He Knocked Them Out.

Anatoly Vorobey has a post, idioms are hard, in which he compares translations of this passage from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye:

I read this book once, at the Whooton School, that had this very sophisticated, suave, sexy guy in it. Monsieur Blanchard was his name, I can still remember. It was a lousy book, but this Blanchard guy was pretty good. He had this big chateau and all in the Riviera, in Europe, and all he did in his spare time was beat women off with a club. He was a real rake and all, but he knocked women out.

He quotes the classic Russian translation by Rita Rait-Kovaleva, who misunderstood the idioms “beat X off with a club” and “knock X out” and translated the phrases “лупил палкой каких-то баб” [thrashed some dames with a stick] and “женщин он избивал до потери сознания” [he beat women up until they lost consciousness]. He then checks the newer version by Max Nemtsov (see this 2013 LH post) and finds the same errors: “он баб дубинкой охаживал” [he beat dames up with a club] and “баб с ног сшибал будь здоров” [he knocked dames down a lot]. He says he could have stopped there, muttering the usual remarks about the effects of the Soviet school of translation, but it occurred to him to check versions in other languages, and what do you know, the French translators made the same error with the first idiom! Jean-Baptiste Rossi: “… et tout ce qu’il faisait de son temps, c’était de battre les femmes à coups de canne.” Annie Saumont: “… et là il passait son temps à battre des femmes à coups de club de golf.” I wonder how many translators have failed that test? (Though of course it’s idiotic to take it as a sign that the translator is no good, as some of Anatoly’s commenters do; all translators make mistakes, as do we all. Nobody’s perfect.)

Commenters noted other problems with the cited translations, like “как сейчас помню” [I remember as if it had just happened] for “I can still remember” and “храбрый” [brave] for “rake”; I myself was struck by “распутного типа” [dissolute/debauched guy] for “sexy guy.” But then I’m not sure how you’d render “sexy” in Russian (Google Translate gives “сексуальный парень” for “sexy guy”!).

Comments

  1. Italian version:

    Aveva quel grande castello eccetera eccetera in Europa, sulla Riviera, e tutto il suo tempo libero lo passava a picchiare le donne con una mazza. Era un autentico libertino e via discorrendo, ma le donne le metteva knock-out.

    Yep, still beats women with a club.

  2. Portuguese:

    e sua distração nas horas vagas era bater nas mulheres com uma bengala

    Now he beats women with a stick

  3. Now I’m wondering if anybody gets it right!

  4. The Turkish, as translated by Coşkun Yerli…

    “Whooton Okulu’ndayken bir kitap okumuştum, kitapta çok sofistike, kibar ve zampara bir herif anlatılıyordu. Mösyö Blanchard idi herifin adı, hâlâ hatırımda. Rezil bir kitaptı, ama bu Blanchard oldukça iyiydi. Avrupa’da, Riviera kıyılarında büyük bir şatosu filan vardı, boş zamanlarını da kadınları sopayla döverek değerlendiriyordu. Herif gerçek bir sapıktı, ama kadınlar ona bitiyorlardı.”

    My Turkish isn’t good enough to tell if it’s a good translation. I think the first sentence about the stick/club is basically wrong, but the last (“women ended up on him”) seems okay.

  5. Just found a Spanish one: “…y todo lo que hacía en su tiempo libre era golpear mujeres con un garrote [‘club, stick’].” Amazing.

  6. The German does it!

    “und verbrachte seine Freizeit damit, Frauen mit dem Stock zu verjagen. Er war ein richtiger Wüstling, aber die Frauen rissen sich um ihn.”

    he spent his free time to chase away women with a stick. Was a real libertine, but women crawled at his feet.

  7. Rezil bir kitaptı, ama bu Blanchard oldukça iyiydi. Avrupa’da, Riviera kıyılarında büyük bir şatosu filan vardı, boş zamanlarını da kadınları sopayla döverek değerlendiriyordu. Herif gerçek bir sapıktı, ama kadınlar ona bitiyorlardı.

    GT gives “beating her with a stick” for the “beat women off with a club” part, so this translator also fails the test.

  8. The German does it!

    Well, it gets the idea that it’s not about actually hitting women, but I’ll let German speakers weigh in on whether “Frauen mit dem Stock zu verjagen” conveys the necessary image. (I mean, there are no actual clubs or sticks involved; the English just means he was surrounded by women.)

  9. @Hat, true, but two things:

    1. Perhaps “beats them off with a stick” could be an idiom also in other languages? Doubtful, sure, but possible?

    2. The Turkish sentence ends with değerlendiriyordu = “he used to evaluate”, so I’m not sure what’s going on with that sentence. Would be good if a fluent speaker could weigh in.

  10. Sister_ray says:

    German translation through Googlebooks (I’m assuming it’s the Heinrich Böll Translation) has:
    “.. verbrachte seine Freizeit damit Frauen mit dem Stock zu verjagen. Er war ein richtiger Wüstling, aber Frauen rissen sich um ihn”

    The first idiom doesn’t quite work in translation but he doesn’t hit anyone: the stick is used to frighten the women off. It’s pretty clear this must be figurative, although German would probably go for “sich massenweise Frauen vom Hals zu halten”. The second idiom is spot on.

    Just saw that someone was a bit faster.

