As I may have said, I’m reading Umberto Eco’s ‘The Prague Cemetery’, which I think I’m enjoying. I think. He must be a genius, because who else could grip you for 420 pages (and counting) with the diary of a bigoted anti-semite, misogynistic, xenophobic fraudster who played both ends against the middle during the Unification of Italy and then went on to construct the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and so help to provoke a century of world wars? Eh?
Anyway, that’s not what I meant to say. On page 432, Eco puts into the mouth of a Russian secret serviceman the expression “how do you say?” (And on the next page the same character says “I don’t know…” – imagine a shrug with spread hands here.) And I remember that this is, of course, a translation, from the original Italian. Eco would have written “come si dice?” and “non so…”
The Russian certainly isn’t speaking Italian. From the context, it’s probably French. Eco doesn’t specify. So, what we are looking at here is an author writing in his native Italian, imagining the thoughts of a native Russian speaker who is expressing himself in a foreign language (French) and converting the result into his written Italian – and the outcome then being translated (by the admirable Richard Dixon) into the English I read.
как говорят → comment on dit? → come si dice? → how do you say?
Anyway, that’s not what I meant to say either. The thing is, having a smidgeon (albeit rustily diminishing) of proficiency in the language, I now find myself trying to translate the English text back into the Italian Umberto might have originally written. It doesn’t make for a speed-read, I can tell you.
I have no idea what the point of this post might be. Nurse says it’s time for my lie-down.