Saturday, November 20, 2010

"At Long Last Fit and Lean" - Part 2

We're continuing to examine the possibilities for better translations of the title Slow Fat Triathlete into German than "Endlich Fit und Schlank" or "At Long Last Fit and Lean." I checked in with Germanist buddy Will and Comp Lit guru Anne, and after initial shock, they got down to thinking of possible candidates and analyzing the ins and outs of each. I found this to be endlessly informative and amusing, so here are some more gems from the email thread.

I offered, "Another phrase that was considered as an original title was The Imperfect Triathlete – maybe that would be easier for them to digest, as it were?"

Will: Sure, "imperfect" has potential. It does have a variety of possible German equivalents, and I'm guessing of the two plausible ones for this context, "imperfekt" would be preferred to "unvollkommen." The latter term is much more transparent to the average German and does seem to get used in some contexts implying acceptance (see or , my new favorite German reference site), but I would worry that "unvollkommen" can also go in the direction of "faulty" or "inadequate," a bit more connotation of "coming up short" than you want. It's just a question of whether the Latinate "imperfekt" sounds intimidatingly learned or is sufficiently naturalized now not to. Obviously you aren't the one who needs to decide this; I'm just wondering what they'd pick. "Triathlete" will presumably have to be gendered in German -- not "der Triathlet" but "die Triathletin" -- which is not ideal, but that's translation for you. Maybe you can tinker with alternatives using "triathlon" instead if you want to avoid this. It seems conceivable to me that some "headline-style" title could use "Triathlet" as a common-gender noun, like if your book were instead a different book that could be called "Triathlet wider Willen" (Triathlete malgre soi, willy-nilly triathlete), but actually I can't be sure whether they might want "Triathletin" even there. Hm. "Triathlet im Stubenhockerkoerper" : Triathlete in a Couch-Potato Body. Mit (some kind of ) Koerper zum Triathlon! We'll keep at it and see if we can find something.

Me: Oh, I love Triathlet im Stubenhockerkoerper! Can we do that? Or how about “Triathlon for Couch Potatoes”? Then they could even use the subtitle verbatim and it would work.

Will: Triathlon fuer Stubenhocker!

Anne: wild applause!

But now Anne's brilliance takes center stage:
Anne: Maybe Jayne should have a few great options, just to make sure "endlich fit und schlank" is buried buried buried? I really, *really* like Triathlon fuer Stubenhocker. But if they say, refusing to see the humor: "but Frau Williams is inviting people OUTSIDE! They aren't really Stubenhockers anymore if they're triathletes!" Then . . . maybe something like "Triathlon: Komm, wie Du bist!" -- or something along those lines, getting the "in the body you have now" side of the equation across??

Sofa spuds are apparently a little different in Germany? But "Triathlon: Come As You Are!" is awesome.

Will: Yes, I do see Anne's points, absolutely, and had myself been worrying about Stubenhocker: Stube is "room," and on the small, stuffy side of "room" even. Hocken is to crouch or squat, with some of the same connotations of immobility and possessiveness as "squat." So it really does convey a hard-to-dislodge indoorness. I suppose at worst it cd suggest your book is a guide to watching triathlon on TV. Now, "Couch potato" does show up in German too. "Die Couch" is an old German word and needs no glossing for anyone, so the question is just how familiar this idiom is, and how the plural is formed -- very likely it'd be "fuer Couch Potatos," Dan Quayle notwithstanding. Komm wie du bist neatly sidesteps all of this, though!

So "Triathlon for Those Who Squat Immobile in Smallish, Stuffy Rooms" might actually not be the best title. Dang. Cause that was sounding pretty cool to me. But wait, there's more! (It's so awesome that Will is on leave this semester.)

Will: Okay, it turns out that "die Couchpotato" and "die Couch-potato" (Duden prescribes hyphenation, but the outcome of Swiss Orthographic Conference deliberations on this point was that the spelling should be changed to a single word without a hyphen -- yes, really!) are very common in the Internet and seem likely to be recognized by nearly all readers. Very strong association to TV watching, which I guess the English word has too? There also exists "die Sofakartoffel" (no one suggests that one should have a hyphen), which is attested all the way from bodybuilding bulletin boards on up to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Munich's main newspaper) and indeed Deutschlandradio (the most intellectual radio station in Germany, which makes the snootiest public radio in the US sound like pabulum) -- but despite this range, the number of hits for "Sofakartoffel" is much smaller, probably because Germans are powerless to stop their instinctive need to become cooler by using English words. The plural is definitely Couch(-)potatoes, sorry to have misled -- see Duden . The verb for triathlon in German? "Triathlon machen" does seem to be in use, which has to be the best for you. (Beyond that it seems like "durchfuehren" comes up -- to "carry out" or "perform"; "versuchen" (to try) is not quite the same thing; "erleben" (to experience) is common but again not quite the same meaning.) I'm actually feeling a bit like I like "Komm, wie du bist" even better than all of these. Not you? The command-style version in German would probably be something like "Couch-potatoes: Auf zum Triathlon!" What this doesn't capture, what none of these capture, is the sense that Step 1 isn't going to be "spend two years dieting and going to the gym before undertaking step 2." The "body you have now" is missing...

Wow. This is serious business, yes? We haven't even gotten to the subtitle yet. Once again, Anne chimes in with a spate of creative oomph.

Anne: I notice they weren't even too excited about "triathlon" in the title. How about something like Wettlauf für Couchpotatos: Komm, wie du bist!
Couchpotatos in Bewegung: Komm, wie du bist!

