Dare to Read

December 3, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey. A Title Lost in Translation

Filed under: On Traslation — carmenferreiroesteban @ 3:27 am
Tags: ,

by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Cincuenta sombras de Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey)

Fifty Shades of Grey has been a commercial success in Spain and I’m sure nobody, but me, cares that its title has been mistranslated.

Yet this bothers me.

Being a writer I know how much work goes into finding that perfect title. Being a translator I know how difficult it is to translate not only the words but also the meaning of those words. And I know that in this case, in the Spanish version, the meaning has been lost.

Even though I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m aware that Grey is this incredibly handsome, filthy rich tycoon with a penchant for quirky love making. He is the brooding hero, the irresistible ‘bad’ boy. But for all his defects he is not beyond redemption because his act hides a hurt and troubled soul. Thus the fifty shades the title mentions. Fifty shades of grey as in “it’s not black and white.”

In this context “Shades” means “Nuances” or “range”. In Spanish that would be “matices”.

In English “shade” also mean “area of darkness”. As in “in the shade of a tree.” This kind of “shade” in Spanish is “sombra” and “sombra” is the word the translator wrongly chose. As “Sombra” also means “shadow” in Spanish, the Spanish title translates back to English as: Fifty Shadows of Grey. Not exactly the same, is it?

IMHO, Fifty Shades of Grey should be called in Spanish, Cincuenta matices de Grey.

But even then the translation would not convey the complete meaning of the English title because “Grey” is a name and also a color. We could translate the color to “gris” but then Mr. Grey would have to be Mr. Gris. So the equivalent in English of the Spanish translation would be: Fifty Shadows of Gris.

Would an American know what this means? I don’t think so. Nor do Spanish-speaking people understand the meaning behind the Spanish title, Cincuenta sombras de Grey. That didn’t stop them from buying the book.

But as a translator and writer it bothers me.


  1. Love this. Smiled the whole time I was reading it. Why does it bother you? Because you are a writer and, as such, are in love with words and endlessly fascinated by their possibilities.

    Comment by Sandra Carey Cody — December 3, 2012 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  2. Exactly. You read my mind and put it in words beautifully.
    It takes a writer to understand one.
    Thank you, so much.

    Comment by carmenferreiroesteban — December 3, 2012 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  3. Miss Carmen,
    I am in complete agreement with you. The English title is so very clever. As it has been translated, the meaning is twisted and the cleverness is lost. I would have translated it as “Cincuenta Tonos de Gris” and changed the name in book. Hell, just put a translators note in the beginning of the text.

    But, then again, American culture is so abrumador, nobody seems to care, ¿eh?

    Comment by Luis Escobar — March 23, 2014 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  4. No, Carmen, you’re not the only one who worries about it. Pero “Cincuenta matices de Gris” seguro que habría vendido menos que el sombrío título que se usó.

    El caso es que, en el mundo del diseño y la impresión, hay distintos tipos de variedades cromáticas: “shades”, “tints”, “hues”, “tones” se traducen respectivamente como “sombra”, “tinta”, “matiz” y “tono” (vale, podían haber sido más afinados, pero quiero decir que no valdría matiz para todos). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tints_and_shades Mi conjetura es que la traducción usada para shade vino de ese mundo.

    Comment by dalet — April 1, 2014 @ 3:38 am | Reply

  5. Carmen, you’re wrong in thinking that you’re probably the only bothered by the faulty translation. I’m bothered by it too. Don’t care about the movie but care about the poor translation of the original title. Languages and linguitics being my field, it immediately caused a negative reaction in me. What worries me the most and wonder about is “where was quality control when they needed to make sure the translation was appropriate?” What? They have one person or team come up with it and nobody checks for accuracy, a movie no less? Sad indeed.

    Comment by Monica Chavez — February 7, 2015 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

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