Why “Poisson d’avril” Is Not “April Fish”

April FishMost people would agree conceptually that word-for-word translations are not the way to go, yet so many clients go looking for the original French in the English translation just to make sure nothing was left out and no mistakes were made. This could potentially lead to better translations if the client and translator work as a team, but it can also lead to translations that sound way too much like the original.

Here are some examples of translations that are better off not being taken literally.

Example No. 1

French: Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués

English: Sincerely  

At first glance the English seems to be missing a bunch of words. But it’s not. That’s just how we role in English—we like to keep things short and to the point.

Example No. 2

French: faire marche arrière

English: reverse

You could translate it as “make it go backwards,” but why confuse everyone.

Example No. 3

French: à partir de

English: from

“Starting at” works too, but a simple “from” will usually get you where you need to go.

Example No. 4

French: Attention: chien méchant

English: Beware of dog

Sometimes it’s not a matter of looking for “lost” words, but opting for the less literal, more idiomatic phrase. “Warning: mean dog” just doesn’t pack the same punch as “Beware of dog.”

Example No. 5

French: Poisson d’avril

English: April Fools’ Day

Try saying “April fish!” to someone today to see why literal translations don’t make sense!

Have any examples? Share them with us!

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