¿Qué quiere decir esta palabra “significa”?

I.e. , What does this word “means” mean? Or maybe What does this Spanish word “significa” mean?

In the Spanish version, Baldo’s question in panel 3 ¿Qué significa eso? he speculatively answers for himself with sort of paraphrases of Sergio’s [Papi’s] saying from panel 2, but tending more toward argumentative applications to his current situation. When Sergio answers in panel 4 by just repeating the saying verbatim and asserting that is the meaning, he is bringing down Baldo’s flights of fancy and special pleading by just repeating the idea, for an “it is what it is” effect. All of this makes easy sense.

In the English version, Sergio’s saying in panel 2 is originally presented in Spanish, then repeated in panel 4 in English translation. So It means … in panel 4 amounts to It would be translated as … . Then when we look at Baldo’s What does that mean … in panel 3, is he still only asking for significance and situational applications (which he then supplies, sometimes ironically)? Or is he in any part asking for help in translation? (Since a translation is what he gets.)


  1. Sometimes I think that Baldo is written in English and re-translated into Spanish, other times vice-versa. Could a native Spanish speaker please offer an opinion about whether the text in the first strip reads like a machine translation? Many of the phrases place the adjectives in the normal “Spanish” position (after the noun), but others have them in the “English” position (before the noun). Compare “un buen coche” with “un coche perfecto“, as well as the phrases for the “old wise man” and/or “saying”.

  2. “Hoy es un dia perfecto para ser feliz” means “today is a perfect day to be happy.” So when Baldo says, “What does that mean – a perfect car makes for a perfect day?” he isn’t translating word for word, he is trying to understand what the father is getting at.

    And “un buen coche” and “un coche perfecto” are perfect Spanish. That’s how they are said.

  3. @Peter I think editnorm may be pointing out that while the strip is clearly about Baldo needing to be hyperbolic and/or needing to make irrelevant statements in order to fuel (keep wind in the sails) of his rant….., an English-only reader of the English version doesn’t know that until the rant is over. It’s a rather beautiful depiction of a rage by one to another, both of whom love each other. We English readers actually miss the depth of feeling that Baldo is trying to release from his system. The author, I guess, thought it would be an “oh, now I understand.” experience for the English reader. I feel that the author’s judgment in that moment, alas, went from his heart to his head.

  4. I think we have at various times seen evidence that seems to support either direction for the translation of Baldo between the Spanish and English editions. But it seems more widely accepted that their general practice is English to Spanish. That was also the conclusion here at CIDU discussion when most recently it came up [[note to self: look up and insert reference]].

    But I don’t think I have seen the rather outré suggestion that some automatic translation tool is being used. Most of what look like well-informed sources say the translations are good — as idiomatic translations or even literary translations, of each speech bubble or similar item.

    But an additional question comes up, especially if we’re not sure it is the comic creators who do the translating (regardless of whatever the direction is). This additional question has to do with the effectiveness of the translation given the day’s comic as a whole. Does some translation choice fit well or not so well with the pace and strategy of setting up the joke and then revealing the joke?

    In this case the question unusually is not “how to translate” but “whether to translate”. In the English version, Sergio’s “wise old saying” in panel 2 is given in Spanish, and he gives a perfect English translation in panel 4. In the Spanish version of the strip, both instances are identical and in Spanish.

    So, what do we think of the decision to use the Spanish in one of the places the saying comes up in the English version of the strip? Does it change the point of the joke? I say yes. To good effect? I don’t know.

  5. Is it established that Baldo is fluent in Spanish? If so, then the two strips are basically equivalent: Baldo understands perfectly well what the meaning is, and is trying to paraphrase it into something more palatable. But if Baldo’s Spanish is rough, then he is speaking to his father in English and making up favorable pseudo-translations. This would be very hard to communicate in an all-Spanish version of the strip.

