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Descriptive Translating of Idiomatic and Set Expres­sions

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5. Descriptive Translating of Idiomatic and Set Expres­sions

The meaning of a considerable number of idiomatic as well as stable/set expressions can be rendered through explication only, i.e., in a descriptive way. Depending on the complexity of meaning con­tained in the source-language idiom, it can be expressed in the target language in some ways:

  1. by a single word: out of a clear blue of the sky раптом, зненацька; to pall and peel (to peel and pall) грабувати/оббирати; poor fish йолоп, бевзь, нікчема; red blood мужність, відвага, хоробрість; to sell smoke піддурювати, підманювати; to set a limit to smth. обмежувати, стримувати; to set at large звільнювати (випустити на волю); to go aloft померти;

  2. undoubtedly the most frequent is rendering the sense of idi­omatic/phraseological expressions with the help of free combinations of words as in: to run amock нападати зненацька на першу-ліпшу людину; school miss школярка, соромлива, недосвідчена дівчина; to sell someone short недооцінювати когось; to sham Abraham удавати з себе хворого (прикидатися хворим); to shoot Niagara вдаватися до ризикованих дій, short odds майже рівні шанси; to sit above the salt сидіти на почесному місці; the sixty-four dollar question найважливіше, вирішальне питання; a stitch in time своєчасний захід/вчинок, своєчасна дія; to go to rack (wrack) ruin

загинути; зовсім розоритися; to go wesW/est пропасти, зникнути, ми і и зі сцени (переносно);

3) when the lexical meaning of an original idiomatic expression la condensed or when it is based on a nationally specific notion/struc­tural form alien to the target language, the idiomatic expression may be conveyed by a sentence or a longer explanation: a wet blanket і иодина або обставина, що розхолоджує; well day (well-day) день, коїіиу хворого не погіршувався стан здоров'я (час між приступами гарячки, малярії тощо); wise behind млявий, що погано міркує; white elephantподарунок, якого важко позбутися (те, що приносить більше турбот, ніж користі); yes man (yes-man) людина, що з усіма згоджується, тільки підтакує (підтакувач); to cut off with a shilling ІіЛишити без спадщини; fight like Kilkenny cats битися до І «ємного знищення; to accept (the Stewardship) of the Chiltern Hundreds (Parliament) скласти з себе обов'язки члена британського парламенту.

It must be added in conclusion that some English idiomatic/set expressions have a rather transparent lexical meaning and are easy for our students to translate into Ukrainian: to treat one like a lord щедро частувати (як лорда) когось, цяцькатися з кимось; with all one's steam/with all speed щодуху, дуже швидко; with a founded air ображено, з виглядом ображеного; with flags flying/with flying colours іріумфально, переможно; with a good reason не без підстав, не даремно; to be ла/f way between something посередені (бути на середині між чимсь), іти назустріч комусь/чомусь; not bom yesterday досвідчений (ужитті).

Depending on the speech style of the passage/work, in which the idiomatic/phraseological expressions are used, and taking into account the nature of them (literary, colloquial, historical) some modi­fications of the above-given methods of translations and even new variants of translation may be suggested by the translator. Neverthe­less, the aim of translation will always remain the same, viz. to fully render in the target language the lexical meaning and where possible also the structural peculiarities, the picturesqueness, the expressive­ness, and the connotative meaning (if any) of the source language idiomatic or stable expressions and this is far from always easy or oven possible. How and with what means it can be achieved will be shown on some examples of rendering the meaning of several na­tional idioms.




As has already been pointed out, some phraseological expres­sions singled out by Acad. V. Vinogradov as unities and having mostly a transparent meaning may reflect various national features of the source language. The latter may be either of lingual or extralingual nature, involving the national images, their peculiar picturesqueness or means of expression with clear reference to traditions, customs or historical events, geographical position of the source language na­tion. Such phraseological expressions are often of a simple or com­posite sentence structure. Being nationally distinct, they can not have in the target language traditionally established equivalents or loan variants. As a result, most of them may have more than one transla­tor's version in the target language. It may be either a regular sense-to-sense variant (an interlinear-type translation) or an artistic literary version rendering in which alongside the lexical meaning is also the aphoristic nature, the expressiveness, the picturesqueness, the vivid­ness, etc. of the source language phraseologism/idiom.

