March 17, 2016

“Déjà vu,” “Zeitgeist” and “Chutzpah”: How Translation Services Convey Shades of Meaning In-Between Words

by brenton

There are certain languages that borrow freely from other languages. English, for example, has many words which originated in other languages. “Pajamas” comes from the Hindi word “pyjama” meaning a loose pair of drawstring pants. “Déjà vu” is a phrase obviously borrowed from the French.  We also use words such as “zeitgeist” which comes from German and means the spirit of the age.  Another word that doesn’t originate in English but has become quite popular is “chutzpah” which comes from the Yiddish.  Originally a negative term referring to effrontery or shameless audacity, it now refers to someone who is bold and gutsy. For example, “It took a lot of chutzpah for her, as the only woman, to stand in front of hundreds of men and deliver her lecture.”

Shades of Meaning In-Between Antonyms
These words have served to enrich the English language and have helped English speakers to learn more about the cultural values of people from other parts of the world. They also help us to get at meanings which just can’t be conveyed by the use of English words. There are shades of meaning in any language. Just as there are hundreds or even thousands of shades of grey between black and white, there are also many shades of meaning between say, “good” and “bad,” “mental” and “physical,” “remembering” and “forgetting.”

How Human Emotion Adds Flavors of Meaning
The visual spectrum doesn’t only consist of black and white but also has colors. Similarly, two words may be antonyms and there may be many shades of meaning in between them. But then, there are also words which don’t just lie in the spectrum between two antonyms but also adopt shades of meaning from other words. For example, you may neither remember nor forget a certain thing. Perhaps you remember it vaguely. Perhaps it’s on the tip of your tongue. Perhaps you remember a part of it, but the other part has been blocked or repressed.

All of these options lie in-between remembering and forgetting, but each also has its own flavor. To say that something is at the tip of your tongue doesn’t just mean that you almost remember it. It also implies that sense of frustration you get when you just can’t recall what you’re trying to recall. It implies the coming epiphany when you do remember. Meanings are dependent on facts in the world, yes. But they’re also dependent on human emotion. Contact us for translation services which attempt to convey all the shades of meaning found in your original document.

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