Translation troubles: saving penalties

From goalie day to nutmegging, these are the sporting translation conundrums that have got us thinking this week

A goalkeeper saves penalties. Source: Jannes Glas via Unsplash

We’ve already had banderazo and the unfortunate LTA as football translation troubles. Still, since we watched the Argentina-Canada match at the fourth Herald Night on Thursday and the Copa América is officially in full swing, I thought we’d dedicate this week’s columns to some football-related phrases. 

Día del arquero

As Fernando wrote, “An old Argentine adage says that when a debt is likely to go unpaid, the creditor will get their due ‘on goalkeeper’s day.’” We’re not sure where it comes from but in Argentina, it’s a way of referring to a distant, impossible future — the idea being that it’s never goalie day. A little bit like “till kingdom come” or “until the cows come home.”

That, however, was before 2011, the year Argentina got an official Goalkeeper’s Day in honor of Amadeo Carrizo’s birthday. And before Argentina won the World Cup with Dibu Martínez. What underappreciated job do you reckon we should use instead?

You may also be interested in: Time to pay your debts: Goalkeeper’s Day is here

Meter un caño

This was a double translation trouble in the newsroom: someone asked what meter un caño meant and when I answered “nutmeg” the indignant answer was “Why the hell is it called ‘nutmegging’?”

For those unfamiliar, both terms refer to kicking the ball through someone’s legs and making off with it. In Argentina, the move might come with a gleeful cry of “Caño!” because it’s fun if you manage it and embarrassing when it’s done to you. Caño means pipe (also called túnel in other Spanish-speaking countries). Germany, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway apparently use similar words to denote that you have “tunneled” through your opponent’s legs.

As for the English version, there are several theories as to why “nutmeg” was the chosen word (as far as I can tell other linguistic variations of the practice don’t include the spice). They include 1940s Cockney rhyming slang for “leg,” an allusion to the, er, nuts of a player, and a nod to swindling practices in the nutmeg trade. Whatever its origins, we decided against Amy’s literal translation of nuezdemoscadeó.

You may also be interested in: Your guide to the nicknames of Argentina’s 10 most popular football clubs

Atajando penales

I’m including this turn of phrase because I love it and can’t say it in English which is bizarre given the prominence that football — and penalties specifically — has in both British and Argentine culture. As anyone who’s watched penalty shootouts, especially World Cup-defining shootouts, they’re stressful and the uncertainty can be nauseating. 

The closest translation I’ve come up with is “putting out fires.” You’re “saving penalties” when you’re being called to step up to the plate (or multiple spinning plates, to mix metaphors), having to lunge suddenly and quickly one way to the other to stop the ball from getting into the net. 

I use it a fair bit to describe how my afternoon shift went after a hectic day of editing multiple urgent stories. Do let me know if there’s a football-related idiom or phrase in English that captures the sentiment!

You may also be interested in: How 30,000 witches helped Argentina win the World Cup


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