Wonderful proverbs: the excitement of finding cultural similarities when they translate and differences when they don’t.
I am fond of proverbs and idioms as they reveal so much about a culture and its people. Being a translator, I am particularly interested to see whether they can or cannot be translated, since it provides a glimpse into the differences and similarities of two cultures – in my case the English and the German.
One idiom I was surprised to find in both languages is to give up the ghost, which translates literally into the German phrase den Geist aufgeben. Looks like both cultures believe that there is a spirit in everyday things that throws in the towel when the object breaks down. To throw in the towel, by the way, is equally being used in the German language to admit defeat (das Handtuch werfen) and originates from boxing.
We use another saying – the proof of the pudding is in the eating (or in short: the proof is in the pudding) – to express that you should not judge a book by its cover (oops, another one!) or that you have to experience something before you know its true value. Both the pudding and the book are used metaphorically to illustrate the point.
The corresponding proverb in German, Probieren geht über Studieren, simply states: ‘to try is better than to study’. The same meaning is expressed in a different, explicit way. Could this mean that the Germans have a more practical and the English a rather poetic approach when it comes to appearances and true values? I guess the proof will be in the pudding.