    I also like Wüstling – it’s old-fashioned and conveys the right amount of scandalousness, I think.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think of the more common version of the English idiom as “beat them off with a stick,” which is perhaps a little less violent than with a club? (If there’s a metaphor it’s that one might use a stick to shoo away birds or squirrels or suchlike critters that were flocking around in an annoying way without actually needing to injure them.) Unfortunately, the google n-gram viewer doesn’t let you compare six-word sequences … (Although “off with a stick” is notably more common than “off with a club.”) Which isn’t necessarily to say that “beat them off with a stick” would have fared any better with the translators.

  12. The German did it, the Russian could have done too. Russian has a good word “otbivat’sya” – “to chase away, to beat off”, it could have been used here even adding the stick for dramatic effect, but it would have convened the meaning pretty well.

    If the translator grasped that the meaning was not literal, the translation wouldn’t have posed him any difficulty.

  13. Czech:
    “… a když měl volno, tak nedělal nic jinýho, než odháněl ženský klackem.”
    Perfect translation.

  14. so I’m not sure what’s going on with that sentence.

    değerlendiriyordu here is part of expression “boş zamanlarını değerlendiriyordu” (spent his free time)

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    I expect English phrasal verbs are often a source of confusion to non-Anglophones, especially when another word (like a direct object) intrudes in between the phrasal verb’s components. The semantic contrast between the minimal pair “he beat them with a club” and “he beat them off with a club” is obvious to native speakers but may not travel well. And then of course there’s the opaque/noncompositional sexual-slang sense of intransitive “beat off,” which might also be puzzling. I remember being asked as a teenager by a German teenager with quite good English to explain either that or another phrasal verb with the same idiomatic meaning, that subject area having apparently been a lacuna in the lexemes they had been taught in their English classes at school.

  16. January First-of-May says:

    1. Perhaps “beats them off with a stick” could be an idiom also in other languages? Doubtful, sure, but possible?

    It would certainly make sense in Russian to say (он от них) палкой отбивался or even (он их) палкой отгонял, though a more idiomatic translation would probably exclude the stick completely (while keeping the verb).

  17. Adriana Motti’s translation into Italian – the first one I can find online – has the following:

    “Una volta lessi quel libro, a Whooton, che parlava di quel tizio tanto raffinato, squisito ed erotico. Monsieur Blanchard, si chiamava, me lo ricordo ancora. Era uno schifo di libro, ma questo Blanchard non era affatto male. Aveva quel grande castello eccetera eccetera in Europa, sulla Riviera, e tutto il suo tempo libero lo passava a picchiare le donne con una mazza. Era un autentico libertino e via discorrendo, ma le donne le metteva knock-out.”

    Edit: And I see that the first commentor made the same point…

  18. The stick versus club thing also illustrates a further difficulty in translating this. Besides Catcher in the Rye being full of idioms, Holden’s narration is loaded with malapropisms and near-malapropisms, including in the title. How to translate writing with numerous intentional solecisms and mis-formed idioms is a really interesting question.

    This is related to a question that I was thinking about after reading the post on Proust. Editing or translating a work with numerous errors presents a special challenge. For a revered literary author such as Proust, I am not surprised that the continuity problems are just preserved, as is. However, sometimes editors attempt to fix things. For example, different editions of Titus Alone differ substantially in a couple chapters. The editorial note by Langdon Jones at the beginning of the first copy I checked out of the library pointed out that, by the time the problems with Mervyn Peake’s original text were noticed, it was too late to ask the author to fix them himself. (At the time Titus Alone was printed in 1959, Peake was already suffering from dementia, although it took about a decade to kill him.)

  19. I think Brett gets it. Holden is mixing two metaphors (and mangling the first one), with comic effect. No wonder translators have trouble getting the joke.

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    If you search the google books corpus you can find other published uses of “beat [women/men/them] off with a club” in this sense. I think “stick” is the more usual form, but “club” seems an adequately-attested variant, not a malapropism or near-malapropism. Whether Salinger was doing something deliberate by having two stock metaphors for male-female interaction in a row that are violent if taken literally is not clear to me. Maybe, or maybe that’s just the Etymological Fallacy because all of us use dozens of stock metaphors and idiomatic fixed phrases a day without thinking even subconsciously about what they would mean literally/compositionally to a foreigner who didn’t know them. (I think of the “knockout” metaphor as more commonly used to describe an attractive female and her effect on male onlookers, which maybe makes the OMG-literal-violence misreading harder to access by mistake?)

  21. I don’t have the Hebrew translation with me, but I remember the title was translated as אני, ניו יורק, וכל השאר ‘Me, New York, and All the Rest’.

  22. I wouldn’t be too harsh on the translators. As LH noted, everybody makes mistakes. What is interesting to know is how they thought the original says what they made it to say. It would be completely extraordinary if “beating with a stick” was the intended meaning. Haven’t they got it? Or were they surprised, but than just decided that however strange, that’s what Salinger wrote and they had no choice.

    If translators somehow didn’t get that we see the world through the eyes of an awkward and insecure teenager who cannot do anything quite right including expressing himself, I am not sure they were in the right business. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that they were supposed to get every little detail of every idiom.

