Tempus Fugit

Tempus fugit is actually the Latin for “Time flees” and not “Time flies”. You may not think there’s much of a difference but rest assured the difference is quite important. “To flee” is to run away quickly usually from something or some sort of danger. “To fly” is simply to run away quickly. The difference may be in the nuance but that is surely the point. A ripple starts off as a tiny point in the ocean, the wings of a butterfly… etc. Nuances are what make different languages. Semantic ripples are what distinguish a superlative translation from an average one. Yes, “Time flies” does sound better than “Time flees”, but does that mean that the former is a better translation than the latter?


7 thoughts on “Tempus Fugit

  1. Why do you think “Times flies” sounds better? What does it mean to sound better? and answering the question, in terms of translation the phrase “Time flies” seems to be inappropriate. If the task of a translator is to render the meaning, then one should preserve as much from the original as possible. Why to improve? In doing so one looses lots of possible references and associations that a phrase or word might evoke in a reader. It refers also to the very graphic form of a word or its phonetics.

  2. Controversial comment you are making here. Firstly, “time flies” is the phrase that is used in English. Secondly, the translator does not always have preserve the original but ‘transfer’ the original meaning into the target culture, which is not exactly the same. However, it is interesting that you are not convinced…

  3. Firstly, “time flies” is the phrase that is used in English and so not necessarily inappropiate. Secondly, to translate is not necessarily about preserving as much of the original as possible but ‘transferring’ the meaning of the original into the target culture. However, it is interesting that you are not convinced…

  4. I see these posts are somewhat elderly, but this topic brings to mind the issue of translation anyway. How can we possibly understand the nuances of any old language, since language by its nature is maleable.

    Let’s suppose that 2,000 years from now, a person comes across a text in which a person is described at “hot.”

    The most common useage of the term indicates the person would be too warm. But right now, “hot” can also mean sexually attractive, or someone who has had a successful streak of events in their life.

    Conversely, if you say a person is “cool” – maybe it’s the temperature (you are so cool), maybe it’s the person’s attitude (you are so cool), maybe it’s approval of the person (you are so cool)- I’m sure there are other conditions, but you get my drift.

    So, tempus fugit might be time flees or time flies or time runs away, or … we really have no way of understanding the nuances of the useage at a given point in time because, quite simply, we weren’t there. So translation will always be subjective.

    1. Thank you, Reader. However, if we take your approach we will always ‘defer’ judgement and always be unwilling to come up with an answer because ‘translation is subjective’. Perhaps, it is more useful to have an opinion on a phrase and then delve deeper. Or, of course, first delve and then have an opinion.

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