There’s the rub ‘n’ Qui casca l’asino?

Written by J.D. Ian Barton & Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano;
© (2017)

In order to make our point it is necessary to review a few lines from Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy:

To die — to sleep.
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub! […]

There’s the rub is, in this example, rendered into perfect Italian by questo è il problema!

Cultural Background

It is a well-known fact that a donkey (asino) usually carries loads and is a very sturdy animal and a good climber too. Therefore, if something makes a donkey fall or trip (cascare/inciampare) it is caused by a major hurdle – a “stumbling block.” However, if you have a lady friend just like myself who tells you that ‘I would have married him but his character was a stumbling block for me’, then you are unable to translate into Italian the idiom ‘stumbling block’ with ‘casca l’asino’.

In Italian schools, pupils who are not overly committed to learning are labelled ‘asini/donkeys’. Therefore, when a teacher asks a difficult question the answer to which could easily be provided in the case where one student had properly prepared and no pupil replies correctly, it is said that there is a donkey stumbling/falling/tripping […] e qui casca l’asino!

La goccia che ha fatto traboccare il vaso
The straw that broke the camel’s back

He wanted to marry her, but she was not Jewish, and his parents objected. He was not rich enough, so her parents objected. Then, it was clear that she wanted to relocate […] that was the straw which broke the camel’s back (that knocked over its back) […] questa è stata la goccia che ha fatto traboccare il vaso.

The point to be made

When translating from one language to another – that is from one culture to another – it is appropriate to consider the cultural connotations and denotations that words and expressions can acquire when translated into new contexts and backgrounds. Solutions to translation problems are to be found when considering these issues and there are no ‘fixed’ terms to be applied as a skeleton key. That is why any meticulous foreign language professional reads and learns the history, the literature, the philosophy and the grammar of the languages that are the subject of his work.

Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano
Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano

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