Last weekend got known in our house as “the weekend with everything”. There was Cub camp for Son2, a first quarter peal for Son1, who is learning to ring church bells, a choir concert at the zoo at sunset and, on the Friday, for me, a day in London for a “DIY workshop” for translators from German to English.
The idea came from Katy Derbyshire and it ended up with 10 or so of us in the library at the Goethe Institut. We talked about retranslations and poetry before lunch, with translating voice, commas and swearing, and translation appreciation after lunch. And there was German food and beer afterwards. I learned some new words: asyndeton and asyndetic parataxis, which are to do with linking things up with commas for reasons of rhythm and balance, rather than the dreaded comma splice… We experimented to see whether reading an existing translation was a help or a hindrance in translating a text ourselves, and we wound down with an enthusiastic discussion of swearing culture and how it differs between English and German.
Yes, that was my part of the workshop. No, I don’t swear much myself. Yes, my work can be very sweary indeed. Chastity Riley, I’m looking at you… So: German swearing is very focused on bottoms and bodily functions. It can be surprisingly mild – “damned axe”, “damned hoe”, “piss dandelion” (that’s a very bad one) from rough-tough cops and gangsters – yet seems to start young (no, you can’t easily have “shit” or “damn” in an English children’s book), so Germans often go to town on English swearing instead, scattering F-bombs around their casual conversation and business writing like they’re going out of fashion. I have a lovely list of synonyms to work with now, anyway.
And we finished up by appreciating Breon Mitchell’s new translation of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, which does many things very well. See Katy’s list of things to look for in a good translation here.
We had fun, and here’s to next year!