Dare to Read

December 3, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey. A Title Lost in Translation

Filed under: On Traslation — carmenferreiroesteban @ 3:27 am
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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.