Author Topic: Lost in the English translation  (Read 26756 times)

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4676
  • Karma: +210/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Lost in the English translation
« on: June 01, 2009, 08:38:04 AM »
I'd like to share this interesting question sent in to me by a California-based Filipino:

Hi, Mr. Carillo! I consider myself a student of the English language, and your Manila Times column "English Plain and Simple" ranks very high among the authoritative pieces I regularly rely on to improve my writing. In fact, I can't wait to get my hands on your Give Your English The Winning Edge, which I am informed comes out in a few weeks. My nephew is visiting Manila next month and I've asked him to get me a first edition.
That said, I was wondering if you'd be kind enough to help me with a Tagalog term I am at a loss to translate to English. You see, my wife just had a baby on Cinco de Mayo and we attended a party last Saturday. Not a few guests found our baby girl very cute.  "'Nakakagigil' ang bukangbibig nila." Somebody asked what is "nakakagigil" or "gigil" (as in cute) in English. Many offered theirs and the "translation" that to me came closest was "irresistible," but that term just doesn't cut it. Any suggestions?
My reply:
Thanks for the compliment about my column and my English-usage books!

I'm afraid that "nakakagigil" is one Tagalog word that defies translation into English. (Indeed, the Tagalog-English dictionary that I have on my desk seems to have a very myopic view about the word.) I've asked around and the best they can come up with is "irresistibly cute," but it captures only the positive sense of the word and also misses out on the "pinchable" aspect in the translation. We must also keep in mind that in the negative sense, "nakakagigil" means something is so bad or objectionable that one couldn't help but be uncontrollably but quietly angry over it, as in "Nakakagigil ang hayop na 'yan!" (I can't help but be so angry with that beast!). There's also the aspect of the involuntary gritting of the teeth in "nakakagigil" that, alas, is also lost in translation.

My challenge to everybody: Can you come up with a better English translation for "gigil" and "nakakagigil"?

N.B. The images here are latter-day additions to this feature. (November 22, 2017)
« Last Edit: November 22, 2017, 08:33:06 AM by Joe Carillo »