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A-Z of Translation – the letter K:

The letter K involves a foray into the ancient world:

Knot, Gordian – It’s a scenario familiar to every translator: struggling to find the best way of rendering a tricky word play, obscure colloquialism or esoteric cultural reference. The risk here is of coming up with a clever but tortuous solution that irritates the reader without really enlightening them (although even that would be better than the last resort, a translator’s footnote containing an explanation). Sometimes, the best solution is to be inspired by Alexander the Great, who famously cut through the Gordian knot rather than attempting to untie it.

The need to step back and consider the reader/user of the translation is something we touched on earlier in this series when talking about adaptation and headings. It’s all too easy to end up obsessing about a minor flourish in the source text that contributes little or nothing to the reader’s understanding, and then giving it undeserved, undesirable and possibly negative prominence in the translation. The key is to focus on the meaning and intent of the document, rather than just the words.

Enabling communication and understanding may be a more modest ambition than Alexander the Great’s pursuit of world domination, but it’s still worth taking seriously!

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