  23. It’s a difficult bit of translation, I wouldn’t particularly fault anyone on this. A huge part of it is the idea of revealed preference versus stated preference. Caulfield is asserting this M. Bouchard gets an awful lot of attention from women where stated preference would count against that. And this was not then a particularly well-established idea, in terms of economic or general theory (though to be completely honest, as a human being, if one is a man interested in women, it is be an important idea to be aware of). Part of the attraction of TCitR was this sort of idea, under-established in wider society, and it’s completely to be expected that it gives translation problems.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    but women crawled at his feet.

    but women metaphorically fought over him so violently that they metaphorically ripped themselves and/or each other to pieces.

  25. I would be curious how many native English speakers under 30 can make sense of that Salinger passage. Using “knockout” as a metaphor for attractiveness strikes me as already obsolete ( like “va va voom”). The younger generation is also far more likely to understand an image of an entitled man doing violence to women literally, in the context of many recent heated public discussions on that very subject.

  26. Good point.

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    COCA turns up this from a novel published (by a major house) in 2012: “She ‘s a knockout, my wife? –? by far the most attractive woman I’ve ever been with. I thought so the very first time I saw her.” Now, maybe the book has a historical setting, or the speaker is elderly (If Holden Caulfield was supposed to be 16 or 17 when the book was published in ’51, you can do the math on how old he’d be by now), or something.

    It would probably be useful if there were a search function for one of those large corpora of song lyrics that could give you hits for a phrase arranged chronologically. But some random poking around turns up a song from ’98 (#3 hit in the UK, not so much in the US, although the singer Tatyana Ali was American) titled “Boy You Knock Me Out,” which I’m gonna assume was *not* understood to be a conceptual remake of the 1962 Goffin-King classic “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” I expect (but can’t be bothered to do the research right now) there are other instances more likely to be known by those under 30, although I concede the point that the percentage of them who would immediately recognize the literary allusion “knocking me out with those American thighs” is probably lower than for my past-50 generational cohort.

  28. ‘Me, New York, and All the Rest’

    Huh. I’m only familiar with it as the literal (and awkward) התפסן בשדה השיפון.

  29. Savalonôs says:

    Me, New York, and All the Rest seems like a better title than Catcher in the Rye

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    Here’s a 2018 tabloid headline from http://www.mirror.co.uk : “Boxing champ Anthony Joshua shows he’s a knockout as a dad and a fighter on holidays with son.” This is obviously wordplay involving the boxing sense (involving literal physical aggression) of “knockout,” but the wordplay only works if the readers also know “knockout” in its metaphorical sense as a positive compliment with no suggestion of violence (here not involving sexual/romantic desirability, to be sure).

  31. Nowadays they say “drop dead gorgeous”.

    As for translators making mistakes, maybe it’s not always practical, but my first advice would be: “Ask a native speaker!”

    Perhaps the archetypal translator is socially dysfunctional (the typical otaku type), which makes it hard for him or her to screw up the courage to actually talk to people.

  32. I now wonder how the Japanese translated it…

  33. TR: I think it’s the same translation. It was first published in 1954, with a cute cover. It was republished in 1975 with the more literal title, and with a minimalist cover.

  34. I would be curious how many native English speakers under 30 can make sense of that Salinger passage. Using “knockout” as a metaphor for attractiveness strikes me as already obsolete ( like “va va voom”)

    “Obsolete” is a huge overstatement. “Slightly dated,” perhaps. Searching the NYT, I find at least half a dozen uses of “knockout” to mean “extremely attractive or impressive” in the past two years, mostly in reviews of new (art, theatrical, TV) shows.

  35. AJP Athletico says:

    As well as the violence, knockout ought to sound dated because of the implication that beauty is a competition, the Miss Universe worldview. But it doesn’t; at least not to me. There’s also the odd but expressive phrase ‘knock it out of the ballpark’ which is less insipid than ‘hit’ but it’s odd because you don’t otherwise ‘knock’ a ball except by accident (knocking-on is the inadvertant but illegal hitting of a ball forwards in rugby).

  36. I’ve pulled out all the translations available in the InterCorp v11 parallel corpus. Only 8 of them, but most – 5 – are actually correct.

  37. I don’t know why but I am particularly taken with the decision of Annie Saumont that it was specifically a golf club. I suppose that’s the most likely sort of club for M. Blanchard to have to hand.

    (“Clubbable”, meaning gregarious and cheerful, is still in occasional use in the UK. cf. “Drop the Dead Donkey”, 1998: “Gus is very clubbable, isn’t he?” “Yeah. Anyone got a club?”)

  38. David Marjanović says:

    “Yeah. Anyone got a club?”

    “punchable face”

  39. As for translators making mistakes, maybe it’s not always practical, but my first advice would be: “Ask a native speaker!”

    I’m not sure you’ve thought this through. In general, how would it work? You’re spending months working through some foreign-language text; let’s say in the best case you’ve got a community of native speakers right there at hand — say, you’re in NYC translating from Spanish. Every time you run into trouble you’re supposed to hit the nearest bodega and get a conversation going about what exactly some idiom means? Or are you supposed to have a Spanish-speaking pal so devoted you can call them up any time and they’ll be happy to drop everything and help you through your problem? And the best case is pretty rare; by and large you’re translating from a language with few or no native speakers nearby. And in the particular case under discussion, how exactly was Rita Rait-Kovaleva, living in the Soviet Union, supposed to ask a native speaker?

  40. My impression is that “knockout” is one of those words that is still current as artificial slang but which nobody actually says unaffectedly in real life.

