By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
There are black olives, green olives, even purplish olives. There are smooth olives, wrinkled olives, olives stuffed with pimentos or almonds. Some olives are salted, others are packed in vinegar. Some are pitted, others are not.
When one speaks of the color “olive,” one is ostensibly referring to green olives, the shade one finds in a jar of olives at the supermarket that is labeled “green olives.”
If you look through clothing catalogs that offer “olive” colored items, you will see a wide variety of shades, from nearly pastel-colored “pale olive” to muddy-brown-with-a-little-bit-of-green “dark olive.” You will see khaki and true “olive green” that nearly matches the color of the fruit on the tree and in the jar.
Sometimes these variations are differentiated by specifying “light” or “dark.” For the most part, the designation of “olive colored” is vague and can refer to a wide variety of shades of green with an admixture of brown.
When confronted with the word “olive,” a translator must decide if the word refers to a fruit and, if so, which variety, color, presentation and kind of preservative the word “olive” refers to in the item to be translated. If the word “olive” refers to a color, the translator must determine which particular shade is in question.
“Clean up needed on aisle three, a broken jar of Greek olives. Bring a sponge.”
“He worked in an olive grove in the Middle East.”
“She wore an olive gown at the premier of the opera.”
“He choked on an olive pit.”
“There were olive lichens covering the Alpine rock.”
Translating dictionaries and programs cannot put such phrases into context. The above phrases do not specify which refers to the fruit and which refers to the color.
Frequently the precise meaning of a word is made clear by the context. Equally often, it is not. An expert translator must examine the word in particular and the document to be translated as a whole to arrive at a correct translation.
The example of olives is simply an example of the myriad different meanings that can describe a common word, a common fruit, a common color. We’re only talking olives here. But what if the word in question was “Ebola” or “immigration” or an oddly named new surgical procedure or dental prosthetic?
You have to be able to rely on your translator to come up with the correct word and concept. The translator cannot fulfill his commission to his client if he doesn’t know all the various meanings of the word (in this case “olive”) and mistakes a preserved fruit in a jar for the color of an item of ladies’ clothing or a newly discovered lichen in the Alps.
A translator’s linguistic ability doesn’t necessarily guarantee a correct and quality translation. A wide background knowledge is essential in order for the translator to be able to discern differences between words, colors—and olives.
Olive you very much,
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.