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Wrong use of term?
Thread poster: Cristina Heraud-van Tol

Cristina Heraud-van Tol  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 23:01
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oct 2, 2007

Hi!

I just finished a translation from French to English. It was about a collection of glasses and a description of all the different types, shapes and colours. The French version referred to the colours as being 'couleurs gaies, vives' which in English is 'alive, vivid'. So I used the word "gay", "gay colours".

The client did not like this at all and made a whole scandal. Perhaps he even deducts some money for the translation, because he says that "gay" means "homosexual" and that's the meaning that everybody understands nowadays.

All my life I had learned that "gay" is happy. It's in my English books. I even have a set of colour pencils where you can read "Yellow is a gay colour". I looked up the word in different dictionaries and I found this:

"gay: (adj.) cheerful, happy, glad, merry, bright, joyful, jolly"

Only at the end of the list of definitions, I see the 'homosexual' definition. I still defend my case and I don't believe I have made a mistake, as anybody can understand that a colour can't be homosexual, can it? Pink is used for baby girls, in such case.

I have two questions:

1) Until what point can we use a word that has two completely opposite meanings, in many places regarded as positive on one hand and negative on the other?

2) What can a translator do in order to support his choice of words?


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:01
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
In my opinion, you used the term entirely correctly Oct 2, 2007

Hi Cristina,

When I was a child the meaning "homosexual" had not been invented for the word "gay". I was disappointed at this new meaning, when it was invented, because "gay" had for many years been a very nice, cheerful word, indicating happiness or bright colours.

As far as I recall, it used to be possible to describe a cheerful person as "gay". Now, as the word has changed its meaning in regard to describing a person, I could understand your client if you had described a cheerful person as gay. As far as I know, you cannot do that any longer, because the meaning could be misunderstood. However, there can be no confusion when it is used to describe colours, so I really think your client is entirely wrong. In any case, if he/she did not like it, it would be the normal thing to do to say so and politely request that you use the word "vivid" instead, for example. I do not find it acceptable that your client should complain about it, and even want to pay you less.

In order to support your choice of word on this occasion, you could supply the client with a few definitions from different dictionaries, and point out this legitimate meaning of the word "gay", as well as the fact that it cannot be confused when it describes a colour.

Astrid


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:01
English to Dutch
+ ...
Theoretically, you are right... Oct 2, 2007

yes, the word 'gay' does have the meaning you mention.
So in theory, you are right.

I'd prefer not to use the word, though, especially since there are so many synonyms to choose from. Specifically for glasses, I could read 'gay colors' as: colors that would be attractive to gay people. Whatever your opinion on homosexuality, the collection is supposed to be attractive to everyone, homosexual or not.

In general, my answer to your questions would be:
1) It depends, but I'd rather try to avoid controversy by using another word, if possible.
2) What you did: dictionaries, other texts that use the same word in the same meaning.

Why did you not just offer to find a synonym and use that? After all, all you need to do is Search and Replace. It's not a big deal, is it?


[Edited at 2007-10-02 18:00]


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The Misha
Local time: 23:01
Russian to English
+ ...
You should have chose a different word Oct 2, 2007

Though both you and your client are right, in a way, you should have considered the existing, modern connotation of the word and used something else - what's wrong with jolly, for that matter? You can try to prove your case with dictionaries and such until you turn blue in the face, and it wouldn't matter. What does matter is modern usage of the word and the way people perceive it now. Any language is an evolving, living organism and all we can do is passively register those changes, whether we like them or not. In you case, your client takes the existing modern usage into account. If he doesn't want his glasses to be gay - well, it's his God-given right.

On the other hand, I don't think that disagreement over a single word should be sufficent for him to withhold a part of your pay. Don't you let him.

P.S. In my native Russian the traditional meaning of трахнуть (trakhnut') was to slam, to bang. You don't want to know what it stands for today. C'est la vie.


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Michael and Raimunda Poe  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 01:01
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Gay means homosexual. Oct 2, 2007

Today gay means homosexual, in my opinion the dictionaries should be updated and place that as the first meaning not the last as your showed it. When we hear gay (this day in age) we automatically assume you are speaking of some homosexual aspect. To give you an example the cartoon the Flinstones changed or dropped the word gay in their theme song because of this meaning "We'll have a gay old time." , had a new meaning to kids watching this day in age than it did when I was a kid watching them. Words do change meaning quite often and the way you used it, especially for a marketing aspect would definately not be appropriate. I being a heterosexual man would more than likely not buy some glasses that are labeled gay. Just being honest. I can see why the person who hired you would have been upset he was thinking of his profit, and this may have raised questions as to how you did on the rest of translation (even thought the rest of the translation may be perfect), in his mind if you didn't know not to use the word gay, what other words may you have used incorrectly?! Don't take offense to this please, just letting you know what may have passed through the persons mind that hired you. While yes gay can mean happy, joyous, vibrant, the reality is it is rarely if ever used in daily dialogue in todays world unless referring to homosexuality. Hope this helps.

