasp mentally, understand, precursor to grock

4. Is there any special reason for the name SQUEAK deck? I know that it is right under balloons but does it really squeak?
It doesn’t squeak, people squeak when they talk when they are standing on it, if there is a leak. These decks are right under helium filled balloons. If there is a leak, people talking would have high squeaky voices, just as if you inhaled the helium from a birthday balloon at a party.
5. “Spiffing. I could do with a vacation.” I’m not clear what “do with a vacation” means.  Does this have some idiomatic meaning?
“I could use a vacation” or “I need a vacation.”
6. Could you please explain the phrase “my eye is pickled and the earthworm sulks at midnight”? Is this the Professor Braithwope’s funny way of saying that the alarm is terribly noisy? 
It’s code to turn off the alarm. Like an internet password. It doesn’t make sense.
7. “Music teacher, she thought, looking at the full skirts of Lady Linette’s lavender dress. And I’m Queen of the Vampires.” I can’t really understand the connection between “music teacher and “I’m Queen of the Vampires”. I wonder if this capitalization might mean the title of the song or something? 
It means that she is as unlikely to really be a music teacher as Sophronia is unlikely to be Queen of the Vampires. A way of saying the equivalent of “fat chance.”
Rumor is some authors crowd sources their translations. I don’t really have enough questions incoming to make that necessary. Besides I like doing it myself.  That said, I do sometimes wonder what others might say of my phrasing, or how others might explain it.
I can’t imagine being a translator, it must be such a tough job. Humor must be particularly challenging. I talked with my French interpreter, Helen, while I was there this year. She also translates. She flat out said, very kindly of course, that she wouldn’t want to do my books, too challenging. I took this is a backhanded compliment.

I do love the way the Japanese covers always take from a scene in the book itself. It’s just so much fun to see the words interpreted for cover art in a manga style.

I love when I get these questions in my inbox though, it’s not often I have to go back and examine what I really meant when I wrote a sentence. Or try to explain it in such a way that it makes sense to someone who doesn’t have English as a first language.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into life behind the scenes of translating a steampunk novel. You should see some of the ones for the Parasol Protectorate, they are a hoot and a half. (There, for example, is a phrase that would be hard to translate!) What with Ivy and her malapropisms, all that overly Victorian phrasing, and me making up words right and left many a translator was befuddled. Perhaps when I’m working on the Parasol Protectorate Abroad I’ll give you a peak into the past, if you’re interested.

For now, it’s back to the grind, working on the various book launches, contests, interviews, and other stuff. You remember what I said about most of being a fiction writer is now not writing fiction? Well October is one of those months.

Don’t you worry, I’ll get back to it soon. The final Finishing School book is waiting for me, I’ll be starting it in December. When that’s done it’s back to Prudence, at last!

Right now, I could really use a bit of a break, I have that treading water feeling.

And the translators are waiting, like nibbling little silver fishes all about.

Want more behind the scenes sneak peeks? Join the Chirrup

Quote of the Day:

“Genius is not a quality, but only a quantitative difference in a combination of attributes contained in all persons.”

~ Dr. Ernst Jones

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Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. Isa said:

    It's rather funny because I wouldn't want to translate your books either. I can see a few reasons why, here's hoping they're not all backhanded compliments:
    a) I have far too much fun reading them, I wouldn't want to turn them into work
    b) the steampunk elements would probably be tough for me to translate
    c) Your books are so good, how could I be equal to the task of making them just as good in my own language?
    And yet I would love to translate them because I'd get to spend entire days and months in your world, with your characters, and I'd also get to write to you about it, So… Maybe one day ? 🙂

  2. Angelica R. Jackson said:

    I had a critique done by someone from a different country, and "Uncle Tam's getting up there" really threw them. They didn't get the aging connotation; instead, they thought climbing was going to come into the story at some point.

  3. June Clarence said:

    Thank you so much not only for the insight into the process but also the acknowledgement of how hard translating literature can be. People often seem to forget how much work goes into a translation so I'm very glad you chose to dedicate a blog post to that.
    I completely agree with everything Isa mentioned in her comment above – I wouldn't want to translate them either but at the same time I would be absolutely thrilled.
    Thank you again for bringing some attention to this =)

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