In space, no-one can hear your tired clichés

Until recently, I had never heard of the word ‘snowclone’, and when I did, I assumed it was a type of weather (a snowy cyclone – please tell me I’m not the only person who thought this!). But no, a snowclone is actually a type of cliché, in which you change part of the phrase to suit your own end. For example, “Telephone interpreting is the new face-to-face” or “Once a translator, always a translator.”

I’m sure we all come across these on a day-to-day basis, as they provide an instantly recognisable (and not to mention easy) way for writers to formulate a punchline or title (and yes, I know my title is a bit laboured, but it was the best I could think of). But how do they translate? Many languages have their own snowclones, but because they are often grounded in pop culture and shared experience, it will be difficult to translate the message, while conveying the same connotations as the original cliché.

If you are lucky, there will be a parallel snowclone in the other language, for example:

Le monde se partage en deux catégories : ceux qui _____ et ceux qui _____.
There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend. Those who _____ and those who _____.

In this case, this is thanks to the translation of an iconic film being popular in France, and when translating a snowcloned film reference, looking for a translation of the film can be a useful tactic. However, this will not always work, especially if the film was a flop overseas, because the audience might not recognise the line!

However, it is not normally as easy to find an appropriate target-language clichés as in the above example, and I was wondering what our readers’ thoughts were? What do you tend to do when translating clichés? Do you just translate the meaning of the phrase, or try to find an equivalent snowclone? Which tactic is best? I’m sure there is a wide range of opinion on the matter!