A Literal Translation Misses the Point

There are just two words in the tiny red flag to be translated – “al” and “punto”. “Al” which is a combination of the preposition “a” and the article “el” means “to the” or “at the.” “Punto” on the other hand has several English equivalents. It could mean point, spot, dot, fleck, speck or speckle which are all related to some degree. Punto can also mean stop, full stop, plank and degree.

“To dot” is indeed a correct translation of “al punto” but in this particular instance however, this literal translation does not apply. The little red “Al punto” flag stuck on the piece of meat actually says how cooked the meat is.

When ordering steak, customers, especially steak-lovers, specify how they want their steak cooked. There are particular terms in English that are used to describe the “doneness” of steaks. These are: well-done, medium-well, medium, medium-rare and rare. In many Spanish speaking countries “Al punto” is the equivalent term used for “medium” which means that the steak is cooked “just right” not too juicy and red yet not well-cooked which in Spanish is “bien cocido.”

Translating signs, instructions and even menus is a serious business. When not done right it can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, dismay and even surprise. Imagine how puzzled a customer would be if he is given “to dot” when he ordered a medium steak!

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