Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bored as an oyster?

Razor clam, boredom long past

The translation I'm working on includes the phrase, aburrirse como pingüinos-- become bored as penguins? A little sleuthing around turned up the phrase, aburrirse como una ostra or una almeja-- bored as an oyster, or bored as a clam. Bivalves likely lead pretty dull lives (though a razor clam can burrow down 24 inches in less than a minute which, allowing for scale, is faster than many bipeds can travel). A new phrase for me, but evidently a perfectly common way of saying "bored to tears" or "bored to death." Bored silly, bored stiff, bored beyond belief, bored out of one's mind--there's quite a variety of ways to say it in English. My guess would be lots of bored people, looking for colorful ways to complain. Based on the lists I've assembled so far, Spanish seems to have more "bored as an [x]" comparisons, while English speakers seem more likely to be bored into or out of a state or condition.

Idioms are a challenge--to teach, to translate, let alone to employ with any grace in one's own speech. One of my favorite moments from my college Spanish classes was when the exasperated professor, faced with a student's protest--"I'd never say it like that!"--responded drily, "Fortunately, the language is not limited to what you would or would not say." I think we were talking about heartbreak.

But about those penguins. In context, it's a variation on a common theme; the reader of the original would have the standard idiom in her repertoire, and notice the shift. Recognizable yet unexpected. I haven't quite worked out how to preserve that wrinkle in the English, though I'm thinking I might keep the penguins, just for fun. 

I'm seldom bored, but I'll be looking for ways to work the oyster's ennui into conversation.


  1. I love it, Amalia: As bored as a penguin! It's not so different from our own expressions as to be unintelligible and it certainly is descriptive. I mean, picture those penguins wobbling around down in Antarctica, dark for a huge part of the year, cold, beaks tucked in to stay warm, little chicks staying off the ice on male feet, adults only eating and huddling to stay warm. Pretty boring, indeed!

    I've got a couple of idiomatic expressions in my novel translation right now as well. They're challenging, to say the least.

  2. Thanks, Lisa! I agree-- after 24 hours of mulling it over, the penguins definitely stay. Meanwhile, another lightbulb goes off: in English, we don't have bored clams, but happy ones: aburrido como una alemja vs. happy as a clam.

  3. I love this post. But oh, how I wish you'd said those razor clams could bore down 24 inches, rather than burrow.

  4. How I wish the same, Ruth!

  5. In Spain they say "aburrirse como un hongo"--to be as bored as a toadstool. Which does seem like a pretty boring life.

  6. So much effort and variety in order to describe boredom--anything to keep the boredom of the toadstools and the penguins and the oysters at bay!