Taking into account the aims pursued and the contextual envi­ronment of the idiom, there must be acknowledged at least two main levels of translating the national idioms:

  1. the level of the interlinear rendering, i.e., sense-to-sense trans­lation only, which is quite sufficient to faithfully express the lexical meaning of most of these phraseologisms/idioms;

  2. the literary/literary artistic level, at which not only the sense but also the expressiveness, the vividness, the picturesqueness and the apho­ristic nature (if any) of the idioms should possibly be conveyed as well.

Faithful translation of national idioms/phraseologisms is mostly achieved via deliberate transformations of all kinds performed by the translator. The transformations are aimed at making the national images, the sense and structure of these phraseologic expressions easier for the target language readers/listeners to comprehend. Such transformations, therefore, adjust in many a case the source language idiom as a sense unit to the requirements of the target language bearers. Here are some examples of translation with the help of transformations of particularly English phraseologisms performed first (1) at the interlinear level which may sometimes be close to artistic level and then (2) at the literary artistic level: the wind cannot be prevented from blowing 1. вітрові не перешкодиш віяти; 2. вітрові не скажеш не


віяти/дути; вітру не затулиш; he that doesn't respect, isn't respected

  1. хто інших не поважає, сам поваги не має; 2. поважатимеш інших, поважатимуть і тебе; it's an equal failing to trust everybody and to trust nobody 1. однакова вада -довіряти всім і не довіряти нікому;

  2. довіряти кожному і не довіряти нікому - однакова вада; the pleasures of the mighty are the tears of the poor 1. розваги всесильних/багатих-то сльози бідних/знедолених; 2. вельможні скачуть - убогі плачуть; що панські жарти, то людські сльози; they must hunger in winter that will not work in summer 1. той голодує взимку, хто не працює влітку; 2. шукаєш влітку холодок-знайдеш узимку голод, or: лежатимеш на печі - не їстимеш калачі.

No need to emphasize that some successful literary artistic translations/variants of specifically national idioms may in the end become regular translation loans of the target language.1

Transformations become absolutely inevitable when the Eng­lish phraseologisms or mots contain a passive voice structure, the introductory it/there, or some other analytical constructions, as for instance, those with the auxiliary verbs (do, does, etc.). Cf.: there is no love lost between them вони недолюблюють одне одного/глек розбили; Does your mother know you are out? Молоко на губах ще не висохло/ще не доріс. Can the leopard change his spots? Горбатого могила виправить. Though sometimes transformations may become necessary to make the denotative and connotative meaning of idioms/phraseologisms easier for the target language bearers to comprehend. Thus, neither the sense-to-sense nor the literary variant of the proverb the moon is not seen when the sun shines (місяця не видно, коли світить сонце/сяє сонце - місяця не видно) can fully express its connotative (and denotative) meaning when the proverb stands for somebody or something eclipsing with his or its importance (fame, size, etc.) somebody or something meant by the «moon». All in all, however, there are few such sentence-type phraseological expressions which need some additional explication in Ukrainian. More often the content of the kind of phraseologisms/ idioms is clear already at language level, i.e., out of context, which enables their literary translation. This can be observed from a few more examples below: what matters to a blind man that his father could see що з того сліпому, що його батько був зрячим; it is too late to shut the stable door when the horse is stolen пізно зачиняти

1 See more about translation loans in: Зорівчак Р.П. Фразеологічна одиниця як перекладацька категорія. -Львів: «Вища шк.» Вид-во при Львівському ун-ті, 1983.


конюшню, коли коня вкрали; when two ride on one horse one must sit behind коли двоє їдуть на одному коні, комусь/одному з них сидіти/їхати ззаду/двоє не можуть сидіти спереду.


  1. Comment on the main lingual and extralingual factors influ­encing the translation of phraseological/idiomatic and set expressions.

  2. Define the nature of phraseological/idiomatic expressions translated by choosing absolute equivalents.

  3. Point out the difference between the absolute and near idi­omatic/phraseological equivalents. Illustrate it with some examples of your own.

  4. Comment on the genuine idiomatic/phraseological analogies. Give a few English and Ukrainian idiomatic expressions of the kind.

  5. Comment on the nature and ways of translating approximate idiomatic/ phraseological analogies.

  6. Comment on the possible ways of translating national idi­omatic expressions. Say, whether the cast iron nature of such idi­omatic expressions can ever be maintained in their sense-to-sense translation.