    —-

    Staying as a teen with a French family, I was asked to translate the English slogan on their five-year-old’s T-shirt: “If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?” In my innocence I saw only the idiomatic meaning of “hold it against me”, a phrase I was as yet unable to translate. Later a cousin who spoke English arrived and translated the sentence literally. Awkward pause. I cleared my throat to chip in that the literal translation was incorrect when it dawned on me that oh god no it wasn’t. “No wonder you didn’t want to translate it”, said the mother.

  41. I’m not sure you’ve thought this through

    I have. That’s why I wrote ‘maybe it’s not always practical’.

    A good translator should ideally build up a circle of people he/she can ask. People who might be happy (even eager) to help, or enjoy giving this kind of advice. There are plenty on the Internet nowadays and such people were certainly around before the Internet. People might also be willing to help on the understanding that you can be called on to help them back.

    I appreciate that a translator in Soviet times might not have had this luxury, but not all the translators were living in Soviet times.

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    As a general principle, if your translation doesn’t make sense (as is the case here) it’s probably wrong. (Admittedly not altogether a reliable heuristic when dealing with Holden Caulfield.)

    In his generally serviceable English translation of Michel Launey’s Nahuatl grammar, Christopher Mackay renders Lisez à haute voix heading the pronunciation exercises as “Read in a loud voice.” You’d have thought it might have occurred to him that Launey was probably not advocating such antisocial behaviour, even though he was unfamiliar with the idiom.

  43. Finländare says:

    I checked Arto Schroderus’s Finnish translation from 2004 and he actually got it right (p. 128):

    Whootonissa luin ker­ran kirjan, jossa oli sellainen erittäin hienostunut, sulava, himokas mies. Sen nimi oli monsieur Blanchard, muistan sen vieläkin. Kirja oli surkea, mutta se Blanc­hard oli aikamoinen. Sillä oli joku iso linna Rivieralla Euroopassa eikä se kai muuta tehnyt kuin huitoi kepillä naisia pois kimpustaan. Se oli varsinainen elostelija, mutta naiset oli ihan lääpällään.

    To translate this translation: “In Whooton I once read a book where there was a really sophisticated, suave, lustful man. His name was monsieur Blanchard, I still remember that. The book was terrible, but that Blanchard guy was something. He had a big castle in the Riviera in Europe and he probably wasn’t doing anything else than beating off women with a stick. He was a real rake, but women were still totally into him.”

    Finnish does have a word for sexy, seksikäs, which is used almost identically, so it’s interesting how the translator uses the word for lustful instead. “Sexy” makes monsieur Blanchard the object, but then “lustful” gives him more agency…

  44. Finnish does have a word for sexy, seksikäs, which is used almost identically, so it’s interesting how the translator uses the word for lustful instead.

    For “interesting,” read “irritating” as far as I’m concerned. As I noted in the post, Rait-Kovaleva does the same thing. Don’t people realize what “sexy” means?

  45. I mean, “lustful” isn’t a defensible choice, it’s just plain wrong.

  46. January First-of-May says:

    In his generally serviceable English translation of Michel Launey’s Nahuatl grammar, Christopher Mackay renders Lisez à haute voix heading the pronunciation exercises as “Read in a loud voice.”

    I’m assuming that the correct idiomatic English would be “Read out loud”?

    Don’t people realize what “sexy” means?

    In Soviet Russia, they might well not have realized, and taken it in the wrong direction.

  47. Even in Soviet Union it was possible to write a letter abroad and, I suppose, some translators did with what they thought was the most necessary fragments. But this practice had obvious limitations. A protagonist in one of
    Strugatskys novels writes such an explanation letter to a Japanese translator of his collection of stories (that is, it is backwards, someone in SU explains stuff to someone else outside). The expressions are like “get a banana” and “show a fig”

  48. Jean-Baptiste Rossi is none other than Sébastien Japrisot, a name Avva – with his Soviet background and interest in French – should be able to recognize instantly. From what I’ve read, I’m almost certain that Japrisot’s (and Annie Saumont’s) title, L’attrape-coeurs, alluded to Boris Vian’s last novel, L’arrache-coeur (rendered as The Heartsnatcher by Stanley Chapman). On a deeper level, Japrisot’s substituting coeurs for corps mirrors Holden’s transforming the bawdy Scottish song into a “save the children” fantasy.

    (On a barely related note, googling “attrape-corps” brings up amusing book titles such as La revanche du clitoris – nouvelle édition. It turns out that the French publishing house La Musardine, which specializes in erotic literature, has a series titled Attrape Corps offering “des essais exigeants et impertinents sur les questions de sexualité.”)

    This said, mistranslating “beat off” as “beat” is not a case of idioms being hard. It’s an embarrassing blunder. I can understand how Japrisot, at 22, could have made it (he had only translated Westerns before), but Rait-Kovaleva, at 60, with The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet American, and The White Monkey under her belt? All the Russian dictionaries I’ve checked are clear on the meaning of beat off. There’s a neat Russian expression begging to be used here, (ot zhenschin) otboya ne bylo. The context is also unambigous: Blanchard was a vulgar womanizer. Where did the confusion come from?

    My first guess was German influence. English was Rait’s third modern foreign language. She once gave German lessons to Mayakovsky so I assume that she had learned German and French at the gymnasium (she was already 19 in 1917 so not made of Soviet dough). Perhaps, I thought, she saw beat off as the English equivalent of abschlagen?

