27 December 17 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a holiday pit-stop by Kaija Straumanis on Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders, published back in 2014 by Ten Speed Press, but making an appearance on Three Percent this year for some seasonal inspiration.

As a translator, it’s often that I find myself in a group of translator friends in which someone brings up an “untranslatable” word in a language he or she is working from. Just a few days ago, for me, this was the Latvian word “drēgns,” which a dictionary will decipher as “damp,” “cold,” “clammy,” or “chilly“—when in fact, it’s all of these words at the same time, and then some. It’s the type of cold, damp, seep-into-your-bones autumn or winter rainy weather that chills you to your very core and sticks around for a while even after you’ve made it to warmer surroundings. One word doesn’t do it justice; it’s so much more than just that one word.

Ella Frances Sanders’s Lost in Translation is a little coffee-table type book that explores just these kids of words from various languages across the globe. Complete with fun and colorful illustrations, a “summary” of the respective word’s meaning, and a definition thereof, the book is a great way to show off the intricacies, difficulties, and even beauties of what it takes and means to translate from one language to another. It’s, like, Translation 101 Lite™. Just enough to intrigue any non-translation-mined reader, but not too heavy or scary to make them scream and run to hide as if the thing had just turned into a snake, or a (seasonally appropriate) fruit cake. (Which I’ll never understand because fruit cake is AMAZING, especially after my grandmother cuts it up and drizzles a teaspoon of brandy over each slice.)

For the rest of the review, go here.

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