  7. Comment on the descriptive method of translating idioms. Give examples of some descriptively translated by you English/Ukrain­ian phraseological/idiomatic expressions.

  8. What kind of idiomatic/phraseological expressions are the easiest/most difficult to translate and why? Give your own reasons for that and illustrate your judgement with some examples of your own.


Exercise I. Define the nature of each idiom below depend­ing on the way it is to be translated into Ukrainian:

1. an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth; 2. custom (habit, use) is a second nature; 3. he laughs best who laughs last; 4. let bygones be bygones; 5. like two drops of water; 6. look before you leap; 7. my little finger told me that; 8. a new broom sweeps clean; 9. no bees, no honey; no work, no money; 10. (one) can't see before one's nose; 11. (one) can't say boo to the goose; 12. to pick one's chestnuts out of the fire; 13. a prodigal son; 14. (as) proud as a

peacock; 15. to return like for like; 16. to see smth. with the corner of one's eye; 17. there is no smoke without fire; 18. a tree of knowledge; 19. a voice in the wilderness; 20. to wipe off the disgrace; 21. to wipe one/smth. off the face/surface of the earth; 22. with open arms;

23. with a rope round one's neck; 24. whom God would ruin, he first

deprives of reason; 25. it is a bold mouse that nestles in the cat's ear;
26. fire and water are good servants but bad masters; 27. he who is
born a fool is never cured; 28. beauty is a fading flower; 29. a bad
beginning makes a bad ending (Greek); 30. a full belly makes a dull
brain; 31. the belly is not filled with fair words; 32. bread and circus;
33. fair words fat few; 34. between the devil and the deep; 35. like
water off the feathers of a duck; 36. what is writ is writ; 37. no sweet
without sweat; 38. first come, first served; 39. eyes are bigger than
the stomach; 40. not blink an eye; 41. work like a dog; 42. walk on
air; 43. work one's fingers to the bone; 44. Alpha and Omega;
45. physician, heal thyself; 46. the salt of the earth.

Exercise II. Suggest Ukrainian near equivalents for the idiomatic expressions below. Use part b) of the exercise for the purpose:

a) 1. To kill two birds with a stone. 2. A good beginning makes a good ending (A good beginning is half the battle). 3. To kiss the post. 4. To know as one knows one's ten fingers/to have something at one's finger tips. 5. To laugh the wrong side of one's mouth. 6. To lay something for a rainy day. 7. He that diggeth a pit for another should look that he fall not into it himself. 8. To lick one's boots. 9. Lies have short legs. 10. Life is not a bed of roses. 11. To make one's blood run cold. 12. Measure twice and cut once. 13. More royalist than the king. 14. As naked as a worm. 15. Nobody home. 16. No sooner said than done. 17. Not to lift a finger. 18. An old dog will learn no new tricks. 19. Old foxes need no tutors. 20. To buy a pig in a poke. 21. To play one's game. 22. To pour water in (into, through) a sieve. 23. To praise smb. beyond the skies/the moon.

24. As pretty as a picture. 25. As handsome as a paint. 26. Not to
have a penny/a sixpence/a dime to bless oneself. 27. Not to have a
shirt (rag) to one's back. 28. Not to know A from B. 29. To put spokes
in one's wheel 30. Pride goes (comes) before a fall/destruction.
31. To promise mountains and marvels. 32. One fool makes many.
33. The voice of one is the voice of none. 34. One step above the
sublime makes the ridiculous. 35. On Monday morning don't be look­
ing for Saturday night. 36. As pale as a corpse (as ashes, death).
37. Let George do it.