    Now I know Rait was not alone and not the first to misunderstand this passage. Did she check her work against the Japrisot translation? Who else did?

  49. I would be curious how many native English speakers under 30 can make sense of that Salinger passage. Using “knockout” as a metaphor for attractiveness strikes me as already obsolete (like “va va voom”). The younger generation is also far more likely to understand an image of an entitled man doing violence to women literally, in the context of many recent heated public discussions on that very subject.

    Alright, so I’m 32, but I can’t imagine many native speakers under 30 struggling with this. Besides, the “but” in the final sentence would surely nudge any unsure readers towards the right *sort* of understanding.

  50. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    It’s the ‘but’ that confused me, actually – I think of a rake as a man who is attractive to women and at least briefly or lightly involved with several, so why would that be *opposed* to him being stunningly attractive, if this is what is meant by ‘knocked them out’?

  51. Stu Clayton says:

    “Rake” does not, for me, contain any suggestion of physical attractiveness. As the OED says, “A man of loose habits and immoral character; an idle dissipated man of fashion.” A women is “attracted” to a rake, if at all, precisely because of the loose habits and immoral character. It works the other way around too, with men being attracted to dissipated women. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t invent sex (or is it gender ? I can never remember).

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    I agree with Stu; physical attractiveness may well be handy if you plan on behaving rakishly, but is not an essential part of the equipment of a rake.

    One thinks of John Wilkes
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wilkes

    who boasted that it “took him only half an hour to talk away his face”

    (Incidentally, in trying to jog my memory about Wilkes, I discovered that this line is usually attributed to Voltaire, apparently entirely through misattribution on the part of a single ghastly pickup artist, reassuringly showing that foul behaviour is after all correlated with poor scholarship.)

  53. January First-of-May says:

    Strugatskys novels writes such an explanation letter to a Japanese translator of his collection of stories (that is, it is backwards, someone in SU explains stuff to someone else outside). The expressions are like “get a banana” and “show a fig”

    Reminds me of essentially the same situation from another work, involving a translation from English this time…

    (“Banana”, for the record, was a contemporary Russian slang term for a pair, as in a 2, as in an F, as in the mark… Strugatsky’s original had a similarly long explanation line, but I wasn’t able to translate it exactly.
    “Show a fig” should be obvious to any Russian; a non-Russian, of course, would first be required to understand that the fruits of Ficus carica are not in any way involved. The idiomatic English is the just as opaque “flip the bird”.)

  54. John Cowan says:

    That must be the famous Italian “fico”, the thumb thrust through the fingers of the first.

  55. And to tie this nicely back to the beginning of the conversation, it means also “a cool guy” (in Italian)

  56. AJP Crown says:

    The fingers of the Fürst, you mean. Probably something to do with handshoes.

  57. @SFReader and Paul: in the old Motti version, sure, but I’d be very surprised if that hasn’t been fixed – along with a lot of other strange things – in the version Matteo Colombo did for Einaudi in 2014. (Can’t check because it’s not searchable online.)

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    The fingers of the Fürst were sheathed
    In handshoes, soft the robber breathed
    While boldly nicking bolts of chintz –
    That’s why they found no Fingerprinz
    Nor other noble evidence.

  59. NatShockley says:

    Regarding the translations of “sexy”, I would say that the choices of the Russian and Finnish translators aren’t too surprising, because the meaning the word carries in Catcher in the Rye is slightly different to its usual meaning in English anyway. This always struck me as one of the oddest things about the book’s language when I read it, and I took it to indicate a subtle shift in the word’s meaning since the mid-twentieth century. The Finnish rendering in particular (“the word for lustful”) sounds like it could in fact be not far off the mark, at least in that context. Consider passages like this:

    “I knew I didn’t have to get all dolled up for a prostitute or anything, but it sort of gave me something to do. I was a little nervous. I was starting to feel pretty sexy and all, but I was a little nervous anyway.”

    “I can never get really sexy, I mean really sexy, with a girl I don’t like a lot. I mean I really have to like her a lot. If I don’t, I sort of lose my goddamn desire for her and all”

    “Women kill me. They really do. I don’t mean I’m oversexed or anything like that—although I am quite sexy. I just like them, I mean.”

    “all I ever saw him do was booze all the time and listen to every single goddam mystery program on the radio. And run around the goddam house, naked. With Jane around, and all. “Yeah?” Stradlater said. That really interested him. About the booze hound running around the house naked, with Jane around. Stradlater was a very sexy bastard.”

    English speakers of today don’t usually seem to use “sexy” like that exactly. As Finländare noted above, in our understanding of the term today, “sexy” is normally used when describing someone else as an object of desire; it primarily entails objectification, not agency (“Sexy makes monsieur Blanchard the object, but then “lustful” gives him more agency”). In Catcher in the Rye, on the other hand, “sexy” is generally more a word of agency than objectification; it’s about how you feel, your general nature and attitude, how you are likely to act. Not a million miles away from the modern scope of the term, and there is certainly some overlap, but nevertheless it’s not quite the same. Arguably, translators who simply use the usual translation for English “sexy” may be making more of an error than those who do not.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Perhaps, I thought, she saw beat off as the English equivalent of abschlagen?

    Abschlagen means: 1) “hew off”; 2) reject offers or pleas, which would be close enough here.

