Issues of Linguistic… Taste

In the previous entry, we dealt with the connotations that animal names have in different languages. On this occasion, we will take a look at the world of food, at its description in two languages in particular, and at the consequent challenges that these uses have for the translator’s task.

There is no need to delve too deeply into the coarser nooks and crannies of English and Spanish to find a great variety of expressions in which food or culinary products play a central role.

As with the previous article, a first approach to the issue at stake shows that the different sayings include a number of uses that respond to analogies, metaphors, anecdotes, and above all, to the capriciousness between the subject of the expression and the meaning conferred.

In order to transmit the facility or simplicity of something, Rioplatense Spanish uses the term esto es una papa (“this is a potato”), while in a fair amount of English varieties, in order to express the ease of something, one typically uses the expression “it’s a piece of cake.”

The main character of the movie My Bodyguard (1980), a schoolboy who recently moved to Chicago, introduces himself to his new classmates as Clifford Peache – a last name which is pronounced just like the food – to which the classroom bully responds “I knew he was a fruit.” In this context, “fruit” is a pejorative term used to refer to effeminate or homosexual men.

Another rather clear analogy occurs with the English use of the adjective sweet, used to characterize a very positive or convenient situation, as well as to describe a kind person (this second meaning is the same in Spanish). Likewise, the term salty (“salado”), aside from being used to refer to the flavor, is also used in different Spanish varieties in order to express a high price (in Argentine Spanish, for example), of something or something funny (in the case of Peninsular Spanish), or of someone or something unfortunate (in the case of Ecuadorian or Venezuelan Spanish, for instance). Continuing with the main flavors, the word ácido (“acid”) is used to describe a type of humor that is incisive, biting, and hurtful.

As we saw both in this entry as well as in the previous one, animals and foods are clearly native regional features, as well as strong local references when used colloquially, and they represent interesting challenges for both the translator and the interpreter.