This book, the second of two volumes, is all about shared
experience, expressed in many different languages. It is an
extraordinary window on the translation of idiomatic expressions.
Written in French by Muriel Gilbert, a trained translator, working
as an editor at France’s influential daily newspaper called <span">Le Monde, this book will not only
give you stiches. It will give you an unprecedented opportunity to understand the place
where all human languages both converge and diverge. In the author’s own (translated)
words this book is “neither a dictionary, nor an exhaustive compendium, nor a scholarly
work”. This book is a “box of chocolates” written for the reader’s pure enjoyment
Take the (translated) title of the book “When flees will sneeze (in Ukraine). When hens will
grow teeth [<span">Quand les poules auront des dents], in French, meaning in English “When pigs
can fly”, and you will have immediately accessed this familiar place of convergences and
divergences, where meaning arises encoded in different languages, each segmenting a
shared reality in its own way. This book takes you on a fabulously exotic journey, idiomhopping, from one expression to another, encoded in languages as diverse as Dutch,
Portuguese, Norwegian, Korean, Senegalese, Romanian or Thai, to name just a few. It also
walks you through regional variations. For example, take “grandma” and “grandpa”, called
<span">mamama and <span">papapa in Alsace (east of France), <span">papé and <span">mamé in the South of France, and
<span">gros-maman (big-mama) in La Réunion (an island and French district, next to Madagascar, in
the Indian Ocean)
Gilbert has found so many idiomatic gems that it is hard to select just a few. Rather than
listing them all alphabetically, she has also woven them colorfully into a narrative, which
creates pleasant and often hilarious reading. For example, take the following, “I did not get
here swimming in noodle <span">soup” [nicht auf der Neddesuppe dahergeschwommen sein], in
German. “I was not born of the last rainfall.”[<span">Je ne suis pas né de la dernière pluie] in French
(p. 46), meaning in English “I was not born yesterday.” Otherwise, If you are interested in
poets, you will learn that British poets have “a bee in the bonnet”, Spanish poets have “birds
in their heads [<span">pajaros en la cabeza], German poets “a little man in their ear” [<span">einen kleinen
Mann in Ohr], Portuguese poets “small monkeys in their heads” [<span">ter macaquinhos na
cabeça] and Belgium poets “a fly in their clocks” [<span">une mouche dans l’horloge] (p. 48).
Flip through a few more pages to find out that If you are defeated, you might want to put
your “violin in the attic” in Welsh. Alternatively, you might “throw out the sponge’ [<span">jeter
Copyright Françoise Herrmann, PhD
<span">l’éponge] in French or “throw in the towel” in English. If it gets too hot next summer, you
might think of this book and of fellow humans in the West Indies, “sweating like a pot of
chestnuts”. Or you might be comforted, knowing that a blazing hot sun in English,
transforms into “a sun that irons cockroaches” in Lebanon, “ a sun that drives holes in your
skull” in Tunisia, or “a sun made of (molten) lead” [<span">un soleil de plomb] in France (p.86-7).
139 pages of such idiomatic expressions, together with other gems, are strung together,
divided into 17 thematic chapters, such as Transportation [<span">Transports], Love, forever
[<span">Amour, toujours], Elsewhere [<span">Ailleurs] or Weather report [<span">Bulletin météo].
The fascinating unintended benefit of this book is that it so perfectly, and pleasurably,
illustrates a theoretical framework in which generation upon generation of translators, in
Europe and the US, have been trained. Indeed, no data could better support Marianne
Lederer’s theory of interpretive translation. A theory that posits the existence of a cognitive
semantic space where meaning that was originally encoded (verbalized) in the source
language is <span">stripped and recoded (re-verbalized) in the target language. The cognitive
processes of recoding (reverbalizing) in the target language do not necessarily draw on the
same tools as those used for encoding (verbalizing) in the source language. What matters is
that the translation builds <span">understanding of meaning, and communication, across different
cultures, between speakers of otherwise mutually unintelligible languages (verbalizations).
This book is hot for the laughter it also generates as a consequence of surprising you with an
understanding of different takes on a shared reality.
Gilbert, M. (2016) Que votre moustaches pousse comme la broussaille!
Expressons des peuples. Génie des Langues. Paris, France: HD Aterliers Henry Dougier.
Gilbert, M. (2018) “Quand le pou éternuera”* (Quand les poules auront des dents, en
Ukraine): Expressons des peuples. Génie des Langues Paris, France: HD Aterliers Henry
Lederer, M, (2003) Translation: the interpretive model. Translated by Ninon Larché: Second
Edition – New York, NY: Rootledge.