Translation troubles: big fingers and hairless tongues

A peek into this week’s linguistic struggles at the Herald

Following the frenzied back-and-forth of parties registering their candidates for the August primaries last Saturday, this week saw plenty of speeches, communiqués, and Twitter spats as tickets were reacted to and campaigns were launched. 

In the process of covering it all, Herald journalists had to grasp at translation straws sometimes as we tried to convey what politicians really meant to say, particularly when Argentine slang was involved. Interesting that three of these are anatomical — a body politic, as it were.

Se la banca

Bancar is a very versatile verb that means: to wait for, to support, to bear/put up with, to finance, and to take responsibility for. So you can hear anything from “bancame” (wait for me”) to “bancate las consecuencias” (put up with the consequences). 

In a speech where he talked about his running mate Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, Larreta said that “se la banca,” referring to the police repression against protesters in the province led by Morales’ government.

This common form of using bancar —the passive form with an unspecified subject “la”— means to really pull your weight or just generally be awesome. According to Google, the translation is “be the bank,” but of course, we know better.


In Martina’s piece on consulting firms’ reaction to Economy Minister Sergio Massa being chosen as the ruling coalition Unión por la Patria’s (UxP) presidential candidate, one mentioned that Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro was the “dedazo” of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who played a key role in that decision. 

The Spanish suffix –azo is basically a cheerleader, used to play up the size, force, or importance of something. Argentines use it a lot for emphasis: a song you really like is a temazo, not just a tema. In the case of dedazo, the interviewee wasn’t referring to the size of our vice president’s finger but to her strong role in making decisions, with an implied forceful finality. Describing De Pedro as a “hand-picked successor” is tame in comparison. 

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Sin pelos en la lengua 

Speaking of the vice president, she gave a speech at the “death flight” plane repatriation event and provided the last two translation troubles of the week. 

As Kirchner pulled back the curtains on UxP decision-making, she prefaced her criticism of President Alberto Fernández with “quiero ser absolutamente sincera y hablar sin pelos en la lengua” — “I want to be absolutely sincere and talk without hairs on my tongue.”

The idiom uses having hairs stuck on your tongue as an image of impediment, the idea being that without them, you can talk directly, and sincerely, with no holding back. If someone tells you they want to say something sin pelos en la lengua, you may want to brace yourself. My translation was “I don’t want to mince my words” but it’s just not as forceful or evocative.

Que nadie se haga los rulos

The second was a turn of phrase Kirchner is somewhat known for, having used it in previous speeches: “que nadie se haga los rulos.” The literal translation would be “nobody do their curls” which is a Spanish idiom referring to not getting your hopes up or getting ahead of yourself.

The vice president has also used the idiom for political intrigue, referring to conspiring or overthinking, as she did this week. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist” might be a closer literal translation but would be further from the spirit of what was being said. In the end, the phrase wasn’t included as a direct quote — politics makes for a complicated toilette and sometimes efficiency wins.

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