b) 1. Одним ударом (махом) двох зайців убити. 2. Добре розпочати - півділа зробити. 3. Поцілувати замок. 4. Знати, як свої п'ять пальців. 5. На кутні сміятися. 6. Відкладати щось на чорний день. 7. Хто іншому яму копає, той сам у неї потрапляє. 8. Лизати п'яти (комусь). 9. Брехнею далеко не заїдеш (весь світ пройдеш, та назад не вернешся). 10. Життя прожити - не поле перейти (на віку, як на довгій ниві). 11. Кров у жилах холоне. 12. Сім раз відміряй (одмір), а раз відріж (утни). 13. Більший католик, ніж папа римський. 14. Голий, як бубон. 15. Не всі вдома (однієї клепки не вистачає). 16. Сказав, як зав'язав (сказано - зроблено). 27. Пальцем не поворухне. 18. Старого не перевчиш (вченого вчити -тільки час марнувати). 19. Не вчи вченого. 20. Купити (купувати) кота в мішку. 21. Танцювати під чиюсь дудку. 22. Носити воду в решеті. 22. Підносити когось до небес. 24. Гарна, як квітка (як яблучко). 25. Гарний, як червінець. 26. Не мати шеляга/копійки за душею. 27. Сорочки на плечах не мати. 28. Ні бе, ні ме, ні кукуріку. 29, Вставляти палиці комусь в колеса. 30. Гордість (пиха) до добра не доводить. 31. Обіцяти золоті гори. 32. Дурість заразлива. 33. Один у полі не воїн. 34. Від великого до смішного - один крок. 35. Шукати вчорашнього дня. 36. Білий, як стіна (як крейда, як полотно). 37. Іван киває на Петра.

Exercise III. Suggest Ukrainian single word equivalents for the following English phraseological and set expressions:

1. all for naught; 2. a shot in the blue; 3. a simple innocent; 4. to sink to destitution; 5. the small of the night (the small hours of the night); 6. soft in the brain (head); 7. Before you can say Jack Robinson; 8. mother's strawberry/mark; 9. breathe one's last; 10. by word of mouth; 11. tender years; 12. to the end of time; 13. to the purpose; 14. white liver; 15. will and testament; 16. with a bold front; 17. with a faint heart; 18. with a good grace; 19. with one's tongue in one's cheek; 20. a young Tartar; 21. you try us; 22. as the crow flies.

Exercise IV. Translate the sentences into Ukrainian. De­fine the ways in which the idioms in them are to be translated.

1. «I feel on the top of the world. I feel like a million dollars.» (Maugham) 2. The sole object of their lives is to be always playing with fire. (O. Wilde) 4. Joe felt he wanted putting himself into George's shoes. (J. Brian) 5. Don't talk rot. (D. Cusak) 6. «Don't think I am trying to pry into your affairs,» - went on the politician. (T. Dreiser). 7. «The other chap, Profond, is a queer fish. I think he's hanging round Soames' wife, if you ask me!» (J. Galsworthy) 8. Little Jolyon was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. (Ibid.) 9. Keep your eye

upon him in the meanwhile, and don't talk about it. He is as mad as a March hare. (Ch. Dickens) 10. The proof of the pudding is in its eat­ing. (S.Maugham) 11. A bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. (Ibid.) 12. Walter knew which side his bread was buttered. (Ibid.) 13. Why not cure unemployment by a National Slum Clearance effort, and kill the two birds with one stone. (J.Galsworthy) 14. However, I must bear my cross as best as I may: least said is soonest mended. (B. Shaw) 15. Oh, well, it's no good crying over spilt milk. (S.Maugham) 16. Her absence had been a relief. Out of sight was out of mind! (J. Galsworthy) 17. «He'll never set the Thames on fire»,- said Soames. (Ibid.) 18. «Silly little thing to try to put a spoke into my wheel.» (S.Maugham) 19. The apple of discord had, indeed, been dropt into the house of Millbornes. (T. Hardy) 20. The poor man's alarm was pitiful. His bread and butter was at stake. (J. London) 21. «I shall let sleeping dogs lie, my child.» (J. Galsworthy) 22. The boy is very dear and the apple of her eye. (Ibid.) 23. You've landed yourself in a helpless mess. And I wash my hands of you. (A.Cronin) 24. You know the expression: «She has made her bed, she must lie on /f.«(Ibid.) 25. There is no accounting for taste and actions speak louder than words. 26. «Yes, I couldn't make head or tail of it.» 27. «You can twist her round your little finger.» 28. «Oh, I don't care a hang about that.» 29. «He says you just eat out of his hand.» 30. «By God, if you had, that old hag would have had you out of the play, you're in now before you could say knife.» 31. «She almost wished he wasn't going tomorrow so that she could have the pleasure of turning him out bag and baggage.» 32. And to dare to treat her like that, a twopenny halfpenny little man in the city. 33. «Poor lamb, he must be as poor as a church mouse». 34. «Oh, well, in for a penny, in for a pound.» 31. «I never slept a winkaW night for thinking of you,» he said. 35. «It's quite obvious that you don't care twostraws for me.» 36. «That was quite another pair of shoes.» 37. «After all she must be tolerant, he was only a boy, and if you must cross your t's, she was old enough to be his mother.» 38. «Wish me luck», he whispered, as he turned from her to enter the lift. «It's almost too good to be true.» 39. «She had never seen him in evening clothes before. He shone like a new pin.»

