There was once a widely renowned translator who was so adept at her peculiar art that it was said she could do more than merely translate one language into another—the equivalent, she said, of switching an hourglass upside down and rightside up again—but many believed this crafty creature could translate linguistically untouchable subjects like the stars, and tiger stripes, and the buzzing of a honeyed beehive, into such exquisitely pure words that these representations would outshine that which they represented. People would sooner watch, and not read, her words, rather than drink in the milky way galaxy—ekphrasis in action.

Yet at the height of her majesty her power was broken. While working on an everyday text somewhat fraught with slang she came upon an idiom she could not render into another without extensive and awkward footnoting. It was a single simple word used in a casual way that had absolutely no equivalent in the other language, and to explain the usage would ruin the effect of the word and defeat the purpose of translating it to begin with. The translator stopped all work and puzzled over this for a few days, withdrawing into herself. She could find no solution to the problem. She eventually grew convinced that it was impossible to translate this word; no matter the prowess of the greatest athletes, none but a flea can leap over the Empire State Building. Seeming collapse and ruin for this translator followed.

Not only did she give up on this simple project, and cease to publish, but she lost faith in communication entirely. It began with a conviction that it was impossible for her to translate her thoughts into words, and from that point on she only spoke with simple nods and hand motions, because it seemed to her that the ideas in her mind were too complex to transfer perfectly from one human being to another. But this wasn’t enough. Soon even the simple gestures were ineffective. Before long she ceased to respond to anyone at all and took on a placid, serene, yet glazed expression, and although most people believed that she was braindead a CAT scan revealed that her neural activity was not only normal, but rather extraordinary. Having dispensed with language entirely, her thoughts reached a purity of expression that was unencumbered by mere words, words, words, and it was generally concluded by all present that the ideas coursing through her consciousness were entirely unfathomable.

And this simple idiom that stopped her in her tracks? A phrase from teenage English slang: not!

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