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every bit of concept matters

October 3, 2010
By definition the periphrasis is a choice, a game, an art. As a speech figure, you use it because you fancy a bit of circumvolution. Therefore it should also be something terribly French: you know how we are supposed to have a very circumvoluted language, and this stereotype is not totally without foundation.
But anybody who would also know me, even a little, would know my thoughts and discourse are already circumvoluted. And therefore could wonder why so much frustration in having to use periphrasis. Well, the whole point of periphrasis is that you could express your ideas really more simply. And you choose not to. Translation periphrasis is a different case. It happens in the absence of a real word, it just fills a lack of. Under two different kind of circumstances.
Sometimes, as a foreign speaker, you lack of vocabulary and you have no choice but explaining the concept you wanted to express. Then you are told how you could say it, you learn, and time going on, it gets better and less frustrating. But, sometimes, there is just no word.
So far I can think only of verbs, and that might make the problem even more frustrating. In French for example, we have a verb for the action of practising irony (ironiser). This definition in itself says it all. We are not passively being ironic, we practise irony, it is something active. Irony is an art, another game of speech and it is really not doing it justice to not have a verb for it.
I am actually not certain there are many examples of forced periphrasis when you go from French to English, but the bit of concept which is lost every time in the process of translating matters (to parody the UK government).
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