Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Slang as Marketing Speak

Back in April, the New York Times reviewed a 3-volume dictionary of English slang, Green's Dictionary of Slang. In the article, entitled "Slanguage", Ben Zimmer, a former On Language columnist for the the New York Times, compares Green's Dictionary to the first slang dictionary, Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, first published in 1937. While much of what used to be considered slang has either fallen into disuse or become part of accepted speech, Zimmer notes that the word "booze", for example, has existed as a slangy expression for liquor since the 1500s, yet is still in use -- and considered slang -- today.

This review got me thinking how useful a bilingual edition of a slang dictionary would be for translating marketing text. Some of the marketing texts I sometimes wind up translating rely heavily on "hip" language, i.e., modern German slang. Often that takes the form of pseudo-English words or English words and phrases used with a somewhat different meaning than they have here in the U.S., at least. Finding "real" English equivalents to some of these isn't so easy, particularly if I don't know exactly where and for whom the translation will be used. Slang is, after all, frequently rather local and specific to certain demographic groups.

A printed dictionary seems not the best way to capture the rapidly changing usage that slang represents. However, an online version (preferably free) with suggested equivalent expressions in other languages would be really helpful. I assume that many translators specializing in marketing materials keep their own glossaries of such slang terms and usage for their particular language combination. Now if all of these glossaries could be combined in a searchable database online, translators who only occasionally dabble in marketing speak would be helped immensely. Anyone willing to try to put that together?

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