Mistranslation - Wines and Spirit

Shades of “The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak”

One famous mistranslation has been made with the phrase “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This was taken from the Bible, and one translation – supposedly Russian – had it this way, “The wine is good, but the meat is bad.” This also goes along the same lines. “Spirits” from the above phrase has its roots in the alternative word for alcohol. It is also a fairly common sign for a liquor store. A possible translation should have been “gwinoedd a gwirodydd” for wines and liquor. Translating a phrase like “wines and spirits” from English to Welsh, does result in a mistranslation – “wines and ghosts (spirits)” instead, in the same way the sign above has been mistranslated.

“Spirits” is one of those words that are usually literally translated. It is an easy mark. English itself is strewn with a lot of possibilities for errors, specifically, words that have multiple meanings, all derived from different uses of the word. The popularity of plays and songs, and the way words replace one another is just one source of a definition. When a word is used in a poem, to stand for another, or to have a different meaning from the original, it usually gives more gravity to the occasion, whether it is a line from a play, or used in a particular stanza in a poem, or even for a speech. Words, used in widely differing instances, lend to more power, which leads it to have more uses.

Welsh has its roots in Celtic. There are few languages now still existing that have the same roots. As a part of the United Kingdom, it is to be expected that the Welsh would know English and be fluent in it. The English, however, are not expected to know Welsh. Translating from English (or any language) to Welsh, requires due care in the choice of words. When translating words that have been used for a very long time, it would be wise to check up on other possible word definitions; maybe that would work.

There are a lot of famous native Welshman, including Academy Award winning actor Anthony Hopkins, the late Richard Burton, singer Tom Jones, and actor Ioan Gruffud. For those outside of the UK, they would not be able to distinguish a Welshman from an Englishman. However, Welsh have deep roots, and an even stronger following, where they strive to continue the use of the Welsh language. The use of bilingual street signs is just one of these. It is a disservice to the Welsh whenever common signs such as these are mistranslated, whether they be from English to Welsh, or from Welsh to English.

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