Die unwahrscheinlichste Sportlerin: lache dich fit!

(Just trying to think slightly out of the box here.)

I had to use Google translate to figure these out, since my German is less than rudimentary. I would perhaps render them as:
Racing for Couch Potatoes: Come As You Are!
Couch Potatoes in Motion: Come As You Are!
The Unlikeliest Sportswoman: Laugh Yourself Fit!

Will: Ooh, I really like #2 and #3 here! "Unwahrscheinlich" is excellent.

I liked them too. And there will be more, but not today. Do I have awesome friends, or what?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

At Long Last Fit and Lean! Or, Lost in Translation in Germany

About two years ago, I had some correspondence with a woman in Germany who expressed interest in publishing Slow Fat Triathlete in German. She had been having some trouble getting in touch with the right people at Da Capo, so I put her in touch with someone and thought no more of it. So I was startled to receive the following email from my editor a couple of weeks:

"Jayne, please see below - ok by you? Thanks and hope all's well-- R

-----Original Message-----
From: TJ
Sent: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:02 AM
To: RS
Subject: RE: SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE by Jayne Williams

Hi Renee,
Could you check with the author to see if this title is alright? I think it makes sense and we usually encourage authors to trust the publisher that they have the best interest of the book in mind.

From: AF
Sent: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 6:38 AM
To: JS
Cc: IA
Subject: SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE by Jayne Williams

Dear Jennifer,
Further to my last email correspondence concerning this agreement of 05/08/2008 I am pleased to announce that the publisher finally confirmed publication of the German edition for January/February 2011. They would like to change the German title to:
ENDLICH FIT UND SCHLANK - SO ERREICHEN SIE IHR ZIEL which translates back into English as:
At Long Last Fit and Lean - This Is How You Reach Your Goal

A literal translation of the original could be misunderstood and could deter potential buyers. I agree. Please let me know whether I may give them the thumbs up for this title.

All best

Hmmm.... Really? At Long Last Fit and Lean???? This Is How You Reach Your Goal???
I think NOT. I mean, c'mon, man! Does the world need another diet and fitness book? Do the Germans? My instinct in all things writerly is to turn to my friends Will and Anne. Conveniently, Will is Chair of Modern Languages at Boston University and teaches courses on translation from German to English. Anne is the best writer I know and also speaks excellent German.

Here's some of what I got back from Will:
Holy Crap! What idiocy.(...)

Back to why this is a hard query to answer: it does seem possible that the effectiveness of "slow fat triathlete" as a title really does depend on all sorts of cultural particulars that won't transfer to Germany. Some forms of Anglophone irony, and self-ironizing stances, are not so readily perceived by Germans, in my experience; and while "slow fat triathlete" isn't exactly irony, the Germans' failure to understand this title seems to me a related point somehow. There's also a cultural earnestness to the whole topic of "Wellness" (yes, that's a German word) in Germany that may be working against you here (since doubtless the German publisher means to have you shelved in the "Wellness" section) and a slightly different relation to fat and fatness -- German cheeses are still promoted in supermarket PA announcements by how very high their fat content is, for example, and obesity is thought of there as a typically American problem. At the same time there is a giant industry of healthy foods and health regimes, and doubtless dozens of prior books titled "'Endlich fit und schlank" have sold very well. I'd expect that the culture of races and tri clubs is noticeably different in Germany too; don't Germans have a much sharper sense of whether or not they belong to an organization than Americans do? I always feel like there's much less room there to drop in and out or just show up at events without further commitment, though maybe it's changed in the world of sport. Anyway it's all very complicated and I am certainly not one who understands it all."

One solution for the title might be for you to find or adapt a phrase from your book or marketing blurbs that is straightforward, that really means what you believe -- the subtitle, e.g., would be great except that it's too long and translated imperatives can stumble over the du/Sie problem -- and we or they could try to translate that, whatever it is. (Incidentally, it seems awkward that you are 4-5 e-mails removed from the people who are trying to decide on the German title -- no chance you could get into some more direct discussion with them or their representative?) Or if straightforwardness is disappointing, find something snappy/funny but whose snappiness seems likelier to be exportable than "SFT" is. Letting go completely of the English title is a good first step -- Germanizations of English film and book titles very frequently lack any connection at all to the original titles, and you have to start from zero. It's an interesting challenge. But it's extremely hard for us to solve without knowing a lot more than we do about German body culture, self-improvement culture, humor, images of athletes, book sales in this sector, etc. etc. The fact that we can't know even a fraction of what we need to know makes me think the best way might be something that is a little more straightforward and less witty than you would usually like to be but at least represents your book accurately.

Or Anne can just come up with a zingy German title that slices clean through these Gordian deliberations!


PS The "Ihr Ziel" in the Awful Title's subtitle is, as you remember, the formal "Sie" form for "your goal." The tone of your book is so much about friendly informality that on me the "Sie" grates almost as much as the main title. There are many books addressing readers as "du," humor books especially, and I'd hope yours will be one of them. But this really is so contextual that we may not have much sway (if, e.g., Wellness or Fitness books are 100% "Sie" by convention).

PPS I'll be teaching my German translation workshop again next year and I'll have to use this as an example for discussion. Too rich.

I am starting to realize that this post is going to have to be continued, as it was quite a long dialogue. However, I found it so amusing and interesting that I really want to share the whole flow of it with y'all. So stay tuned for Anne's zingy suggestions and further discussions of what a couch potato is in German.