  61. Stu Clayton says:

    Also “knock off”, as in den Skorpion vom Hosenbein abschlagen. When the action is less violent we have “brush off”: Ameisen vom Hosenbein abstreifen or (weg)fegen.

  62. AJP Crown says:

    To boldly nick the bolts of chintz where
    No men go, except to rinse their
    Hair.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    “Banana”, for the record, was a contemporary Russian slang term for a pair

    *lightbulb moment*

    Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei!

    Not a million miles away from the modern scope of the term, and there is certainly some overlap, but nevertheless it’s not quite the same.

    Looks like it meant “horny”, which is orthogonal to “sexy”, related only by accident or wishful thinking.

  64. Regarding the translations of “sexy”, I would say that the choices of the Russian and Finnish translators aren’t too surprising, because the meaning the word carries in Catcher in the Rye is slightly different to its usual meaning in English anyway.

    Great observation and quotes — I read the book so long ago I’d entirely forgotten that. But I don’t think the meaning you cite makes sense in the passage quoted in the post; “sophisticated, suave, sexy” works with the modern meaning, but “sophisticated, suave, lustful”… I dunno, it’s possible, but it seems off to me. If all uses of “sexy” in the book have the “lustful” sense, I’ll agree it must be used here, but if it’s used in both ways, I’d still argue for the modern sense in this context.

  65. “sophisticated, suave, lustful”… I dunno, it’s possible, but it seems off to me.

    Hugh Hefner in his heyday? Don Draper from Mad Men?

    I think the only real stumbling block may be the word lustful, which is suggestive of censorious Baptist homilies and is not a Holden Caulfield sort of word. DM’s notion of updating it to “horny” works for me.

  66. Hmm, you may be right.

  67. @David Marjanović, @Stu Clayton: The closest meaning to “beat off” would be “to fend off,” followed by “reject, deny,” but there’s also “to dismantle” and, as you say, “to chop off” and “to knock off.” In some cases, “abschlagen” is used in sentences such as “X cut down a tree.” From here, there’s only half a step to felling women with a club.

    Anyway, it was a preliminary suspicion and not much else. My current hypothesis is that Rait was familiar with Rossi’s (Japrisot’s) translation.

  68. From Wiki article on Rait-Kovaleva:

    “[she] captured the street slang of the novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield “without losing the sharpness and wit of the original version”, although she had never been to the United States.”

    Reminds me a bit of James Hadley Chase who wrote hundreds of crime fiction novels set in America using “a dictionary of American slang, detailed maps and reference books of the American underworld”.

    “Chase never lived in the United States though he did make two brief visits, one to Miami and the other en route to Mexico.”

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Or Karl May who, in the late 19th century, wrote a heap of 500-page novels (or 400-page in another edition where the books are larger) set in the Ottoman empire or in the Wild West long before he visited either.

  70. It always bothered me, why “banana” is 2 as, obviously, it must be 1. My guess is that it was a later shift, when 1 was very rarely used and 2 became *the* bad mark.

  71. January First-of-May says:

    My guess is that it was a later shift, when 1 was very rarely used and 2 became *the* bad mark.

    Reminds me of the extensive explanation of several varieties of 2 in one scene of Nikolai Nosov’s Весёлая семейка (literally, “Happy Family”), when the protagonist gets a 2+.

    (The explanation finishes with “and then there’s 1…”, at which point it gets interrupted.)

  72. I thought 1 was a stake.

  73. January First-of-May says:

    I thought 1 was stake.

    It is, or at least that’s a term I’m familiar with, but “banana” for 2 was before my time, and I mostly only know it from the Strugatsky quote; the only slang term I’m familiar with for 2 is the transparent “pair”.

  74. For one-and-a-half readers who read this discussion about Russian school grades (or marks, if you wish) and who didn’t attend a Russian school, I can add that theoretically speaking, Russian grades were named, as well as numbered. From “excellent” to “good” to “satisfactory” to “unsatisfactory” (neud as it was called sometimes in my time). For practical purposes, teachers gave out the numerical grades on a 2-5 scale, which have never been (to my knowledge) averaged in a mathematical sense, but somehow produced a named grade at the end of the year. An annoyed teacher could have given a “stake” and even 1-, but it didn’t have any practical consequences.

    Wiki explains that 19c gymnasium schools used 0-5 system and that “stake” was an official grade with meaning “bad”. Pfui, I’ve managed 10 years in the system without realizing it.

  75. AJP Earl Derr BigEars says:

    DM: set in the Wild West long before he visited

    Wiki: With few exceptions, May had not visited the places he described

    I can’t see why everyone always dwells on this point about Karl May, poor man. When did you last see a western that was directed by someone from the wild west? Even now in 2019 George Lucas has never once been into space.

  76. David Marjanović says:

    used 0-5 system

    “You get NOTHING! You LOSE! Good DAY, sir!”

  77. I’ve read somewhere that this system and names of the marks were copied from Germany back in Tsarist days.

    5 was ‘ausgezeichnet’ originally, for example.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    In that case, Germany has switched them around at some point. Currently, it goes from 1 (best, Sehr gut) to 6 (failure, Nicht genügend). Austria has 1 (best, Sehr gut) to 5 (failure, Nicht genügend).

  79. 6 Nicht genügend.

    Something of a paradox there. I’d expect the Germans to get the numbering the right way around.

