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A fine example of the art of non-translation from Italian to English, seen in the southern Sicilian town of Noto.

A fine example of the art of non-translation from Italian to English, seen in the southern Sicilian town of Noto.

Information boards in Italy rarely illuminate but they do serve as a showcase for reams of flowery Italian and as many paragraphs of impenetrable English translation. I use that word loosely. The challenge is to read them and not double up with laughter.

I have a theory about how these translations come about. They are the dastardly work of someone who has responded to a cry across a crowded office for help. ‘Hey, anyone know any English? Give me a hand with this.’ (That’s a rough translation of the original.)

The courageous person who steps up is confident they have a command of the English language good enough to turn dense Italian prose into the sort of language that the English-speaking world can recognise. This is meritorious, in its way, except that they are misguided. They merely employ a string of words and phrases that they remember from school and three months of working in Zio Pepe’s pizzeria in Coventry.

They have a predilection for words such as ‘immersed’, ‘characteristic’ and ‘suggestive’ which make the reader lose concentration while grasping to maintain a hold on reality.

These long screeds of quasi-English verging on the semi-lunatic offer more laugh-a-minute errors than if the piece had been run through Google translate – and that’s saying something.

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