Many Words

Snow and Ice


In ‘the many words for “snow”’ tradition, the Italian aesthetic for elegant harmonisation across a creative work finds a challenge in translating the monotony of English conversations as reported in novels: all the many ‘ “…,” he said.’s with the word ‘said’ being said many times.

The same note, over and over, if it were a song.

“[‘ask’ and ‘say’] the repetition of which does not in fact weigh down an English text but is a millstone in Italian”  —  Andrea Binelli, Lingua, semiologia e traduzione dall’inglese, 3rd edition, (2013) [Tangram Edizioni Scientifiche, 2013] (Language, Semiotics and Translating from English), pp 139-140. ISBN 9788864580913

To keep the Italian readable, mirroring the English method won’t work well. Instead, the translator needs to resort to an alternative technique.

“For example, “say”, which occurs 15 times in the same text, can be translated with: dire, aggiungere, fare, uscirsene, affermare, rispondere, replicare, ribattere, chiedere, domandare, annunciare, enunciare, esternare, precisare, spiegare, asserire, riferire, proferire, raccontare, ammonire, suggerire, parlare, considerare, esclamare, e altri ancora.”

—  (Binelli, p 140)

(“said, added, went, ejaculated, came out with, affirmed, responded, replied, returned, asked, questioned, announced, pronounced, enunciated, specified, explained, asserted, referred to, proffered, recounted, admonished, suggested, spoke, considered, exclaimed, and others as well.”)

Note that the nuances of the English renderings of the Italian verbs of speaking, as presented in the translation, are different to the Italian ones.

It is rather like the (pro)position that describing Melville’s language in Moby Dick as sibylline and naturalistic (“sibillino e al contempo naturalista” —  Binelli, p 186) should be Englished as  “enigmatic and at the same time everyday”. No-one uses ‘sibylline’ in an everyday English conversation. ‘Riddling’ and ‘ambiguous’, maybe, and even then unlikely outside a lecture room (or poem, perhaps). And certainly not ‘Delphic’, which goes off in another direction.


Similarly, tradition-wise in the word-fondness sphere, Martian anthropologists might say* (*presuming they speak (to borrow from Eco)) the same thing about the many-worded Earthlings and their appreciation of the nuances of H2O:

water, river, rill, creek, tributary, rapids, lake, pool, pond, weir, canal, sea, seaspray, ocean, wave, roller, tide, cloud, rain, raindrop, sleet, snow, snowflake, snow flurry, hail, hailstone, ice, iceberg, glacier, steam, mist, fog, dew, (aquifer), spring, fountain, waterfall, white horse, whale road, bore, bore water, tea, soup, broth, cordial, wine, juice, (liquid), drink, (thirst), …