爱屋及乌and love me, love my dog

[汉语]

Chatting with a colleague from Great Britain, I used the expression love me, love my dog unintentionally. I didn’t realize that I needed to explain what it meant until he asked me open-eyed. Suddenly I was speechless, because in China it is the most commonly-used example as how to translate Chinese idioms into English. Since native speakers cannot understand, I suppose it could now be ironically regarded as the most classic Chinglish translation.

Then I searched the Internet regarding Chinese idiom translation, only to find that my British colleague cannot comprehend most of their meanings and sometimes even cannot recognize the words. A Chinese idiom is a language phenomenon of a long- used fixed expression, usually with four characters. Very often it is difficult for Chinese people themselves to interpret their own idioms, as they only understand the literal meanings and not the deeper meaning behind them. Therefore, if the idiom is taken in accordance with a simple literal translation, it will not only fail to convey its exact meaning, but will also hamper communications and make people more confused.

In English there are also many idioms that express the same meaning as the Chinese ones. For instance, “to kill two birds with one stone” is the same as “一石二鸟”;”a friend in need is a friend indeed “can be properly translated as “患难之交”; “Work by fits and starts” or “two steps forward, one step backward” can also be considered as a reasonable expression for “三天打鱼,两天晒网“in English. The best approach to these fixed expressions is to accumulate them in your daily lives, and as long as you read them carefully, a lot of Chinese idioms have a corresponding English counterpart.

It is often more intelligent to explain Chinese proverbs. That is, to paraphrase the content of these expressions, even if they may lose their artistic conception and sense of humor. After all, the primary task is to let others understand the conveyed meaning. For example, “不管三七二十一” is best expressed as “regardless of the consequences”. Or we can provide a necessary explanation after the literal translation. “巧妇难为无米之炊” could be interpreted as “even the cleverest housewife cannot cook rice without rice”, followed by a simple but thoughtful explanation such as “without the right materials, no matter how good man is, he may not be able to accomplish the task”. Because people in the Western world eat rice less often, a literal translation retaining the original sentiment and a simple description makes everything much more plain and clear.

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