Two little letters, a translator’s riddle

Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Dear reader,

Last week, we took on a translation puzzle: how to render the English noun fish into Spanish. It turned out that in that language, it matters whether the creature is alive and kicking, so to speak, in the water (in which case it’s a pez), or lying on a dinner plate (pescado).

'me' scrabble lettersThat distinction is absent in English, where a fish is a fish is a fish. But a quick review of a series of other words showed us that neither language should be thought more subtle than the other: for every case like pez/pescado, there’s another where it’s English that makes the distinction (fingers and toes are both dedos in Spanish).

Let’s consider another puzzle: how to translate into English the expression “¡Dios me la bendiga!”  Without the indirect object pronoun me, the phrase would be rendered simply as “God bless you!” (spoken to a woman).

But that little pronoun me certainly complicates things.

In a similar expression, like “Se me murió el perro”, me expresses how personally affected the speaker is by the death of his or her dog. Informal English can convey this with “on me”: “The dog died on me”.

But in the invocation to divine blessing, that phrasing wouldn’t exactly fit. Here the Spanish me is almost untranslatable. But we can convey something of it by rephrasing to something like: “My prayer is that God bless you”.

Good words!


Copyright 2013 by Pablo Julián Davis. All Rights Reserved. A version of this essay was originally written for the March 24-30, 2013 issue of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the “Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation” weekly, bilingual column. Pablo Julián Davis ( is an ATA Certified Translator as well as a Tennessee Supreme Court Certified Court Interpreter for Spanish.


About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

One Response to Two little letters, a translator’s riddle

  1. Pingback: Dos letritas, un rompecabezas de traducción | Interfluency: Translation+Culture

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