Translation musings: Cherry Stones

May 10, 2016 | First Edition Translations, Language, Literature, Miscellaneous

cherry blossomsTinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Thief –

And what about a Cowboy,
Policeman, Jailer,
Or…Translations project manager?*


I love this poem. Ok, granted, when A.A. Milne wrote Cherry Stones about dreaming what you might be when you grow up, he didn’t specifically mention Translations Project Manager. But here I am and it’s a job I love. One of the reasons for this was highlighted recently in relation to cherry trees.

Did you know there is more than one type of cherry tree? I didn’t. Or that their names could be so confusing. We had to translate Sweet Cherry tree into various languages. Great, we thought, we’ll just get the Latin and work from there. Ah, would that it were that easy. The problem was this: the Sweet Cherry’s Latin name is Prunus avium, the direct translation into English of which is ‘Bird Cherry’. However, the colloquial use of the term ‘Bird Cherry’ in English refers to a different species of cherry tree all together, Latin: Prunus padus. In places the source text was referring to the Latin ‘Bird Cherry’ (Prunus avium) and in places it was referring to the English ‘Bird Cherry’ (Prunus padus). And we had to check that this distinction was kept consistent when translating into the other languages. This may sound like a bit of a headache, but truth be told, this, getting to the heart, the cherry stone if you will, of an unexpectedly complex translation, learning new things about topics you never even knew existed, is one of things that makes translation project management so rewarding for me. Much like cherry trees themselves, languages bloom in beautiful and subtle variety.

Oh, there’s such a lot of things to do and such a lot to be
That there’s always lots of cherries on my little cherry tree!*

*[Extract from Cherry Stones by A.A. Milne]

Guest post by James Stedman from our Editorial Team

Image credit: Lauren Burbank