  6. @Danny Right, in the Spanish version the “saying” is identical the two times the dad gives it. That’s in response to Baldo asking “What does that mean exactly?”, so the dad just saying “It means …” and repeating it exactly is a way of saying it’s beyond explication, it just is this simple forthright statement of taking pleasure in a day that is ready to shape up well.

    And the same thing would be the point in the English version, if the “saying” had been given in English both times, in identical words. (Apart from it not actually being a familiar old motto in English. )

  7. @CaroZ It definitely is set in the United States, and Baldo was born in the U.S., and lives in a Spanish-speaking community. I don’t have a conclusive source, but my impression has always been that Baldo and Gracie (his little sister) are quite comfortable in both languages. At any rate, there is nothing advanced or subtle about the “perfect day for being happy” bit — as a sentence to translate, that is, so saying nothing about its meaning as a parable or image.

    So in short, in the English version, I don’t think I can agree with your take that Baldo actually needs help understanding the Spanish, at a basic level. And his blustery offers of what it might “mean” are not intended as translations, burt just a moment of assertion. 🙂

  8. FWIW, as a student of Spanish, I have a hard time remembering whether to put the adjective before or after the noun. I generally just try to get used to where others are putting it. (I live in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood.)

  9. Thanks, deety, that was exactly my question. I knew Baldo was American of an immigrant (Mexican?) family, but wasn’t clear on how fully bilingual he was supposed to be. (And yes, that sentence was trivial to translate even for me just guessing from similar French words!)

  10. I’m still not sure what heinous thing Baldo did to deserve the expensive punishment Sergio laid on him by giving him that car. I mean, it’s a shell of the car Baldo wants but no matter how much he works on it, or the amount of his meager savings from working at Autos y Rod he dumps into it, it will never be anything but a pile of junk. It will sit in the driveway deteriorating until he gets rid of it. Or moves away and Serigo gets rid of it to reclaim his driveway.

  11. French, like Spanish, often puts the word for “good” before the noun even though adjectives normally come after the noun. God is referred to as “Le Bon Dieu,” not “Le Dieu Bon.” Likewise “une bonne idée” which means “one Easter.”

    English occasionally puts the adjective after the noun, but in the phrase “Tripping the light fantastic” I don’t know which is the noun and which is the adjective.

  12. I can’t claim to be fluent in Spanish, but it looks as if Sergio and Baldo are using a sort of generic version, not unlike how American TV anchors used to try to sound as if they were from Ohio, so English speakers from anywhere would understand them (because that dialect isn’t as distinctive as Bronx or Texan).

  13. Carl Fink, I.dont really understand your comment. What makes you think that? in what ways does their variety of Spanish seem unanchored?

    And then, what consequences would flow from that, if true or better supported? Would it have any bearing on how the joke works here?

  14. English occasionally puts the adjective after the noun, but in the phrase “Tripping the light fantastic” I don’t know which is the noun and which is the adjective.

    According to Wikipedia (usual caveats) the phrase comes from a Milton poem:

    Come, and trip it as ye go,
    On the light fantastick toe.

    So really it looks like the noun went missing.


  15. @Dana_K, just the fact that neither Baldo nor Sergio uses any colloquialisms at all. Every sentence from the strip could be in my seventh-grade Spanish book. It’s not directly relevant to the joke, it’s topic drift.

  16. Okay, thanks Carl Fink. I’m sorry I seemed to be alarmed at topic drift. Probably the unspoken source of my perceived saltiness was a suspicion that your language notes might invite/allow a revival of the earlier weird conspiracy theory that Baldo comics are translated by automated MT tools!

  17. So both “light” and “fantastic” are adjectives, and both in the right place before the noun, and thanks less to Milton and more to “The Sidewalks of New York” we have to endure laser light shows with the title “Laser: Truly The Light Fantastic.”

  18. Hmm, I think that has something to do with “allow trackbacks” setting. The October 1 “Bonus:” post had a link to this one, so it made a comment to that effect. Though usually when I’ve seen something like that it had a different presentation from the actual human comments.

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