  1. «...she wanted him to have his money's worth.» (S.Maugham)

  2. Ask them - for pity's sake to stop the gramophone. (A.Cronin)

Exercise V. Compare each English idiom with its corre­sponding Ukrainian equivalent below. Offer all possible ways in which they can be translated.

1. like teacher, like pupil; 2. let the dead bury the dead; 3. he



who keeps company with the wolves, will learn to howl; 4. the morning sun never lasts a day; 5. to keep a body and soul together;

6. murder will out; 7. of all birds give me mutton; 8. one could have

heard a pin drop; 9. one today is worth two tomorrows; 10. one rotten
apple decays the bushel; 11. people who are too sharp cut their own
fingers; 12. pie in the sky; 13. pigs grunt about everything and noth­
ing; 14. pitch darkness; 15. to play a dirty (mean, nasty) trick on one;
16. to point out a mote in one's eye; 17. to poison the fountains of
trust; 18. a pretty penny; 19. a pretty little pig makes an ugly sow;
20. to keep one's tongue between one's teeth; 21. to make it hot for
one; 22. to make mince meat/to make meat of smth.; 23. more power
to your elbow; 24. to pull one's leg; 25. every dog has his day; 26. this
is too thin; 27. to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds;
28. a saint's words and cat's claws; 29. one's sands are running out;
30. never bray at an ass; 31. to find a mare's nest; 32. sounding
brass; 33. to talk through one's hat; 34. to talk a dog's (horse's) hind
leg off; 35. to touch bottom; 36. company in distress makes sorrow
less; 37. tit for tat; 38. tomorrow come never; 39. weeds want no
sowing; 40. we got the coach up the hill; 41. what's Hecuba to me/to
you; 42. when bees are old they yield no honey; 43. the wind in a
man's face makes him wise; 44. scratch my back and I'll scratch
yours. 45. To kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Exercise VI. Translate in viva voce the following phraseo­logical/idiomatic expressions, proverbs and saying into Eng­lish. Define the ways in which their meaning can be faithfully conveyed:

1. який Сава, така й слава; 2. що було, то загуло; 3. з ким поведешся, того й наберешся; 4. на світі нема нічого вічного; 5. ледве зводити кінці з кінцями; 6. шила в мішку не сховаєш;

7. найкраща риба - ковбаса /гарна птиця ковбаса; 8. тихо, як у
вусі /чути, як трава росте; 9. не відкладай на завтра те, що можна
зробити сьогодні; 10. одна паршива вівця всю отару поганить;
11. хто сміється, тому не минеться; 12. краще жайворонок у руці,
ніж журавель у небі; 13. людям язиків не зав'яжеш; 14. темно,
хоч в око стрель; 15. підвезти воза /підкласти свиню; 16. чуже
бачити аж під лісом, а свого й під носом не помічати; 17. підірвати
довір'я до себе; 18. грошей добру копійку /грошей дай Боже;

19. всі дівчата, мов квітки, а звідки погані баби беруться;

20. тримати язик за зубами/ ні пари з уст; 21. дати прочухана /
нагріти чуба; 22. не лишити каменя на камені; 23. ні пуху, ні луски;
24. морочити комусь голову; 25. козак не без долі /і в наше віконце

ще загляне сонце; 26. білими нитками шито; 27. служити і вашим, і нашим; 28. м'яко стеле, та твердо спати; 29. недовго (комусь) ряст топтати; ЗО. не водись з дурнем; 31. попасти пальцем у небо; 32. пусті слова/балачки; 33. верзти нісенітницю; 34. наговорити сім мішків/кіп гречаної вовни; 35. узнати/спізнати, почім ківш лиха;

36. в гурті і смерть не страшна /поділене горе - півгоря;

37. око за око/зуб за зуб; 38. обіцянка-цяцянка, а дурному радість;

39. дурнів не орють, не сіють (а вони самі родяться); 40. знайте
нас: ми кислиці - то з нас квас; 41. а яке мені діло/ моя хата з
краю; 42. був кінь, та з'їздився; 43. біда вимучить, біда й навчить;
44. рука руку миє. 45. зарізати курку, що несла золоті яйця.

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