  80. I have forgotten the precise phrases that were supposed to be equivalent to German number grades (except for “gut” and “sehr gut”). However, I do recall that 4 and 5 meant roughly, “barely passing,” and “almost failing,” which seems like another case where the verbiage provides no actual information about the distinction being drawn. (I know I have mentioned before trying to figure out how to tell the differences between “excellent,” “outstanding,” and “superior” performance on an evaluation form.)

  81. Brett, you might enjoy Simon Blackburn’s contemplation of “the nose, the palate, the infinitely sensitive proboscis” required of evaluators for the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    However, I do recall that 4 and 5 meant roughly, “barely passing,” and “almost failing,” which seems like another case where the verbiage provides no actual information about the distinction being drawn.

    Oh, it’s worse: they’re exact synonyms – “sufficient”: genügend, ausreichend. I even forget which is which. Austria only uses genügend (4).

    3 is befriedigend, “gratifying”*, in both countries.

    Einstein is famous for having gotten a 4 in math once. But that happened in a Russian-type system (I’m not sure if in Switzerland or Germany), so was actually pretty solid.

    * Yes, kids giggle.

  83. Lars (the original one) says:

    I think we did this a few years ago; anyway, the old Danish grades were like that too. Bad, mediocre, rather good, good, very good, outstandingly good. But to make averages fun, Hans Christian Ørsted came up with an interesting numerical scale: slet = -23, mådeligt = -7, temmelig godt = 1, godt = 5, meget godt = 7, udmærket godt = 8.

    From 1788 to 1805, the official scale was 0 (failed), non contemnendus, haud illaudabilis, laudabilis and laudabilis præ ceteris.

  84. Croatian:

    Imao je takav neki veliki chateau i te stvari dolje na Rivijeri, u Europi, i u slobodno vrijeme, što je radio, odbijao je od sebe žene štapom. Bio je pravi razvratnik i sve, ali žene su padale na njega.

    Serbian:

    Imao je veliki zamak na rivijeri, u Evropi, i sve svoje slobodno vreme mlatio je žene štapom. Bio je pravi razvratnik i sve, ali žene su bukvalno ludele za njim.

    The Croatian one gets it, but it has the benefit of being much more recent, I think from sometime in the last 20 years or so. I believe the translation commonly in circulation in Croatia before that was a Bosnian one (not totally sure, since I hated the book all those years ago and never felt any need to reread), which I can’t seem to find now.

    I wouldn’t be too harsh on the translators. As LH noted, everybody makes mistakes. What is interesting to know is how they thought the original says what they made it to say. It would be completely extraordinary if “beating with a stick” was the intended meaning. Haven’t they got it? Or were they surprised, but than just decided that however strange, that’s what Salinger wrote and they had no choice.

    This sort of thing is pretty standard for TV subtitles (at least here), but to see it in literary translation really is pretty baffling.

  85. John Cowan says:

    The U.S., as I suppose everyone knows from the movies, uses either numerical grades with 100 = perfect or else letter grades from A (high) to F (low), with E omitted. There are roughly ten percentage points per letter, and the letters can be modified with + or – to indicate the upper and lower thirds of the range, the middle third being unqualified.

  86. January First-of-May says:

    with E omitted

    Presumably because the F isn’t really used for its alphabetical position, but actually stands for “Fail”.

  87. David Marjanović says:

    The U.S., as I suppose everyone knows from the movies, uses […] letter grades from A (high) to F (low), with E omitted.

    Everyone except Austria’s minister of education at the beginning of this century. As an attempt to make the grade scale at universities easier to compare internationally, she came up with the idea of changing it to A, B, C, D, E, F. The idea was quietly withdrawn within a few days. The poor minister had never seen a university from the inside.

    numerical grades with 100 = perfect

    This, on the other hand, is completely new to me.

    There are roughly ten percentage points per letter

    I guess that’s not the case at universities, where after all grade inflation is happening on a large scale?

    In Austria, the difference between 4 and 5 is defined in that 50% gives you a 4 – in school. In university, the professors can do whatever they want. The other grades are not defined even in school.

  88. College professors can still do whatever they want for a grading scale in the U.S.A. I certainly do not use a scale where 90 to 100% is an A, although I do get some students who have trouble understanding that a different grading scale is even possible. Moreover, some professors do use the 90, 80, 70, 60 grade cutoffs, although that can require twisting the way points are allocated to have it make sense. When my wife took graduate-level continuum mechanics, the professor only took off tenths of points for significant errors on ten-point exam questions, to preserve that grading scale.

    Also, as a result of grade inflation, the D grade in college has moved toward joining F as an effectively failing grade. When C represented average work, a D made sense for performance that was below average but still satisfactory. Now, a D will earn you numerical credit for a class, but if you want to continue on to a more advanced course in the same field, many classes will require at least C’s in their prerequisites.

  89. John Cowan says:

    I have been told that in M.A. and Ph.D. programs in some universities (and perhaps fields), a B essentially means you aren’t going to get the degree — the ultimate grade inflation.

  90. Matthew 5:48

  91. In my structural engineering courses at an American university they were always going on about bell curves and plotting the point of failure not only of concrete or steel beams but of students’ exam papers. This was pretty sensible: you want 2/3 or 3/4 to pass, maybe 4/5, I don’t know the numbers, but you make a numerical assessment when the answers to exam questions are themselves numbers. When I was a teenager at school in England we were given baffling grades like β+++ (?-) but on the other hand we were answering essay questions and I suppose assessments were a bit more subjective.

