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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #21 - Sidney Sheldon

It is very annoying how even the most famous authors who write in English think they can get away with wrong sentences in other languages. Italian, my native language, is almost always abused. Perhaps the authors arrogantly think that they write in any language. Or perhaps they only care about English readers. It is as if many English authors, whether they are from the US, the UK, or Australia, thought that English is the only language worth knowing (and respecting).

I just finished reading Tell Me Your Dreams, by Sydney Sheldon and, once more, I discovered that Italian was butchered (and, actually, German as well).

It’s a pity, because Tell Me Your Dreams is an interesting story and, in general, well written. OK. Let’s go through this Calvary...

On Page 26, “Fra Bartolomeo” is misspelled “Fra Bartolommeo”. It’s a typo, like the one on page 337, where “doz-” appears at the end of a line but “en” is missing from the beginning of the next one. And yet, it is probably not a chance that the incorrect spelling appears in an Italian name.

On page 27/28, Sheldon writes: “And then she thought, Non faccia, lo stupido. Maybe in another lifetime, creep” [Italics in the original]. Sheldon managed to make two mistakes in four words. The first mistake is that there shouldn’t be a comma between “faccia” and “stupido” and the second one is that “faccia” should really be “fare”. The sentence means “don’t be stupid”, although the literal, word-by-word translation from the Italian would be “don’t do the stupid” (which proves that literal translations don’t work!). In English, you wouldn’t dream of placing a comma between “don’t be” and “stupid”, and the same applies to Italian. The second mistake has to do with formal vs. informal addressing: the present subjunctive (“faccia”) would be correct when addressing a person formally, but you wouldn’t do that when addressing a “creep”. For addressing somebody informally in a negative sentence, the infinitive (“fare”) is the correct form.

On page 47, Sheldon writes “I feel dispiace – sorry for her” [his Italics]. The Italian translation of “sorry” is “dispiaciuta”, which is the past participle (feminine) of the verb “dispiacere”, while “dispiace” is a form of the present tense. That said, no Italian would say “mi sento dispiaciuta per lei”, which is the correct literal translation of “I feel sorry for her” (a better expression would be “mi dispiace per lei”), but the mixed expression “I feel dispiaciuta – sorry for her” would have been OK.

On page 87, to the question “How was Quebec?”, Alette replies “va bene” [Italics in the original]. In Italian, “va bene” could have been an answer to the question “come va?” (the Italian equivalent of the Australian “How are you going?” and the American “How are you doing?”). But as an answer to “How was Quebec?”, “va bene” is nonsensical. Perhaps Sheldon wanted to translate “it’s OK”. Then, he should have written “non male” (“not bad”) or “bella” (“beautiful”).

On page 91, in all capitals, Sheldon writes the following sentences with an orgy of mistakes:
Serial killer loose...
Quatres hommes brutalement tués et castrés...
Wir suchen für ein Mann der castriert seine Hopfer...
Maniac di homicidal sullo spree crespo di uccisióne.

The French line is the translation of “Four men brutally killed and castrated”, but “Quatres” should have been “Quatre”.

The German line is the translation of “We are looking for a man who castrates his victims”, but the correct German would have been “Wir suchen einen Mann, der seine Opfer kastriert”. If I have counted them correctly, the sentence as written by Sheldon contains six mistakes. Let’s see:
  1. The verb “suchen” requires a direct object, not an indirect object with the preposition “für”;
  2. “ein” should have been “einen” because “ein” is used with a subject, not with a direct masculine object like in the sentence (i.e., “ein” is the Nominative form while “einen” is the Accusative);
  3. there should be a comma between the principal and the dependent clauses;
  4. in a dependent clause, the verb goes at the end;
  5. the German word for “victims” is “Opfer”, not “Hopfer”;
  6. the verb “kastrieren” is spelled with a “k”, not with a “c”.
Note that German nouns should be written with a capital first letter, but Sheldom (prudently!) wrote in all caps. Otherwise, I’m confident that he would have managed to cram into the sentence one or two additional mistakes.

I’m not sure about the language of the last sentence, but I fear that it was meant to be Italian, because I recognise the three words “sullo” (“on the”), “di” (“of”), and “uccisione” (“killing”, although it should be written without any accent). Perhaps “Maniac di homicidal” was meant to be “Maniaco omicida”. The word “spree” seems to be taken directly from English (like in “shopping spree”). The adjective “crespo” means “frizz”, and I cannot really imagine what Sheldon meant with it.


On page 276, the word “trovo” is spelled “travo”, and the word “pazzo” should have been plural (“i.e., “pazzi”).

Finally, on page 328, the “sweetest” mistake of all: Ashley replies to “My pleasure, luv” with “Minièra anche” [author’s Italics]. This is a real pearl, worthy of Google Translate at its worst. It baffled me for a second, until I imagined that in English the appropriate reply would have been “Mine too”. As it happens, if you forget that “mine” is in this case is a pronoun and translate it into Italian as a noun (i.e., the place where minerals are extracted), you get... “miniera”! The correct literal translations would have been “Anche il mio” (masculine, because “pleasure” translates to “piacere”, which is masculine).

This is gross!

Just for fun, I typed “mine too” into Google Translate and got “anche la mia”, which is the feminine form of “anche il mio”. One could only speculate on why Google assumed that the object referred to by the pronoun “mine” was feminine, but this “gender stuff” is difficult for English speakers... :-)

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:

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