Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hands down

Sometimes, in a flow of familiar words and expressions, you hear something new, something you are sure you have never heard before, yet something so appropriate, so fitting, that, after marvelling for a while at the beauty of the word, you immediately adopt it.

Last week, I was listening to Dick Fleming, one of the most seasoned interpreters working for the European Commission, interpreting a conference about interpreting. He was interpreting from German, a language which I understand enough to get the main idea and to appreciate the main structures, but not enough to follow a complex argument.

The speaker was describing main qualities necessary to train the aspiring interpreters and also to train the trainers of these aspiring interpreters (which is known as training of trainers). These qualities are not the same, the argument went, that you need to do philology, literature, linguistics, and other related subjects. For example, the trainers in Central and Eastern European Universities are often much better prepared and far more advanced in these purely theoretical subjects, the speaker said in three or so German sentences.

'In linguistics', interpreted Dick into English, 'they beat us hands down.' I had never heard the expression before, but the meaning was obvious: easily, without efforts. Of course, later I asked Dick about the expression and also looked it up in my biggest English dictionary. Hands down comes from horse racing, as you will find in the Mavens' Word of the Day.

They say that a good interpretation improves the original, and it was exactly what Dick's did. It was short, elegant, to the point. And, as they say it in German, it was der passende Ausdruck.

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