Word confusion
Thread poster: Henry Hinds

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:35
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 11, 2008

In recent days I have come across a number of examples where the author of a text to be translated has apparently become confused and put in a word that is totally out of context, thus causing the translator to tear his or her hair out trying to figure out what is really meant. Often the dilemma can be solved by looking for a word that sounds almost the same that does fit the context and pointing out a probable error in the original. Of course that process is not so easy, the word just has to come to you as a proper, similar-sounding substitute for what is apparently the wrong word.

Examples: participate - precipitate, decision - precision, decencia - secuencia (Spanish), etc.

The word "malapropism" comes to mind, which is commonly a device used by people for creating comic situations and getting a good laugh, but what I refer to here are cases where the writer has unwittingly used one word for another and made an unintended error.

Are there any other terms that would be more specific to the error situation perhaps used by either linguists or psychologists? Finding a term for it won't make our work easier, but at least it may help our credibility by making us sound more scholarly when we mention it. Or if not, it would be fun to know.


William Pairman  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:35
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
Its a form of metathesis I think Jun 11, 2008


Sounds impressive anyhow!

Reminds me of a quote by the late great Kurt Vonnegut regarding translations of his work:

"Translators are people who take what I have written and express it better"

Or words to that effect


madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:35
Swedish to English
+ ...
Prescottism in the UK Jun 11, 2008

But just as with Bushism, it has more to do with invention rather than misuse.

Sorry - not really a reply to your question, but the first thing that came into my mind.


patyjs  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Or... Jun 11, 2008

the written equivalent of a Freudian slip, perhaps.

As you point out, Henry, we tear our hair out because the first thing we assume is that it is a valid term that we just haven't come across before, and so we spend valuable time trying to find references to it in the right context. Then, as a last resort, we throw it out to our Kudoz colleagues who usually come right back with an obvious typo, humbling us no end!

But some, as you say, as more than just typos, which usually involve just one letter. BTW, in the case of decencia - secuencia, the client still hasn't got back to me, but I'll let you know.



Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:35
Member (2008)
French to English
I have heard it called terminology drift Jun 11, 2008

In dog training manuals: "I used a liver treat to illicit a sit" e.g. The sad part is sometimes these things end up in dictionaries after a few years of being incorrectly used. It seems to happen all the time in English and is easy enough for a native speaker to figure out, but I can imagine it would be quite a headache in an acquired language. I will have to remember this discussion next time I am tearing my hair out over something.


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:35
German to English
Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons Jun 11, 2008

malapropism - ludicrous misuse of a word by confusion with one that sounds similar.

Constable Dogberry uses malapropisms in "Much Ado About Nothing" because he had very little education. He just doesn't know that apprehended is the right word in the example above. I think your authors were just being careless.

1. “You are thought here to be the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the constable of the watch” (3. 3. 11).
2. “True, and they are to meddle [mingle] with none but the prince’s subjects. You shall also make no noise in the streets; for, for the watch to babble and to talk is most tolerable [intolerable] and not to be endured” (3. 3. 15). Note: The use of for, for after streets is as Shakespeare wrote the words. The first for is a conjunction and the second, a preposition.
3. “Truly, I would not hang a dog by my will, much more [less] a man who hath any honesty in him” (3. 3. 25).
4. “Adieu: be vigitant, [vigilant] I beseech you” (3. 3. 36).
5. “Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter: an old man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt [keen], as, God help, I would desire ....they were; but, in faith, honest as the skin between his brows” (3. 5. 9).
6. “Comparisons are odorous” [odious] (3. 5. 11).
7. “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended [apprehended] two a[u]spicious [suspicious] persons" (3. 5. 23).
8. “Is our whole dissembly [assembly] appeared?” (4. 2. 3).
9. “O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption [perdition] for this” (4. 2. 32).



patyjs  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not quite in the same vein as Kim's post, perhaps, Jun 11, 2008

but this thread has brought back many memories of my dear old Mum who, bless her heart, clocked up a whole list of these, especially as she got older. I particularly remember her asking for Helter Skelters (Alkaseltzer) when she had an upset stomach and the unforgettable time she told us, in her late 60's and with an unshakeable Northern England accent, about her gentleman friend's "smashin' new condom" (condo). It's true, I was there.



[Edited at 2008-06-11 20:49]


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:35
French to English
+ ...
Metathesis is something more specific Jun 11, 2008

Generally, "metathesis" is used to refer to segments of a word being interchanged or changing order, especially as a process of language change. An example might be Latin "cRocodilus" -> Spanish "cocodRilo".

The term "Spoonerism" is sometimes used to refer to the accidental swapping of segments in a particular utterance (rather than as a process or result of change, although it's almost certainly an underlying mechanism). It's a common type of speech error that appears to occur particularly between two syllables or parts of syllables with a similar structure, e.g. two syllable onsets consisting of stop-plus-liquid (pl- and pr-) interchanging ("plint the praylist" rather than "print the playlist").


Translation-Pro  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:35
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Voice Recognition Software? Jun 12, 2008

Hi Henry,

I guess sum users off voice recognition soft where don't proofread there texts.


Have a nice day!



James (Jim) Davis  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:35
Italian to English
Stupid spell checker Jun 12, 2008

Hi Henry,
The language we create is extremely complex and it is therefore easy to make mistakes, like spoonerisms and malapropisms, when we produce it.
However, now that computer word processing programmes (still light years behind the human brain) are more complex, they have started to make mistakes more like the type we make. Sometimes when they correct a mistyped word they are guessing and they can often guess the wrong word. You get things like "mad in Italy" instead of "made in Italy" or I have even seen an unfortunate "arse" instead of "are". It happens when the typo produces a word which is closer to another word than to the intended word. Human typing errors are more likely to be something with no meaning (I first typed that as "meaining") except for extremely expert typists who might produce spoonerisms or malapropisms with their hands as well as their mouths. Computer spell checking mistakes are likely to be correctly spelt words that are completely out of place, just what you are experiencing. The term for it "inefficient spell checker" to be kind, or the title of my reply to be unkind.


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