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?


  1. Oh, I would love this to be a new holiday...Cucumber Time. I may start celebrating it.

  2. It wouldn't be hard, would it?

    I just wish America had that sensible European idea of taking August off.

  3. A translator might have to add a bit of a context to explain the meaning, the way Mike Mitchell did where Friedrich Glauser would switch from one Gernan dialect to another.

    Looks like a typo in your labels, by the way.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  4. Oops. Thanks.

    Yeah, I think some sort of footnote would be the only way around it, as I don't think there is a comparable vegetable day here that would quite cut it.

  5. Eep, there's s typo in the title, too. The word should end -tijd, not -tidj. (Oddly enough, I found out this week that the weekend doorman/bouncer at my local bar is Dutch. This led to a discussion in which the bar's owner mused upon the difficulty of Dutch pronunciation.)

    A footnote combined with a bit of additional context might do the job -- Mike Mitchell's approach mixed with a bit of Stephen Sartarelli's.

  6. Copying this from notes that I scribbled while at the cash register was probably not the best idea I ever had.

    I still find adding content to the text to be a risky form of translation, but then I suppose all translation is risky in its own way. Certainly Davis would say so.

  7. Mike Mitchell would interpolate something like "`XYZ,' he said, slipping into the Bernese dialect" where the switch in the original was significant and would have been apparent to readers in the German original.

    The interpolation are noticeable but not obtrusive, and he uses them rarely. On balance, I'd say he made a good choice.

  8. I was in Amsterdam for a few months and I liked the language enough to attempt to speak it. Komkommer was one of my favorite words, though seeing here in writing for the first time, I must have been badly mispronouncing it.

    At a dinner with some Dutch travel writers, I learned that twirling your finger at ear level, what I thought of as the American way to indicate that someone was crazy, was actually Dutch in origin. It means that you've got 'windmills in your brain', as in koo-koo-ka-choo.

  9. Windmills. It all begins to make a crazy kind of sense.

    I'm sure you could not possibly have mangled komkommer in speech as I have mangled komkommertijd in the posting of this, Sheiler.

  10. Sheiler

    That would make sense, if the Dutch left that legacy of the ear twirling in NYC it could easily have become thought of as an American invention.

  11. Some members of the cucumber family are dioecious and need hand pollination.

    Complete garden. wordpress has a good link on cucurbits and how to tell the difference between male and female flowers.

    If you have any text in French that is causing confusion, just post a comment on my blog and I'll try to work it out.

  12. Like a circle in a spiral
    Like a wheel within a wheel
    Never ending or beginning,
    On an ever spinning wheel
    As the images unwind
    Like the circle that you find
    In the windmills of your mind

    Yeah--completely ripped off from the Dutch.

  13. Maria, I will definitely take you up on the French help if necessary.

  14. Your Dutch word is the equivalent of the "silly season". In August here the newspapers are full of soft frothy pieces as everyone is on holiday.

    It can also mean slack time in any industry, it seems.

  15. The site wouldn't let me in for some reason, but I'll take a look again later.

    I'm a little out of sync with these seasons, because when you work in a retail operation in a tourist town, the silly season is often your busiest time. February and March are more the ticket, but it's cold and wet and everyone's paying their post holiday credit card bills, so it doesn't usually feel too silly.

  16. I would be interested if the meaning that I've just posted on Widgetinghour has travelled to the US.