Metaphors for translation

James St. André

Table of contents

Given that the original meaning of the term “translation” in various European languages is itself a metaphor (usually for “to carry over” or “to bring over”), it should not be surprising that metaphorical language has commonly been used to describe the translation process in many different cultures and time periods. Indeed, Guldin (2010) argues that the two terms translation and metaphor are deeply homologous, seeing them at once as translations of each other and also as metaphors for each other. The multiplication of metaphorical expressions to describe translation is bewildering in its variety: from witticisms such as “les belles infidèles” (beautiful traitresses) and “traduttori, traditore” (translator traitor); simple and widely applied metaphors such as the translator as a bridge between cultures or translation as the process of pouring old wine into new bottles; positive metaphors such as bearing truthful witness or alchemy; negative ones such as the translator as slave to the author or copyist; passive metaphors such as mirror or conduit; active ones such as maestro or master chef; to more outré ones such as the translator as bumblebee or a blind man describing an elephant.

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