The Trials of Translation– Tricky and Misleading Words

While translating Dessart’s texts, I found some words that were tricky to translate. I’ve listed some of the more amusing ones for your entertainment- enjoy!

Chagrine: The English word chagrine means “sorrowful”. Google Translate thought this was what Dessart meant as well, and I became confused about why Dessart kept describing so many sorrowful wasps. But what Dessart actually meant was “chagrined”, referring to the texture of the wasps. The error in translating chagrine was worsened by the fact that Dessart often describes the wasps as being sombre, which means “dark”; in this case, he means that the wasps are dark in color, not dark in mood.

Alutace: This was one of the first terms that gave me problems. Searches online could not reveal the translation or even the origin of this word. My grandfather dug out an old dictionary from his collection and was able to tell me that the term referred to the texture of book leather. After talking to István, I learned that the term alutaceous is commonly used among hymenopterists to refer to the texture of the cuticle.

Lyrees: It looks like lyre, but words don’t always mean what they look like (take chagrine or sombre, for example). Talking to István, however, we worked out that lyrees could mean “lyre- shaped,” referring to the dorsal sutures on megaspilids which do indeed resemble the shape of a lyre.

Can you see the lyre shape on the back of this Conostigmus specimen from Madagascar? Photo by István Mikó (CC BY 2.0).

Bombées: It looks like “bomb”, right? Or perhaps Bombus, to those bee fans out there? Google translated this word as “bomb” at first, but then I noticed that I forgot the accent over the first “e”, which changed the translation to “bent” or “rounded”. It makes much more sense to have a rounded mesopleuron than an exploding one.

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5 Responses to The Trials of Translation– Tricky and Misleading Words

  1. Colin says:

    I think a better translation of «chagrine» would be “shagreen”, which is pronounced identically in French and English. It is a type of leather and in the descriptions would refer to the cuticle texture. The other translations, «alutacé», «lyrées», and «bombées» are spot on. 🙂

  2. Matt Bertone says:

    Alutaceous is a common term for a texture like that of skin (and then by extension leather I guess). A lot of groups use that especially beetles.

    I also thought “shagreen” was the word as in and perhaps changed between languages.

  3. Joseph F. Muratore, MD says:

    I enjoyed your article. It brought back many memories burning the mid-night oil ,
    searching for the elusive connection between French, English and Latin.
    Thank you for the mental gymnastics.

    All my love,

  4. Neal Evenhuis says:

    Chagrine is often used when shagreen is meant. See here:

  5. Jakob Boman says:

    Yeah… it is not easy… I had a good look at it. It was fun, but I didn’t come up with any good suggestions.

    I often read your blog as I share your passion. However, I’m not at your level:-)

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