The Translator on the Flying Trapeze

Last week Jessie Chaffee, a gifted novelist who serves as an editor at Words Without Borders, asked me to share a few thoughts on translating humor for a post at WWB Daily. I eagerly offered my two cents and, this week, was thrilled to see them featured among much more valuable contributions from 17 other translators — including Antonia Lloyd-Jones on fishy Polish surnames, Charlotte Whittle on swearing parrots, Jeremy Tiang on a spark of inspiration (“Fire!”), and lots more multilingual laughs!

In my own micro-essay I pick apart a verbal gag from Mikhail Zoshchenko’s Sentimental Tales, so as to to demonstrate “that jokes can teach us an important lesson about translating in general, the lesson of freedom: it’s always best to let one’s mind do a somersault or three before grabbing hold of the trapeze again.” To my delight, the ever-inventive folks at WWB tweeted that quote with a fittingly whimsical illustration.

Translating Acrobats.jpg

Alas, the only thing I have in common with any of those high-flying gents is a relatively well-trimmed mustache…

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