Cultural Anomalies – Part I

Culture – as mentioned before – is one of the most difficult nuts to crack in the translation process. Recent political changes in Poland have led to a plethora of new and odd words entering the language. Some examples include:

łże-elity,   bure suki,   lumpen liberałowie,   wykształciuchy

How does one set about translating phrases that are very much particular to one culture and not another? Practically all these phrases were coined by a particular group of politicians.

Let us start with the first phrase łże-elity which (to provide a very limited gloss) refers to a group of people who allegedly run the country and have come to power through their deceit. The phrase might be roughly translated as the ‘lying elite. However, it must be added that the Polish collocation łżeć jak pies (‘to lie like a dog’) is worth noting. The implications of this phrase are therefore not positive. Another interesting translation might be the ‘decepto-elite’ (however, this has a rather Sci-Fi ring to it).

The phrase bure suki is once again a reference to dogs and has similar connotations (a dark, shadowy elite) but is perhaps more to the point. It might be roughly translated as ‘dirty bitches’ or ‘drab dogs’. Again, not a nice phrase.

Lumpen liberałowie is another interesting construct which of course is a perverted version of the Marxist phrase lumpenproletariat and thus could be easily rendered as ‘lumpen liberals’ or ‘lowly liberals’ – whichever one prefers.

Wykształciuchy is a controversial formulation which takes the positive word wykształcony (‘educated’) and appends a suffix which has a negative connotation. The meaning is something akin to ‘clever clogs’, although the context is again more sinister – the word is an open attack on intellectuals who believe liberalism to be a worthy political stance. Thus, equivalents such as ‘so-called intellectuals’ or ‘pseudo-academics’ might be more appropriate here.

As always new words and coinages are exceptionally fascinating for translators giving them hours of fun and pseudo intellectual joy.


9 thoughts on “Cultural Anomalies – Part I

  1. As usually, translating culture-rooted expressions is tough and required deep thought.
    as for `wykształciuchy`, maybe something like `schmintelligentsia` would do.
    i wonder why the author implies that the activity of dealing with neologisms is pseudo intellectual.i disagree.

  2. ‘łże-elity, bure suki, lumpen liberałowie, wykształciuchy’

    I take all these as insults and so ‘lying elite’,’so-called intellectuals’ or ‘pseudo-academics’ seem too neutral to me.
    The expression ‘dirty bitches’ has, more or less, equally pejorative connotations, maybe because this could be translated literally

    still, for people not familiar with political/cultural context expresions closests to original would be incomprehensible so that e.g. ‘lying elite’ even if not negative enough could prove more adequate. All depends on for whom we translate, even though some say it should make no difference… should it?

  3. Ursula Nikiciuk:
    “I wonder why the author implies that the activity of dealing with neologisms is pseudo intellectual.i disagree.”
    If you look carefully, the pseudo is striken-out/crossed-out in a feigned (humorous) attack on those who actually believe it to be a pseudo-academic pursuit.

  4. Agnieszka K.K.:
    Most definitely our audience is of utmost importance. The problem with translation is the inevitability of loss and gain and therefore your point of these above phrases being neutral is surely correct, but we perhaps need to lose something (strength/power) in order to gain intelligibility. It is a fine balance which is not always easily found.

  5. to be honest i like the word : WYKSZTAłCIUCHY… after all it is just a word. it might be insultive only is someone is over sensitive…

  6. Wykształciuchy is good, but ‘łże elity’ great. I don’t use them personally, but for sure even if they can insult sb, they in most cases convey the meaning better than normal, polite words and definitions.. 😉

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