Lost in translation: A language in a world of its own

DELICIOUS OR DELIGHTFUL: Lucy Turnbull with her husband Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

DURING his recent visit to Australia, French President Emmanuel Macron was ridiculed on social media for calling PM Malcolm Turnbull’s wife Lucy ‘delicious.’

Some think Mr Macron’s words simply got lost in translation. The French for delicious – délicieux – also translates as ‘delightful,’ even if it’s slightly sexist. But a linguistic slip-up to avoid above all else is the French word ‘excité’ to describe yourself as excited. Why? It means you’re sexually aroused. Oops!

Mr Macron isn’t the first leader to hit translation problems. Probably the best-remembered gaffe is John F Kennedy’s legendary claim: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ which translates as ‘I’m a Berliner’ or ‘I’m a doughnut.’ Take your pick. 

In 2009, France’s Europe minister sparked a diplomatic incident by labelling then PM David Cameron’s pledge to reclaim EU powers as ‘pathetic.’ In French, it simply means ‘moving,’ ‘touching,’ ‘poignant.’ Oops again.

But then, English has become a bit of a foreign language to me. I mean, just look at Urban Dictionary, online birthplace of words like ‘nutzoid’ (crazy, mad, insane) slang. The Alan Turing Institute in London recently conducted the first comprehensive scientific study of its contents – revealing (drum roll, please) the death of the word ‘selfie’! 

But are you aware of the ‘key’ words and phrases of 2018? Apparently these are: Beauty sus (When a person’s attractiveness makes you suspicious of them); Generationalis (Generalising about a generation); Momarazzi (Mums taking smartphone pics of their childrens’ sports team); Babybottling (Guzzling a drink without stopping to breathe); LOP (Laughing off the pounds); and Boonk (Nicking someone’s stuff).

Poor old Alan Turing. Brilliant mathematician, one of the key workers in the defeat of Fascism and Nazism and contributing to ending a world war for the preservation of democracy, and thereby recognised as the father of the computer, you end up with the institute named after you having to sink to the level of clearing up language and words regarded as ‘ephemeral detritus’ only used by the likes of Kim Kardashian! 

Maybe if we use the word ‘Kardashian’ often enough, will it disappear too, please?


Nora Johnson’s crime thrillers ‘The Girl in the Red Dress,’ ‘No Way Back,’ ‘Landscape of Lies,’ ‘Retribution,’ ‘Soul Stealer,’ ‘The De Clerambault Code’ (www.nora-johnson.net) from Amazon in paperback/ eBook (€0.99;£0.99) and iBookstore. All profits to Costa del Sol Cudeca charity.

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Nora Johnson

Novelist Nora Johnson offers insights on everything from current affairs to life in Spain, with humour and a keen eye for detail.