  92. January First-of-May says:

    This was pretty sensible: you want 2/3 or 3/4 to pass, maybe 4/5, I don’t know the numbers, but you make a numerical assessment when the answers to exam questions are themselves numbers.

    At one particular course at my university (department of mathematics), I calculated that my final average mark for the course, accounting for the late homework coefficients and some other stuff, ended up as something along the lines of 7.00035 (on a 10-point scale).

    I knew that it was supposed to round up, but I wasn’t sure whether their calculations would be anywhere near as precise as mine were…

    (Ultimately, it turned out that I misunderstood the coefficients in a few places, and my average was actually more like 7.02, which was successfully rounded up to 8.)

  93. I should have studied Mathematics. I thought you rounded up when you got halfway to the next number, at .5.

  94. I did too, and I was a math major.

  95. January First-of-May says:

    I should have studied Mathematics. I thought you rounded up when you got halfway to the next number, at .5.

    That’s how rounding normally works, yes.

    As far as grades in my university were concerned, it varied by course and by teacher, though I think always-up rounding was more common.
    The really weird things started when grades were rounded up, then averaged, then rounded up again – I wrote a puzzle-ish thingy about one especially unusual case in May 2015…
     

    Our grading system is, in general, very simple: the top grade is 10, then it goes down by integers until 4 is the lowest passing grade; however, intermediate grades in calculations can, of course, be lower, and the “problems” grade (which I will be talking about) is an intermediate figure (it’s averaged with the exam grade, and I think with something else as well).
    We had two problem sheets this module (~half-semester), for a total of 60 problems. I solved 20. The scale is linear, and goes down to 0.
    That means I got a 3, right?
    Except it turns out that only 3/4 of the problems are needed for a full 10 grade. (And yes, if someone solves more, they get more than 10 – in the intermediate calculations anyway.)
    Now, 3/4 of 60 is 45, 20/45 is 4/9, and 4/9 of 10 is 4.44 and change. So that means I got a 4, right?
    Oh, almost forgot, we round all the grades up. So that would be a 5 then?
    Not exactly.
    You see, the numbers of solved problems are counted for the two problem sheets
    separately. Then the resulting grades are rounded up, then averaged, and then rounded up again (of course the average of two integers is an integer half the time, in which case it stays).
    For my specific case, the figures came out such that the ultimate result was a 6. Yes, seriously. I didn’t believe my math the first time I figured that out either.
    I’ll add that while the sheets did not have an equal number of problems, the larger one had less than twice as many as the smaller one, and that I solved more problems on the former than on the latter.

    (Sadly, I don’t recall the numbers offhand any more – though I’m sure that the mathematicians here could probably work it out.)

  96. That’s the “ceiling function” in action.

  97. Stu Clayton says:

    Cattle are rounded up without consulting .5. All fractional cows are simply discarded. It would be more accurate to speak of rounding down cattle.

  98. J.W. Brewer says:

    My law school, when I attended it (they have apparently changed it since), had a somewhat hilarious letter-based grading system that when quantified for averaging purposes went from 0 to 7, with 0 being F and 7 being A+. But the hilarious bit was that the system had pluses but no minuses: above D (=1) the options were C, C+, B, B+, A, A+. This was the very early 1990’s but it seemed to reflect a very “Seventies” sensibility, where minuses might have been viewed as all buzz-killish negativity. By contrast, my undergraduate school relied very heavily on the A- to implement grade inflation, since by then the old “gentleman’s C” had probably become the new “gentleperson’s B+,” so A- almost meant “did what an average student at this university who actually put in effort would generally be able to do.” (I was way below median in the actually-putting-in-effort department as an undergrad, so my cumulative undergrad GPA was notably below the numerical equivalent of even a gentleperson’s B+; my cumulative law school GPA was 5.23/7.0, which by contrast was well above median, although I just missed the 5.25 cut-off for getting some Latin words stuck into my diploma.

  99. It’s only right that young mathematicians should use their new skills to juggle grades, as long as it’s lawful. English students can scan their references for what they believe might be typos. Art students can photoshop their mugshots and stitch gold braid on their graduation robes.

  100. Well, ceiling function is not different from usual rounding if you simply give 0.5 points to everyone who bothers to submit an assignment (or maybe I should say 0.499999999999999 to not mess up end points and then even those who do not bother are covered).

  101. John Cowan says:

    There are at least six ways to do integer division (of which rounding fractions is a special case): floor, ceiling, truncate, round proper, Euclidean, and balanced division. See this spec for explanations. The important bits are the first part of the Rationale section and the whole of the Specification section. An “inexact number” is one marked as inexact (often because it is a measurement) or computed using inexact (typically floating-point) operations.

  102. Rounding up scandal in Baltimore

    https://html2-f.scribdassets.com/4ame8n71ds6b13w2/images/3-6c1242c286.jpg

    Failing grade for English in Baltimore public schools was 57.

    Because 58 or 59 would be rounded up to 60 – PASS.

  103. Lars (the original one) says:

    @January First-of-May, I think the only solution is to answer 8 of 21 and 12 of 39 questions correctly: Grades of 5.08 rounded to 6 and 4.10 rounded to 5 then average to 5.5 and round again to 6.

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