Medical Translation course by Asetrad, Madrid 2011: another year, another course!

Ok, first of all sorry for my long absence since I’ve attended this course… sometimes I wish time would extend and multiply, to achieve days of 48 hrs – where 15 are for sleeping, at least.

To cut it short: I have been desperate to update you on the last trip and course, which was sort of half way between a sequel/complementary course to the one I went to last year.
Asetrad organised a 2-day workshop with Fernando Navarro*.

I went with good friend and colleague Livia, met the nicest of people (@aidagda, @playmobiles, @sanirameneri @juliacgs @judcarrera) who pampered us and showed us the most important of things when abroad: where to eat (well). Gracias, ¡divinas!

The venue was a nice, central Husa hotel and the subject was ‘Mistakes of the medical jargon‘ and ‘The anglicization of Spanish‘. As you may know, this course was done considering English and Spanish only but as a fluent speaker of the latter – and a sucker for challenges – I always try to make the most of occasions and find relations to Italian, if any.
I could speak for ages about the good points of this event but I’ll try and make a good summary.

Just as my good colleague Aida said in her entry on the subject, it was good the event had practical parts, where the ever-funny Fernando showed us how the medical lexicon should be used properly – and how sometimes the mistake is at the source.

Far from knowing all about the medical translation now, it is clear that:

  • it’s always good to know a bit more of the substances mentioned in the files ie. sometimes, realizing a word is used mistakenly instead of a similar-sounding one, can really ‘save lives’ – no pun intended!
  • the medical language should leave no room for double interpretation. English tends to use the same word over and over  eg. cancer even when synonyms are available (tumor). This is not the case in SP or IT, for instance, where the approach to repeated words entails using different words to make the text flow better. That’s totally fine, provided we choose our words right.
  • Again, a bit of knowledge of medicine always helps. One of the examples Fernando showed us saw a journalist writing about a person forced on her wheel-chair due to arteriosclerosis when he obviously meant Multiple Sclerosis, instead.
  • Another one: quinine and quinidine are substances used for very different purposes: one is used for malaria the other one is an anti-arrhythmic agent.

<< A funny part of the course was the one dedicated to examples taken from the press or published work, where the medical jargon was used as a metaphor – with unhappy results!
eg. This dangerous virus is a real cancer of our society – too much medicine in one line… such a bad lexicon choice!

On the other hand, a nice expression to remember is something thas is the ‘spine‘ of something else eg. in IT: questo concetto è la spina dorsale di tutta la sue teoria. Just some food for thoughts.

The lesson learnt? Medicine-based metaphors are strong and meaningful, so use them carefully. And above all, not when you are talking about medicine!

<< English tends to use less formal words than romance languages so it’s important to make sure that the Italian or Spanish version, for example, use the right word for the right audience, too.
And here the issue of ‘mistakes’. False friends are very common:

EN anhtrax = ES carbunco, NOT ántrax
EN plague = ES peste, NOT plaga
EN sulphur = azufre, NOT sulfuro

<< A common point of medical jargon is the use/reference to Greek and Latin. But you’ll be surprised to know that other languages ‘invented’ terms used in this world, too:
Dutch: drug
Portuguese: albinism
Amerindian: guanine
German: Mastozyt, mast cell
Interesting, isn’t it?

<< Some words that ‘sound’ English are commonly used in Spanish (and in Italian, let me add); some are related to the medical world – but not only! Some examples below:

– piercing
– kit (in the RAE dictionary)
– doping
– copyright
– scanner
– show
– spa
– hobby
– DJ
– relax
– screening
– spray
– staff
– test
– pool
– standard
– jeep
– lobby
– thriller

Also, funnily enough Spanish and Italians use words like ‘footing‘ (meaning: jogging) thinking they’re being smart when in fact this word has been taken from the English and then adapted…

We touched on anglicisms, too. They may be:
1. phonetic: eg. Nike, WiFi read in ES and IT as they are; this also works with words of other origin, like Sahara, Westfalia etc.

2. orthographic: EN colorectal = has 2 ‘R’s in ES ( = colorrectal); benzene = can be mistaken with benzeno, while it should have a ‘c’ instead of the ‘z’.

3. typographic: eg. using capital letters in titles, when both Italian and Spanish do not need that.

4. syntactic: articles to begin a sentence are common both Italian and Spanish, while English does not need any; the use of periphrastic constructions, not very fluent in both Italian and Spanish but common in EN; word order, a common mistake that EN into SP and IT translators may fall into, eg. Real Madrid Club de Futbol. Why? It’s supposed to read Club de Futbol Real Madrid! or again, cienciaficción (science fiction; but: fantascienza in IT).

5. lexical: ie. loan translations at their best!

Eg. volleyball = balón voleo <cringing> and others, used as nouns:
– peeling
– lifting
– doping
– screening
– marketing
– zapping
– parking
– consulting

My fave is: puenting! ( = taking a long weekend off, usually when a bank holiday occurs).
These are very hard to fight – if we may say so – especially when nuances and different meaning or tones come into the game. Eg. ‘aggressive’ in EN is positive sometimes, meaning energetic or full of verve. In Spanish and Italian, an aggressive person is only violent. The same is valid for ‘ambition‘ = in ES ambición is usually negative, and can be replaced by determinación, aspiración; in IT as far as I know, is both negative and positive, depending on context.

6. graphic: eg. STOP in road signs. It’s supposed to be universal but in Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Brasil, it’s PARE; in Mexico and some parts of Central America, ALTO.

<< An interesting part was the one devoted to acronyms and abbreviations.

A&E – (UK) Accidents and Emergencies / (USA) ER / IT: Pronto Soccorso / ES: Urgencias
IV – intravenous / intravenoso
PR – per rectum (exam) / ES: tacto rectal
PV – per vaginam (exam)  / ES: tacto vaginal
FBc – full blood count  / IT: emogramma completo / ES: emograma completo
U & Es – urine and electrolites / IT: urea ed elettroliti / Es: urea y electrolitos
LFT – live function test / IT: esame della funzione epatica / ES: test función hepática
white cells – IT: leucociti o globuli bianchi / ES: leucocitos o glóbulos blancos
MR – always a surgeon in the UK
Abdo pain – IT: dolor abdominal / ES: dolor abdominal
Ultrasound scan – IT/ES: ecografia/ecografía
(to) clerk in: IT: ricoverare / ES: ingresar

<< Some interesting / funny links:

  1.… (sorry, apparently not available on this link at the moment…)

So, yet to conclude: by no means this summary is comprehensive but hey, this is a complicated (and fascinating) field that would deserve many subtle explanations and detailed articles.
After all, even Bécquer got it wrong when he said the ‘pupila‘ was ‘azul‘ (as Fernando mentioned, it’s the iris that bears the coloured pigment, not the pupil).

I hope you enjoyed it nevertheless!

* Fernando Navarro: Licenciado en medicina y cirugía y médico especialista en farmacología clínica, pero colgó la bata blanca en 1993 para dedicarse profesionalmente a la traducción médica. Es socio de honor de Asetrad, coordinador de la bitácora Laboratorio del lenguaje y autor del Diccionario crítico de dudas inglés-español de medicina (2.ª edición; Madrid: McGraw-Hill·Interamericana, 2005), Traducción y lenguaje en medicina (Barcelona: Esteve, 1997), Parentescos insólitos del lenguaje (Madrid: Del Prado, 2002) y más de quinientos artículos en revistas especializadas sobre teoría y práctica de la traducción médica y los problemas del lenguaje médico. Recientemente, ha desempeñado la coordinación técnica del Diccionario de términos médicos (2011) de la Real Academia Nacional de Medicina)

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