How Do You Say "Hot Topic" en Français?

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 9 2009 5:44 PM

How Do You Say "Hot Topic" en Français?

When a Slate writer sees one of her pieces rendered into French on Slate.fr , she feels a frisson of excitement. Our European sister publication, which launched in February 2009, runs original stories as well as translations of pieces that first appeared in Slate . Since the only stories worthy of the translator's time and trouble are those focused on topics with global appeal, seeing your piece in French is like being told that it is cosmopolitan and somehow universal, not just some provincial American dead end.

So I was excited—and a little surprised—to see my own debut in the pages of Slate.fr earlier this week. Their skilled translators (they really are superb) transformed " Shirt-Buttoning Styles of the Weird and 'Special'  " into " Du boutonnage de chemise des gens bizarres ." I had cause to mention Forrest Gump and Sling Blade 's Karl Childers as well as nerdy characters from television, such as Urkel, Monk, and Artie from Glee . The translator, Peggy Sastre, left in all these references, which is kind of formidable —it suggests that the French are really au courant on American pop culture.

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Apparently, though, some things just cannot be translated. In the original, I said that parents are "more likely to stick to stores like JCPenney rather than venturing into Hot Topic." In the French version, that's rendered as " ils ont plus tendance à s'en remettre à C&A plutôt que d'aller s'aventurer chez American Apparel ." JCPenney became C&A, and Hot Topic became American Apparel. I'm not sure what to draw from that, but as a lapsed European, let me assure you of one thing: The worst imaginings of a French translator are far nicer than the cold reality of American mall stores.

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June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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