Sunday, November 13, 2011
komkommertijd--cucumber, part 2
No, I am not about to start confessing my ignorance of foreign words--or maybe I should just confess straight out that I am ignorant of them. The number of them of which I'm not ignorant, is, statistically speaking, too small to count.
But in a recent post on the humble or not so humble cucumber, the multilingual Peter Rozovsky managed to fit in a Dutch cucumber joke. I was very surprised, then to find yet another reference to the Dutch komkommer, since I read pretty much exclusively in English. I happened to be reading a very interesting article in The Paris Review by Lydia Davis on the art of translation in general and her task of translating Madame Bovary in particular. I can't link to the article, but I'm happy to report that I think most of it was done as a series of blog posts here . (You'd start at the bottom with the oldest entry.)
Anyway, I can't quite remember the context since the book she is discussing is written in French but in talking about the difficulties of translation, she mentions komkommertijd, which in Dutch literally means 'cucumber time'. To just translate it as 'cucumber time', though, would not reveal its meaning. Davis says that it is the time in August when everyone is away and not much work gets done. It is also the time when Dutch farmers harvest cucumbers. The Dutch would understand the references to both in the word, while most of us wouldn't have a clue of either. How would you get that across?