Logos Multilingual Portal

10 - The Logos Library and other resources

"we might conclude that the condensation is accomplished by means of omission, inasmuch as the dream is not a faithful translation or projection, point by point, of the dream-thoughts, but a very incomplete and defective reproduction of them"1.

In this unit I still deal with Logos Library and other online resources for translators. I must solve another problem I have met in a contemporary British novel. The sentence implied is:

I am really, really happy for Frank that he's having so much sex - someone in this house has to, and it sure as pants isn't me.

My problem is not so much understanding, since it is easily intuitable that the expression "sure as pants" means something very similar to "certain". Since it is fiction, I must get some features of this expression:

  1. is it a widespread expression?
  2. are there other similar expressions more widespread of which this one is a variant?
  3. in what context it is more probable to find it?
  4. does it have low-register connotations?

I try insert the string in the Logos Library: I don't get any results. This is already some answer: of course, if it is not present in the huge database, it is not a frequent expression. Without discouraging, I decide to disassemble the string in two substrings, since I don't know the exact extension of the possible collocation, to see if maybe only two of the three words are typically collocated one near the other:

sure as

as pants.

Here are some results of "sure as":

And I, as sure as English Henry lives And as his father here was conqueror, As sure as in this late-betrayed town Great Coeur-de-lion's heart was buried [...] (Shakespeare, Henry VI).

And I, as sure as English Henry liues, And as his Father here was Conqueror; As sure as in this late betrayed Towne [...] (Reed, Dead March).

She was not sure as to the law, and asked herself whether it would be possible for her to consult an attorney. (Trollope, Rachel Ray).

As sure as what is most sure, sure as that spring primroses Shall new-dapple next year, sure as to-morrow morning (Hopkins, Poems).

Results are so many, here I reported only a little extract. Here are the results of "as pants":

This you seek is gone; Look in, she said, as pants the furnace, brief, Frost-white. (Meredith, Poems).

As you can see, this example (only result of my search) is not at all relevant to the query I'm doing. As to the results of "sure as", I notice that in many potentially relevant cases the string is preceded by another "as", which confirms that "sure as pants" is a complement of comparison. To control if there are typical expressions of this kind. I try modifying the string in "as sure as". Here is a synthesis of the results:

was ready to declare, as sure as ever she meant to take the sacrament the very next Christmas (Eliot, Silas Marner). An' ye'll go to the bad, my gel, as sure as a die!' (Corelli, The Mighty Atom). as sure as my name is Robin Hood (Maspadden, Robin Hood). as sure as God sees me, (Wells, Tono-Bungay). as sure as death (Burroughs, The Outlaw of Torn). was whooping-cough as sure as eggs is eggs. (Nesbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet). And, if it hadn't been for Mr. Poirot here, arrested you would have been, as sure as eggs is eggs!" (Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles Court). I sure as hell call him anymore. (Avellone, Smoke). It sure as hell be the government. (Schwartau, Terminal Compromise).

Since I notice the prevalence of expressions with "hell" or "eggs", I try moving on to the internet search engine, Google, where I can use even longer strings, and I get these data:

sure as hell 141.000 occurrences

sure as eggs 3.400 occurrences

sure as pants 2 occurrences

Since it is a British text, I try narrowing my search to British sites, to see in what way these data are altered:

I connect to the site http://www.google.co.uk, click on the option "pages from the UK" and repeat the search:

sure as hell 10.200 occurrences

sure as eggs 693 occurrences

sure as pants 1 occurrence

The first thing I notice is that the relation between the frequency of "eggs" and "hell" in the first search was 2.4 percent, in the second is 6.8 percent (nearly three times more), from which I infer that probably "as sure as eggs are eggs" is a British expression. Which is confirmed consulting the Cambridge Dictionary (http://dictionary.cambridge.org):

(as) sure as eggs is eggs UK OLD-FASHIONED for certain: One day he'll realize that I was right, as sure as eggs is eggs.

The only occurrence of "sure as pants" doesn't say much new: it is from the site where the novel to be translated itself is advertised. I infer that it is no collocation. Probably the expression was coined by the author herself, or was used in a rather restricted circle, so that it couldn't yet become visible on the outside.

Context, as is gathered event from the short quotation I did in the beginning, it that of a situation in which sex is much done and much talked about. Even if there is no strict connection between sex and pants, probably the author thought of the connotations of this choice suggested to the reader.

It would be very simple to translate with a cliché. The most trivial that I can recall are, for example:

sicuro come l'oro

sicuro come due e due fanno quattro

sicuro come la morte

In this way, a very rare expression would be substituted in the translation for a platitude, a stereotype, coming from completely different contexts with connotational references to something totally different. "Sicuro come l'oro" makes you think something completely different from sex, "come due e due fanno quattro" is an obsolete expression, and rather long to be inserted in a very rapid prose, "come la morte" refers to completely different thoughts.

One should also ask what can be certain about pants. Probably in our culture the most certain fact is that we wear them every day. Finding a translation that preserve this unusual, reckless metaphor would be wonderful. Some solutions that I get to are:

sicuro come le mutande

puoi scommetterci le mutande

The first solution is more fragile, the second is maybe the one that more gets near the jockey spirit of the novel, while preserving the metaphor.


Bibliographical references

FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.

FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & company, 1913.

1 Freud 1900: 258.