[Edited at 2007-10-02 17:14]


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Marlene Curtis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:01
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Wrong use of term? Oct 2, 2007

My mother in law's name was Grace May and she insisted everybody called her Gay. (She was a very happy person) but nowadays, I think she would have considered changing it (if she was still alive).

I also suggest you offer to change it to a synonym to please the customer and close the subject.


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:01
English to Italian
+ ...
I'd suggest a bit of critical thinking... Oct 2, 2007

Cristina Heraud-van Tol wrote:

1) Until what point can we use a word that has two completely opposite meanings, in many places regarded as positive on one hand and negative on the other?

2) What can a translator do in order to support his choice of words?


Cristina,

can you explain why and how one of the two meanings would be negative?

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

In order to support your choice of word on this occasion, you could supply the client with a few definitions from different dictionaries, and point out this legitimate meaning of the word "gay", as well as the fact that it cannot be confused when it describes a colour.


Astrid, why would this particular meaning/usage be illegitimate?

***************
BTW, in New York at least, many people now use the word "gay" with the meaning of "stupid." In this sense, it refers not only to people, but also (perhaps mainly) to things --e.g., the movie was so gay.

--words change...
...the phenomenon is called "shift in meaning."


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:01
Spanish to English
+ ...
usage Oct 2, 2007

Cristina Heraud-van Tol wrote:

All my life I had learned that "gay" is happy. It's in my English books. I even have a set of colour pencils where you can read "Yellow is a gay colour". I looked up the word in different dictionaries and I found this:

"gay: (adj.) cheerful, happy, glad, merry, bright, joyful, jolly"

Only at the end of the list of definitions, I see the 'homosexual' definition. I still defend my case and I don't believe I have made a mistake, as anybody can understand that a colour can't be homosexual, can it? Pink is used for baby girls, in such case.



Forget about grammar books and dictionaries (They are typically out of date, even on the day they are published).

The key here is USAGE, what the accepted meaning is for native EN speakers ...like me: I would never use "gay" to mean lively, happy, merry, cheerful etc, because the word has undergone a radical shift in meaning and now has very different connotations in relation to homosexuals.

The issue, furthermore, isn't about a colour "being something" more or less than a mere colour. "Blues" , as an example, is not literally a colour but a reference to a kind of music with a shade of meaning that derives from a perceived sadness associated with blue (and why, one could ask, a blue sky for example isn't perceived as sad).

Meaning changes, and this happens with words over time. Many words we use nowadays have completely different meanings from 100, 200 years ago. "Dial (a number)", for example, continues to be used for phones that are no longer "dialled", as just one example of meaning change.

"Gaily coloured glasses" would have worked incidentally. We can still use the word "gay" as meaning "happy" as an adverb, no problem.

Living in Peru, you are probably not in direct contact on a day-to-day basis with either the source or target language, in the same way as you are with Spanish. As far as the target language is concerned, this fact and/or not being native led you into this trap. And you need to be better aware that this is the kind of error you are likely to make again. You need to develop creativity in using the WWW, becuase dictionaries and reference books rarely give genuinely useful information on usage. What you need is "contexts".

If you enter the words "gay" and "colours" in Google, guess what comes up in the first page? References to homosexuals. That is just a hint of how "homosexual" the word "gay" is ... and see how you can use the WWW to start discovering something about usage.

What can a translator do in order to support his or her choice of words? Nothing, if you are, in fact, wrong, or if your choice is dubious given its connotations. Your client is possibly over-reacting but he/she is right in detecting that this is a collocate that is outdated (even if for the wrong reasons).

Finally, as Transparx has pointed out: there is nothing necessarily "negative" or non-"legitimate" about the word "gay".




[Edited at 2007-10-02 19:03]


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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:01
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
mistranslation Oct 2, 2007

Your client is right, Christina. "Couleurs gaies" should not be translated to "gay colours".

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Beatriz Galiano
Argentina
Local time: 01:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
Connotation Oct 2, 2007

Since the translation was into English, maybe this person had a very strong cultural 'resistance' to this word and its meaning nowadays, I dont think it'd be so noticeable elsewhere. Anyway, connotations are important and have to be taken into account, when in doubt, I'd probably avoid it.


