I came across an interesting article the other day, which listed some of the most taxing words for translators from across the world. There were some real beauties, such as ‘Jayus’, which is an Indonesian word that means the bafflement/bemusement that occurs when someone tells a joke so badly that you laugh at its awkwardness. I’m not sure if this applies just to the manner of telling jokes or the awfulness of the joke itself. If the latter, then surely one of the English equivalents is ‘shaggy dog story’ – and I’ve no idea how we would translate that into foreign languages! Perhaps, one day, we’ll ask a range of our translators to have a go at unusual English phrases and see what they come up with!
Other words that defy the translators include ‘tartle’, which I admit I hadn’t heard of, despite it being a Scots word. Apparently it signifies that awkward moment (awkwardness seeming to be a common factor in all these awkward to translate words!) when you introduce someone but forget their name.
However, the one word that seems to be at the top of the hit parade (as you can see, I’m peppering this blog with lots of idioms, just in case anyone should fancy translating it!), is ‘gobbledegook’. Except that in the article I read it is written as ‘gobblydegook’. Upon investigation (i.e. I looked up a few online dictionaries), it appears that either spelling is valid. That will confuse translators even further no doubt.
The meaning of gobbledegook is, of course, cliché-filled/jargon-filled language that by its very nature serves to obfuscate rather than clarify the matter in hand – a bit like this sentence. Politics and, especially, businesses are prone to gobbledegook, which, given that they are two of the areas where translation and interpretation is most needed, makes the job of our translators even more difficult. Still, we like a challenge!
David Orr, Director, Global Connects