Thought it was time to do another ‘fun with translations’ post! So on part one, we talked about names of creatures, and in part two, we discussed fantasy term translation like ‘adamantine’. In this part, I’d like to discuss translations of something really important to me; techniques. Technique names have to be cool, and a proper sounding technique title makes its wielder sound badass; imagine if Cloud used ‘Hits With Sword Many Times’ instead of ‘Omnislash’, for example!
I spend a lot of time on technique names, and some of the translations, I’m more satisfied with than others. ‘Wielding something heavy as though it were light’ was one of the ones I truly disliked, because it is so long and unwieldy, but there was no other way to translate it; the original Chinese is a pithy 举重若轻, ‘Lift Heavy Like Light’, but in English, it became a monster! I ended up just using the unwieldy translation because I knew it wasn’t too important in the grand scheme of things. I do spend a lot of time on the various ‘Law’ based techniques though, especially on Linley’s special attacks such as the ‘Profound Truths of the Earth’, or as it was known the original Chinese, 大地奥义. 大地 literally translates to ‘big earth’ (I often use ‘world’), so that was easy, but 奥义 was a bit tougher; 奥 by itself usually refers to something that was obscure or mysterious, while 义 means ‘meaning’; combined, 奥义 is often used to refer to something which has a deep, hidden meaning which takes a great deal of thought to understand. I toyed around with ‘Secret Mysteries of the Earth’ and ‘Profound Mysteries of the Earth’ and many more, but in the end, I settled on ‘Profound Truths of the Earth’.
I was fairly happy with that one. But to this day, there is one translation I still am not happy with, and I don’t know how to rectify it. This is for the translation of the ‘impose’ level. The original Chinese character was ‘势’, which has multiple meanings; it can mean ‘power/force’ (noun), ‘influence’, ‘outward appearance’, ‘momentum’, and more. Notice, however, that ‘impose’ is NOT one of the meanings of ‘势’. As used in this novel, ‘force’ is probably the most appropriate translation, because the novel constantly refers to using the ‘force’ of the world and of nature. So why did I choose to translate it as ‘impose’ instead of ‘force’ when even I admit that ‘force’ is closest to its meaning?
Remember, ‘势’ has multiple meanings, and the important thing is, Linley didn’t know which one of the meanings was correct, since the ancestral records of his clan only briefly mentioned the ‘势’ level. This ambiguity about what exactly ‘势’ meant was an important part in Linley’s early development. If I translated it purely as ‘force’, all ambiguity would be lost, and Linley’s ruminations about what ‘势’ meant would sound stupid. For example, there is one line where Linley is wondering to himself, “Could 势 be referring to one’s 势 (outward appearance) when wielding the sword? But how could one’s 势 (outward appearance) make one’s attack power go up?” If I translated ‘势’ as force, that line (and quite a few others) would make no sense! I spent literally an hour searching for the correct word for what to use as the English translation for ‘势’, and in the end, I (unhappily) settled on ‘impose’. As an adjective, ‘imposing’ is usually referred to an eye-catching, dramatic appearance, which matches with Linley’s rumination about one’s “appearance” when wielding the sword. As a verb, ‘impose’ means to ‘pressure’ or ‘force’ someone to do something, which is somewhat related to the correct definition of ‘势’ as ‘force’; in addition, given that ‘势’ entailed using the power of the environment to ‘lock down’ space, I thought the ‘pressure’ component of ‘impose’ also made it a good choice.
So I’ve continually translated ‘势’ as ‘impose’, even though it is, frankly, a mistranslation. But I can’t think of any better way to translate it, which is why I’ve had to let it stand. This has resulted in a number of small editorial decisions; for example, later on, the novel often talks about how ‘势’ meant to ‘borrow the force of the heavens and the earth’; in order to keep the word ‘impose’ in there, I changed those lines to ‘borrow the imposing force of the heavens and the earth’. Again; not happy with it, especially because I hate making editorials to the original text, but I frankly didn’t see an option.
So there you have it! The hidden secret behind the translation of the ‘impose’ level, which I am unsatisfied with. How about you guys? Given what you’ve just read, do you have any suggestions as to how you would have translated ‘势’? Also, just out of curiosity, what do you think of the ‘technique names’ that I’ve been using so far? 🙂