[Edited at 2007-10-02 22:03]


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:01
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Two examples Oct 2, 2007

2) What can a translator do in order to support his choice of words?


The same as in KudoZ, substantiate your version by examples.

Here is one from Encyclopaedia Britannica:

A tondo of the “Adoration of the Magi” (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin) is of uncertain date. It combines gay colour with careful realism and has an expansive and accurately drawn landscape background.

However, the following paragraph from the Guardian supports the claim that it can be ambiguous:

"I can't see anything wrong with wearing pink, frankly. To say pink is a gay colour is not only pejorative, it's just plain wrong. Men have worn pink socks since the 1950s, and pink trousers have been around since the 1960s. I probably wouldn't wear all these things at once, but you get my drift."

I believe that it is not ambiguous in your context, and that your version is OK. If the client wants to change it, let him has his way: there is no problem with using cheerful instead. However, making a scandal of this is totally pointless, and expecting a reduction is ridiculous.

Attila


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Erika Pavelka  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:01
French to English
Agree Oct 2, 2007

Marcus Malabad wrote:

Your client is right, Christina. "Couleurs gaies" should not be translated to "gay colours".


Marcus is right. I would have translated it as bright or vivid, but certainly not gay.

Although the word gay does have the meaning you quoted, it is no longer used to mean that. The first meaning that gay conjures up in the minds of English speakers today is homosexual.

The meaning of "stupid" for gay given by transparx was created in the 80s/90s. I remember it being used in high school a lot.

However, I think your client would be a little harsh to deduct from your invoice. All you'd have to do is make a change to the text.

Good luck,

Erika


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:01
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Attila (and Transparx about gay meaning bad: also used like this in the UK) Oct 2, 2007

Attila Piróth wrote:

2) What can a translator do in order to support his choice of words?


The same as in KudoZ, substantiate your version by examples.

Here is one from Encyclopaedia Britannica:

A tondo of the “Adoration of the Magi” (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin) is of uncertain date. It combines gay colour with careful realism and has an expansive and accurately drawn landscape background.

However, the following paragraph from the Guardian supports the claim that it can be ambiguous:

"I can't see anything wrong with wearing pink, frankly. To say pink is a gay colour is not only pejorative, it's just plain wrong. Men have worn pink socks since the 1950s, and pink trousers have been around since the 1960s. I probably wouldn't wear all these things at once, but you get my drift."

I believe that it is not ambiguous in your context, and that your version is OK. If the client wants to change it, let him has his way: there is no problem with using cheerful instead. However, making a scandal of this is totally pointless, and expecting a reduction is ridiculous.

Attila


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Amy Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:01
Italian to English
+ ...
yes, wrong use of term Oct 2, 2007

transparx wrote:

Cristina,

can you explain why and how one of the two meanings would be negative?


Astrid, why would this particular meaning/usage be illegitimate?

***************
BTW, in New York at least, many people now use the word "gay" with the meaning of "stupid." In this sense, it refers not only to people, but also (perhaps mainly) to things --e.g., the movie was so gay.

--words change...
...the phenomenon is called "shift in meaning."



A sensible answer. Thanks, transparx.

The problem for me has very little to do with the homosexual meaning of "gay". The problem is twofold:

1) the term "gay" is inappropriate for your context because in the "nice, bright, jolly" sense it is outdated and not exactly the stuff of top-notch marketing material in 2007. Yes, it's a nice word, etc., but it simply doesn't cut the mustard anymore. Things change.

2) the use of "gay" to mean "stupid/unfortunate" is now just as prominent as (if not more prominent than) the use of "gay" to mean "homosexual", at least among young people here in the UK right now. It's (unfortunately) used when people can't think of a proper insult:
"The band has pulled out of the festival. That's soooo gay"
"Getting a parking ticket is, like, so gay"
"pink and red together is so gay"

Your client has not approached this in the best way. They are right to ask you to change it, but not for the reason they give! Certainly not worth a deduction, but it would depend on your agreement...

The key here is native and current knowledge, and I'm not going down that road now.

Good luck

[Edited at 2007-10-02 18:06]

[Edited at 2007-10-02 18:16]


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craigs
Local time: 23:01
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Too much to expect? Oct 2, 2007

Is it too much to expect that a person have a modicum of culture and class? Maybe so in this case, so go ahead and appease your client if it doesn't hurt much--but don't take any type of pay hit. Stand your ground on principle, but be flexible in practice.

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