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Aug 7

The Tom Riddle Translation Paradox

Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but intend to, DON’T READ THIS!

Over Sixty Languages and an Anagram in Each!

Let’s imagine a translation conundrum: You have a hugely successful book series’ character’s name that requires translation into over sixty languages. Translators need to capture the gist of the name without being expected to do a literal translation. If fact, they cannot because there is another twist: The name must be an anagram that spells out a clue to the most critical plot point in the series, a clue that resolves a quest that has cost lives and taken years to complete. And, in every one of those sixty languages, the translation chosen must work as an anagram for that phrase that makes sense to a reader in that culture. Got that?

Yes, it’s “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” to quote Winston Churchill’s famous statement about the Russians. The character’s name is Tom Marvolo Riddle and it is an anagram for ‘I am Lord Voldemort’, revealing that an otherwise innocent-appearing character is, in fact, the most evil of wizards (that’s very evil!).

Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort

This translation challenge was met by a host of translators across the globe, most of whom, I assume, are Harry Potter fans! And the results reveal the level of creativity often required to do effective translation and localization:

French: Tom Elvis Jedusor/Je suis Voldemort

Icelandic: Trevor Délgome/ Ég er Voldemort

Slovenian: Mark Neelstin/ Mrlakenstein

And on and on…For a full explanation of the logic behind these and several more examples, visit this article on Bustle.com at https://www.bustle.com/p/13-harry-potter-the-chamber-of-secrets-translations-of-the-name-voldemort-that-make-the-dark-lord-seem-laughable-4064898

I’d like to see Google Translate tackle that task!

Martin Edic

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