Numeric and Alphanumeric Expressions

Some translations pose challenges that go beyond mere words; sometimes we must translate the meaning of numbers or alphanumeric expressions. I am not referring to numerology or systems such as Kabbalah, but rather numeric or alphanumeric expressions that conceal very specific meanings. Let’s look at a few of them:

To zero in on

The difficulty translating this expression lies in the limited verbal aspect of the word “zero.” The expression means to focus heavily on something, and among the various explanations that exist in this regard, the most prominent is the idea of getting so close to somthing, whether it is a physical object or not, that no gap remains between our view and the object in question.

Catch 22

A situation referred to in English as a Catch 22 refers to a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape due to conflicting rules, or a hopeless situation where one can only obtain something they need by forgoing the need for such object. The expression comes from a novel by Joseph Heller, called Catch 22, which describes the frustrating bureaucratic avatars hanging over the soldiers in World War II. The expression is introduced by the character Doc Daneeka who refers to the Catch 22 situation to explain the predicament where if a pilot requests a mental evaluation for dementia –in hopes of being found insufficiently sane to fly and thus avoid dangerous missions– he ends up proving his mental stability by applying for the evaluation and therefore may not be declared insane.


The meaning of these numbers comes from the story of a group of young people from San Rafael High School in California, who called themselves the Waldos and who used to meet at 4:20 p.m. each evening to smoke marijuana alongside a statue in honor of French chemist Louis Pasteur. Over the years, April 20 (4/20) became a sort of holiday and later on, global cannabis day. It is difficult to translate these numeric and alphanumeric expressions because they lack meaning in other cultures where these traditions are not found.