A Sandwich Short Of A Picnic? Week 1 Translation Theory Exercise


Translation Theory Week 1 01/10/14 Exercise – Wesley Gerrard


Translate the following text into the language of your choice. Would it make sense if you translated it word for word?


Mary pulled his leg and he believed it all. He was clearly a sandwich short of a picnic. He didn’t like it when he realized she was laughing at him but as they were thick as thieves he didn’t take it personally.


From initially looking at the text, it is full of colloquialisms which will not translate directly word-for-word.


Mary pulled his leg and he believed it all. He was clearly a sandwich short of a picnic. He didn’t like it when he realized she was laughing at him but as they were thick as thieves he didn’t take it personally.


I have highlighted in bold the three main colloquialisms which I can foresee producing errors.
When I translate, I very often like to throw the text into Google translate to see how a rudimentary metaphrase of the text appears. One cannot think of it as cheating. Machine translation exists and is in the modern world of translation. It should therefore be used. At the very least some of the unknown vocabulary can be discovered and it will be possible to identity some of the issues that have already been noted regarding the colloquialisms.


Here is the English – Spanish Google translate of the text:


María sacó su pierna y creía todo. Él era claramente un corto sándwich de un picnic. No le gustaba que cuando se dio cuenta que se estaba riendo de él, pero como eran uña y carne no lo tome como algo personal.


Automatically I can see that Maria has an accent – which I might not have realized. I next notice that there could be problems with the ‘sandwich short of a picnic’. I want to really find a Spanish phrase for being ‘a bit crazy’. I can’t think off the top of my head what that could be at present and will need to research. ‘poco loco’ is maybe a bit too general and vague. I think that Google translate could have possibly done a sense-for-sense paraphrase for ‘thick as thieves’ – ‘uña y carne’ seems to be what is produced. It literally means ‘flesh and bone’. Google translate will look at a database of previous translations of this phrase and it may have already solved one of the riddles in the text.


A second opinion is always wise. I shall now render the text in Babelfish, another online automated translation service.


María tiró su pierna y él creyó todo. Era claramente un bocadillo debajo de un picnic. No le gustaba cuando se dio cuenta se estaba riendo de él, pero como eran uña y carne no lo tomo como algo personal.



A very similar result, with an exception of one of the tenses being different – a preterite instead of imperfect.


The next stage in the process is to search the large Collins Spanish-English dictionary for the three troublesome phrases, to see if there is a detailed phrase-for-phrase sense-for-sense translation available.


  1. Under ‘leg’:


To pull sb’s leg – tomar el pelo a algn


We can see that in Spanish, to ‘pull someone’s leg’ is to ‘take the hair to someone’.


  1. Under ‘sandwich’ and ‘picnic’


No results of the set phrase in dictionary. Thus we will require further research.


  1. Under ‘thick’


IDIOM to be (as) thick as thieves – ser uña y carne


So, the Google and Babelfish renderings are correct.


The dictionary has solved two of three of our issues…


Now to correctly identify a translation for ‘sandwich short of a picnic’. Essentially in English, it is a light-hearted way of saying that someone is ‘crazy. There will be a Spanish phrase, we just have to find it.


I first checked this website: http://www.succeed-at-spanish.com/spanish-slang.html


The only mention of crazy is:


chiflar Me chiflan la rebejas de año nuevo. To me they whistle the sales of the year new. I’m crazy about the New Year’s sales


I think it is worth noting but I don’t think it will be appropriate for our translation.


On this website some useful phrases but nothing relevant to this investigation http://www.humanities.uci.edu/spanish/spain-slang.htm


The next website seems to be a lot more comprehensive: http://www.languagerealm.com/spanish/spanishslang_c.php


Under ‘C’, we find:



chiflar el moño a algn
idiom. be nuts; be crazy


This seems to be slang for crazy, but I am not totally comfortable with it. It does expand on the first slang website’s definition. However, does it really translate our rather joky English phrase perfectly?


Under ‘E’, we find:


estar de la cabeza
idiom. be nuts; be insane


Progress, perhaps? But maybe too specific? Too literal a meaning of ‘crazy’… We want just a ‘little crazy’


estar del tomate
idiom. be nuts; be insane. (n.b.: not used much anymore)


I like this, the best so far. Even though it may not be used much any more, I think it best fits our phrase. And the fact it evokes a food does help. Maybe there are tomato sandwiches in the picnic?

Also, we have:


estar mal de la azotea
idiom. be off one’s rocker; be nuts; be crazy. (lit.: to be bad in the roof)


adj. nuts; crazy. (used in Cono del Sur; from the tango dance)

n.m./f. nutcase; lunatic. (used in Cono del Sur; from the tango dance)


adj. crazy; nuts; cracked. (used in Cono del Sur)


v. go crazy. (used in Cono del Sur)


sacar a algn de quicio
idiom. drive someone crazy; drive someone up a wall


n.m. idiot; thickhead; dunce. (lit.: salami; used mostly in the Cono del Sur region)


volverse loco
idiom. go insane; go mad


I think, the estar del tomate is the best of all of these and is the one I am most leaning towards for the translation.
Best to do a final check and I shall search: ‘Spanish sandwich short of a picnic’, finding: http://forums.tomisimo.org/showthread.php?t=7538
…where Maria says:


María José

The Rebel Fairy

Join Date: Jun 2008

Location: Madrid

Posts: 1,765

Native Language: Spanish

There are no equivalent expressions in Spanish. You would translate ‘he’s a few …. short of a …’ by using adjectives such as:
Es un poco corto
Es un poco espeso (like the English thick)
I have just remembered another expression:
No tiene muchas luces

All of the above are quite derogatory, like their English counterparts.



This looks a good possibility: no tiene muchas luces…

On a final analysis I have to decide between the ‘luces’ and ‘tomate’. I personally like the ‘tomate’ but can we discount Maria’s word… She is obviously a native speaker, but does she fully grasp the English concept of ‘sandwich short of a picnic’ when supplying her translation?
Looking towards a final version of the text, based on what we have deduced from our research:


María le tomó el pelo y él creía todo. Él no tenía muchas luces claramente.No le gustaba que cuando se dio cuenta que se estaba riendo de él, pero como eran uña y carne él no lo tome como algo personal.


In addition to the three problem phrases, I added some personal pronouns to truly define the meaning of whether he or she was the subject. In Spanish there is confusion when one uses the verbs without the personal pronouns. The machine translation didn’t add this extra layer of clarity. Perhaps, a Spaniard wouldn’t use these and I have unnecessarily produced an artificial translation but I have aimed for exact precision. I decided that Maria’s phrase was perhaps the neater of the two for the sandwich dilemma. If ‘tomate’ is archaic, then best, perhaps, to trust the native speaker’s interpretation, and it does seem a set phrase that matches the rhythm of patter in the original text.

I have produced a sense-for-sense out of a word-for-word translation and introduced an extra layer of grammatical construct for precision.

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