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a mule

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pinching or unpleasant remark

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dinner

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Home / Blog / Tarjama-e-Tarjama: Translating the word Tarjama

Tarjama-e-Tarjama: Translating the word Tarjama

by Rajat Kumar 09 November 2021 2 min Read

Tarjama-e-Tarjama: Translating the word Tarjama

Nowadays in English, the word ‘translate’ is often used quite unusually. Like, ‘the money that’s been invested must translate into success.’

Does that mean money (material) would actually convert into success (immaterial)? 

No. It means money would bring about success. Interestingly, that’s what ‘translate’ literally means ‘to carry across’; ‘to bring across’. And, as is evident, it has nothing to do with either language or text-conversion. Yet, it’s used in that sense!

Such is the case with this word’s Urdu counterpart ‘Tarjama’. So today, we’ll try to translate the word ‘Tarjama’ inside-out, and see what it brings across; perhaps we’ll get to know something unknown?

Let us begin with recalling the meanings we are most familiar with- translating a text from one language to the other; interpretation. 

Strong start! Let’s keep scratching its surface. A good idea is to crack open its root-word ‘Rajm’.

Rajm actually means, ‘pelting a stone at Satan, stoning to death’; I know what you’re thinking, that’s one meaning I can do without. But wait, this is where Rajm’s second meaning arises- to reproach, to damn, to say ‘evil be upon you! (buraa ho teraa!)’ – it’s so natural, why would someone hurl stones at Satan and not say a word, one’d surely have some cuss words besides all the stones!

What we’ve done so far is correlate stoning and speaking. Now, enters its third and final meaning, the one most useful to us, ‘speaking by conjecture, taking a guess’. It seems a far-fetched meaning, but the idea here is, ‘if you’ve something bad to say (to damn), it must be an assumption; because an emotionally-charged expression is devoid of clarity.’ 

Moving on from that strange rationalization, it’s time to get back at our focus-word, Tarjama.

Essentially, Tarjama comes to mean ‘taking conjecture out of the equation (shakk duur karna)’. In Arabic, it originally means ‘a biography, an account of a person’s life and events.’ Tarjama Karna would therefore mean to write a biography, and not translate, in Arabic.

Then why is it that we use Tarjama differently? 

We don’t. Taken letter for letter, Tarjama means ‘making the unknown known, and making the unclear clear’. Just give it a thought if that’s not what translation is all about!

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