Translation troubles: overscrewed

From screw threads to playing cards, a peek into the Herald’s bilingual conundrums

As we enter the homestretch of the October 22 election, it’s unsurprising that two-thirds of this week’s translation troubles came from political candidates. As a heads up, next week we’ll be looking at words and phrases pulled from the presidential debates — the first gave us some trouble, and the second, happening hours after time of writing, is sure to include more bilingual headaches.

For now, here are three from the past week: overscrewed, downed lines and joker cards.

Pasarse de rosca

Presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich said that rival Javier Milei’s denialism was “pasarse de rosca.” This has a fairly simple English translation — to go overboard, going too far. But it doesn’t capture this illustrative turn of phrase, which is what these columns are for. 

A rosca is a screw thread — the little grooves on a screw that make it easier to drive it into things. So you can already imagine where pasarse de rosca comes from, going beyond the allocated grooves, maybe overheating the drill, and making a hole in the wall you’ll have to explain to your landlord later. But there’s also the fact that once you’re past the grooves that give effort direction, all you can do is go round and round in circles. Overscrewed and ostensibly with no payoff.

As a kid, I would usually hear “you’re overscrewed when it was past our bedtime and we had way too much energy for the exasperated adult in question. But there’s also a political angle, usually through the verb rosquear — basically to lobby, furiously network to get ahead, or, a bit more dramatic, make shadowy private deals that affect public policy. When we say “la rosca,” then, it’s usually in reference to the realpolitik of political jabs and peddling influence behind closed doors. 

And yes, this is where the Herald category “La Rosca” comes from. In an electoral year, I think we can say with certainty that we’re all feeling a little “overscrewed.”

You may also be interested in: Milei’s denialist claims during the presidential debate met with ample rejection

Bajar línea

When covering a mayoral candidate’s misdirected ire towards a cartoon for supposedly being state-funded propaganda, the team was faced with the phrase bajar línea. To “bring down the line” is to lay down the law, basically, to impose something on someone. Kind of like dedazo, it’s usually a hierarchical decision in a political context, often with implications of the line being of ideological slant (perhaps like “deliver the party line”). But you could suffer a downing of the line from anyone, really. 

Interestingly, English’s view of a “line” is usually from the other perspective: to toe the line is to accept the bajada de línea from the higher-ups, willingly or not.

In the end, the candidate’s quote was “My mom says Paka Paka cartoons are politically biased.” The translation of bajar línea was arguably the least troubling part.

You may also be interested in: Digital culture roundup: Inside a mayoral candidate’s feud with a cartoon


A couple of weeks ago when about our preferences about something I said “It’s all the same to me, puedo ser comodín.” I realized immediately that my offer would need some explaining: another case of an existing direct translation meaning something very different.

A comodín is a joker card, the function of which is to stand in for a missing card. In Spanish when we say comodín we mean something versatile or a jack of all trades willing to adapt to whatever is needed. The thing is, in English, saying “I can be the joker” doesn’t carry the same meaning at all. Neither does “wild card,” which would be the opposite of making people’s lives easier, nor “trump card.” 

The best I could come up with in the moment was “think of me like a blank Scrabble tile.” That felt a little self-deprecating though so if anyone has a more succinct comparison, do let us know. I wonder what it says about our languages culturally that in one, the joker can communicate a person’s willingness to accommodate others while in another it’s synonymous with a supremely chaotic Batman villain.

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