Humor of No Translation by Mark Twain

Humor of No Translation by Mark Twain is adapted from his book A Tramp Abroad [1880]:

I have a prejudice against people who print things in a foreign language and add no translation.

When I am the reader, and the author considers me able to do the translating myself, he pays me quite a nice compliment—

but if he would do the translating for me

I would try to get along without the compliment.

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Thinking over my plans, as mapped out, I perceived that they did not take in the Furka Pass, the Rhone Glacier, the Finsteraarhorn, the Wetterhorn, etc. I immediately examined the guide-book to see if these were important, and found they were; in fact, a pedestrian tour of Europe could not be complete without them.

Of course that decided me at once to see them, for I never allow myself to do things by halves, or in a slurring, slipshod way.

I called in my agent and instructed him to go without delay and make a careful examination of these noted places, on foot, and bring me back a written report of the result, for insertion in my book.

So the two assumed complete mountaineering costumes and departed. A week later they returned, pretty well used up, and my agent handed me the following

Official Report (Sample only)

OF A VISIT TO THE FURKA REGION. BY H. HARRIS, AGENT

About seven o'clock in the morning, with perfectly fine weather, we started from Hospenthal, and arrived at the MAISON on the Furka in a little under QUATRE hours. The want of variety in the scenery from Hospenthal made the KAHKAHPONEEKA wearisome; but let none be discouraged; no one can fail to be completely R'ECOMPENS'EE for his fatigue, when he sees, for the first time, the monarch of the Oberland, the tremendous Finsteraarhorn. A moment before all was dullness, but a PAS further has placed us on the summit of the Furka; and exactly in front of us, at a HOPOW of only fifteen miles, this magnificent mountain lifts its snow-wreathed precipices into the deep blue sky. No other prominent feature in the Oberland is visible from this BONG-A-BONG.

With the addition of some others, who were also bound for the Grimsel, we formed a large XHVLOJ as we descended the STEG which winds round the shoulder of a mountain toward the Rhone Glacier. We soon left the path and took to the ice; and after wandering amongst the crevices UN PEU, to admire the wonders of these deep blue caverns, and hear the rushing of waters through their subglacial channels, we struck out a course toward L'AUTRE CO^T'E and crossed the glacier successfully, a little above the cave from which the infant Rhone takes its first bound from under the grand precipice of ice. Half a mile below this we began to climb the flowery side of the Meienwand. One of our party started before the rest, but the HITZE was so great, that we found IHM quite exhausted, and lying at full length in the shade of a large GESTEIN. We sat down with him for a time, for all felt the heat exceedingly in the climb up this very steep BOLWOGGOLY. This lonely spot, once used for an extempore burying-place, after a sanguinary BATTUE between the French and Austrians, is the perfection of desolation; there is nothing in sight to mark the hand of man, except the line of weather-beaten whitened posts, set up to indicate the direction of the pass in the OWDAWAKK of winter. Near this point the footpath joins the wider track, which connects the Grimsel with the head of the Rhone SCHNAWP; this has been carefully constructed, and leads with a tortuous course among and over LES PIERRES, down to the bank of the gloomy little SWOSH-SWOSH, which almost washes against the walls of the Grimsel Hospice. We arrived a little before four o'clock at the end of our day's journey, hot enough to justify the step, taking by most of the PARTIE, of plunging into the crystal water of the snow-fed lake.

(End of Sample of Report)

I said:

"You have done well, Harris; this report is concise, compact, well expressed; the language is crisp, the descriptions are vivid and not needlessly elaborated; your report goes straight to the point, attends strictly to business, and doesn't fool around. It is in many ways an excellent document.

But it has a fault--it is too learned, it is much too learned.

What is 'DINGBLATTER'?

"'DINGBLATTER' is a Fiji word meaning 'degrees.'"

"You knew the English of it, then?"

"Oh, yes."

"What is 'GNILLIC'?

"That is the Eskimo term for 'snow.'"

"So you knew the English for that, too?"

"Why, certainly."

