With the rise of the internet and the hyper speed at which communications are sent, received and processed, new and interesting issues have arisen for linguists and translators. This was highlighted two years ago when a young woman called Peaches Monroee posted a video of her eyebrows on the social media network Vine. In the video she described her eyebrows as on fleek, a previously unheard-of description meaning looking really good. Vine users were so intrigued by this unusual description that the post soon went viral and has since become a commonly used term by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
The word became so popular that around 12 months later dictionary.com added the definition as “flawlessly styled, groomed,…looking great”. Twelve months is quite a fast time for a word to go from public discourse to having an official dictionary definition. This highlights the issue for lexicographers, who are tasked with creating definitions in an era where words are created and become part of global conversation at a much greater speed than ever before.
There are a number of words like on fleek that can create challenges for translators. Other examples are baeless, meaning that one is single, without friends, gainz which refers to gaining weight through exercise, famo meaning family or friends, and cosplay, which is the practice of costumed role-playing. These words become widely used in the media and conversation even before their meaning has been formally defined.
Traditional lexicographers may wait for years before finally stamping a definition on a word or term. This gives the new word time to become more settled in terms of definition and pronunciation. There are a number of unofficial online resources such an Urban Dictionary that define terms such as on fleek but from looking at these definitions we can see the flaws in this. For instance, Urban Dictionary gives one definition of on fleek as “a word used by uncultured idiots”.
The problem for translators is that although words may have a generally accepted meaning they often don’t have an “industry standard” definition. This can lead to issues when these words appear in a document for translation. One major issue is trying to decide exactly what the author is trying to say, for instance when using a phrase like “double down”. As these words are not formally defined the exact interpretation of words or phrases of this nature is subjective and up for debate. This can lead to issues when trying to replicate the intended meaning of the author in another language.
As language rapidly evolves, translators always have to be ready to meet the new linguistic demands posed. In an era where messages and meaning travel at the speed of light, these challenges become ever more complex. Still, it’s challenges like this that makes the world of translations so fascinating.