Is it a crime to be creative? In some professions, perhaps, yes. Let us take the phrase creative accounting which is a euphemism for cooking the books or illegal accounting. Here, creativity is seen to be negative.
Is creativity something to be avoided in translation? Some may say that a healthy dose of creativity is important. As we established in a previous post (see here), the translator can often be regarded as an co-author and so without creativity any form of translation could prove difficult.
There are those, however, who believe over-creativity to be a danger to translators. Knowing when to use a dictionary equivalent and when to throw caution to the wind and choose something unique is the difference between an average translator and innovative translator (perhaps also between a safe translator and maverick translator). The line between neologism and creative equivalent is indeed a fine one. A few examples will serve to illustrate the point
Let us take the Polish word łże-elity which has been variously translated as ‘lying elite’, ‘false elite’ or even ‘decepto-eltite’ (see previous post). Both all and none of these can be regarded as appropriate yet the word needs an equivalent. We can form a contiuum of equivalents from safe through to maverick (creative) and then choose which one best serves our purposes.
Another example which is often difficult to translate into English is the Polish skrót myślowy whose equivalents, when placed on a continuum, can range from ‘brachylogy’, ‘shortcut in thinking’, ‘mental shortcut’ to the (creative) ‘thought-cut’.
Our ability as translators to be creative is most certainly what sets us apart, and likewise, what differentiates the average (mundane) translation from the interesting (maverick) one.