"What does 'MMBGLX' stand for?"

"That is Zulu for 'pedestrian.'"

"'While the form of the Wellhorn looking down upon it completes the enchanting BOPPLE.' What is 'BOPPLE'?"

"'Picture.' It's Choctaw."

"What is 'SCHNAWP'?"

"'Valley.' That is Choctaw, also."

"What is 'BOLWOGGOLY'?"

"That is Chinese for 'hill.'"

"'KAHKAHPONEEKA'?"

"'Ascent.' Choctaw."

"'But we were again overtaken by bad HOGGLEBUMGULLUP.' What does 'HOGGLEBUMGULLUP' mean?"

"That is Chinese for 'weather.'"

"Is 'HOGGLEBUMGULLUP' better than the English word? Is it any more descriptive?"

"No, it means just the same."

"And 'DINGBLATTER' and 'GNILLIC,' and 'BOPPLE,' and 'SCHNAWP'--are they better than the English words?"

"No, they mean just what the English ones do."

"Then why do you use them? Why have you used all this Chinese and Choctaw and Zulu rubbish?"

"Because I didn't know any French but two or three words, and I didn't know any Latin or Greek at all."

"That is nothing. Why should you want to use foreign words, anyhow?"

"They adorn my page. They all do it."

"Who is 'all'?"

"Everybody. Everybody that writes elegantly. Anybody has a right to that wants to."

"I think you are mistaken."

I then proceeded in the following scathing manner.

"When really learned men write books for other learned men to read, they are justified in using as many learned words as they please--their audience will understand them;

but a man who writes a book for the general public to read is not justified in disfiguring his pages with untranslated foreign expressions.

It is an insolence toward the majority of the purchasers, for it is a very frank and impudent way of saying,

'Get the translations made yourself if you want them, this book is not written for the ignorant classes.'

There are men who know a foreign language so well and have used it so long in their daily life that they seem to discharge whole volleys of it into their English writings unconsciously, and so they omit to translate, as much as half the time.

That is a great cruelty to nine out of ten of the man's readers.

What is the excuse for this? The writer would say he only uses the foreign language where the delicacy of his point cannot be conveyed in English.

Very well, then he writes his best things for the tenth man, and he ought to warn the nine other not to buy his book.

However, the excuse he offers is at least an excuse;

but there is another set of men who are like YOU; they know a WORD here and there, of a foreign language, or a few beggarly little three-word phrases, filched from the back of the Dictionary, and these are continually peppering into their literature, with a pretense of knowing that language--what excuse can they offer?

The foreign words and phrases which they use have their exact equivalents in a nobler language--English;

yet they think they 'adorn their page' when they say STRASSE for street, and BAHNHOF for railway-station, and so on--flaunting these fluttering rags of poverty in the reader's face and imagining he will be ass enough to take them for the sign of untold riches held in reserve.

I will let your 'learning' remain in your report; you have as much right, I suppose, to 'adorn your page' with Zulu and Chinese and Choctaw rubbish as others of your sort have to adorn theirs with insolent odds and ends smouched from half a dozen learned tongues whose A-B ABS they don't even know."

When the musing spider steps upon the red-hot shovel, he first exhibits a wild surprise, then he shrivels up. Similar was the effect of these blistering words upon the tranquil and unsuspecting Agent. I can be dreadfully rough on a person when the mood takes me.

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We located ourselves at the Jungfrau Hotel, one of those huge establishments which the needs of modern travel have created in every attractive spot on the continent.

There was a great gathering at dinner, and, as usual, one heard all sorts of languages.

The table d'hôte was served by waitresses dressed in the quaint and comely costume of the Swiss peasants.

This (costume) consists of

a simple gros de laine,

trimmed with ashes of roses,

with overskirt of scare bleu ventre saint gris,

cut bias on the off-side,

with facings of petit polonaise

and narrow insertions of pâte de foie gras

backstitched to the mise en scène

in the form of a jeu d'esprit.

It gives to the wearer a singularly piquant and alluring aspect.

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