11 of the Most Famous Translation Quotes Every Translator should know

Writing_Quote_358Quotes are meant to be tools of inspiration and reflection. There are hundreds of thousands of quotes about any subject one can possibly imagine as they are used by people on a daily basis in their lives.

Being in love with my job (translation, what else?), there are a few particular translation quotes that really inspire me or get me thinking. The below are 10 of the most famous of these quotes which I think each translator should be familiar with.


“What is lost in the good or excellent translation is precisely the best.”
– Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel


“Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.”
– Yevgeny Yevtushenko


“Fantastic writing in English is kind of disreputable, but fantastic writing in translation is the summit.”
– Jonathan Lethem


“A translation is no translation, he said, unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.”
– John Millington Synge


“As far as modern writing is concerned, it is rarely rewarding to translate it, although it might be easy. Translation is very much like copying paintings.”
– Boris Pasternak


“Translation is an interestingly different way to be involved both with poetry and with the language that I’ve found myself living in much of the time. I think the two feed each other.”
– Marilyn Hacker


“Any adaptation is a translation, and there is such a thing as an unreadably faithful translation; and I believe a degree of reinterpretation for the new language may be not only inevitable but desirable.”
– David Mitchell


“Translation makes me look at how a poem is put together in a different way, without the personal investment of the poem I’m writing myself, but equally closely technically.”
– Marilyn Hacker


“By reason of weird translation, many such sets of instructions read like poems anyhow.”
– Brian Ferneyhough


“The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of a tapestry.”
– Leonardo Sciascia


“Translation is at best an echo.”
– George Borrow


If you have any other translation quotes that you find quite inspiring, please share them in the comments below!






  • Samba Lam

    These quotes made me learn a lot about translation.

    Translating is betraying the author of a source text

    December 2, 2013 at 9:36 am Reply
  • oscar j. ardiles better than any quote before/while/after translating
    Oscar J. Ardiles

    December 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm Reply
  • Luisa Veyan Santana

    Interesting post..
    This is the link with photos and inspiring quotes about language and translation…Enjoy it…

    December 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm Reply
    • admin

      Thank you, Luisa!

      December 6, 2013 at 11:45 am Reply
  • Irina

    I have a book of french aphorisms about translation, “Bréviaire d’un traducteur” by Carlos Batista.
    Some of my favorites:
    “Une traduction peut être supérieure à l’original et il n’est pas nécessaire pour cela d’avoir trahi celui-ci, il aura suffi de porter à maturité quelques-uns de ses fruits encore verts sur les branches.”
    “Un traducteur douanier disait : Les mots ont des frontières, pour la plupart incontrôlables.”
    “Comme les parallèles, deux langues ne se rejoignent qu’à l’infini.”

    December 6, 2013 at 11:40 am Reply
    • admin

      Irina, j’aime beaucoup ta contribution! Ce livre m’a l’air vraiment intéressant 🙂

      December 6, 2013 at 11:44 am Reply
  • véronique gobert

    one of my French teachers once said : “on prie dans une langue, mais on appelle au secours dans une autre” … meaning something like there is no such thing as absolute bilinguism, you may pray in one language (acquired), but as it comes to save one’s life, you call for help in another (your one and only mother tongue) …

    January 5, 2014 at 9:11 am Reply
  • rogermckeon

    Something may have been lost in translation, but it certainly wasn’t love.
    Erich Segal – The Class, p. 198

    The wonderful effects of love. Of loving not only that which is born of the other, but that which demands to be born. And of doing it again. Not only does a translator help to give birth; he/she helps something demand to be born in the so-called target language. A good translator loves and respects not only what has been thought [le pensé] but also a “way of thinking,” as the saying goes.

    Jean-François Lyotard – Foreword to The Lyotard Reader, pp. x & xi

    March 31, 2015 at 2:15 pm Reply
    • admin

      I love them, Roger!

      Thanks for the contribution 🙂


      March 31, 2015 at 2:22 pm Reply
  • Lisi

    “Translations are like women. if they are beautiful, they are not faithful; if they are faithful, they are not beautiful.”
    – Carl Bertrand, NOT Yevgeny Yevtushenko

    April 3, 2015 at 8:21 pm Reply
  • Cosima

    I love your quotes! They’re really inspirational! However, the quote about a beautiful or faithful woman is rather sexist, don’t you think? I get that it’s quite on point, if you ignore the sexism, but I think everyone should be aware that mentalities that beget such quotes are hurtful for women. And it’s counterproductive to promote them. Hope you don’t mind my honesty, I still love the rest of your quotes! Best, Cosima

    April 11, 2015 at 5:37 am Reply
  • Denise

    I love the quote that says that translation, at best is an echo. It demonstrates that translation is not only science, but also an art form.

    May 18, 2015 at 3:46 am Reply

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