Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Italian Phrase

I learned a wonderful new Italian phrase yesterday while I was working on a translation project.* The phrase was filo di Arianna. I didn't get it at first. Who was Arianna, and why did she have a string?

After re-translating it, I realized that the name in English was Ariadne, and it was a reference to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It means the solution to the labyrinth, or more prosaically, the blueprint/outline/plan for a project. Its more than just "solution," though. More like, "guiding light."

I think its a lovely expression and I love that this is a phrase that an Italian would just use. (In looking the phrase up online, I found a discussion board where there were Italians who didn't understand that the phrase wasn't easily understandable to everyone. They just knew who Ariadne was and that was it.) I really enjoy mythology (and my copy of Edith Hamilton is well-worn) but I never use mythological references casually. I think most people wouldn't get what I was saying and, even if they did, I think it would make me seem like a snob.

*For those who know me, and are now thinking "Translation? But Lorin doesn't know any foreign languages," here is a little background. The rest of you can feel free to skip it.

In addition to my regular work as an architect, I also serve as the marketing coordinator for my firm. Mostly, this involves writing (proposals, ads, etc.). My firm has an office in Italy and I also coordinate our marketing efforts with them. We're re-doing a lot of our marketing material, and updating our website, so we have been writing descriptions for all of our newer projects and re-writing the older ones as well.

Despite my half-Sicilian heritage, I don't speak, read or write any Italian (except maybe "Ciao! Bella!" from the Italian tradition of "greeting" women on the street), so my counterpart in Italy translates anything they write and then sends me the drafts for review and editing. Usually, it just involves word order or a swapping out a more common word choice. Sometimes, though, their translations are a little rough so I will read through the original Italian to see if I can get her meaning from them, and will frequently plug it into Google translate to see if that can come up with a better word choice. So its not really translating, as someone else does the hard part of actually knowing two languages, but I spend a lot of time going back in forth between the two texts, trying to make the English work, and not just be a literal translation.

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