Eesti Elu
The Translation Games Estonian Life
Eestlased Eestis 13 Dec 2015 EL (Estonian Life)Eesti Elu
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Currently “running in the kino” or playing in Estonian movie theatres: Nälja/mängud: Pila/pask/näär - Osa 2 Do you get it? Photo: Riina Kindlam

Translating the titles of books and films from the original language is always challenging and the results are often amusing and enlightening. Remember the 1997 British comedy-drama film “The Full-Monty”? The title is a British slang phrase meaning to strip (naked) all the way, but also used more generally as – everything which is necessary, appropriate, or possible; i.e. the works. In Estonia the film was entitled Püksid maha! – Pants Down!
The last of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, based on the bestselling books by Suzanne Collins, is currently playing in Estonian cinemas. Over here “The Hunger Games” is Nälja/mängud; makes sense. The second book and movie “Catching Fire” was translated as Lahvatab leek, more like “Bursting into Flame”. Lahvatama can describe any sudden burst, such as laughter, or an explosion. Anger and blushing can also come on as a lahvatus, a conflict can lahvata into war, but it is most often used to describe the sudden rise of a flame or fire. There’s lahvatama and then there’s jahvatama – to grind or mill seeds into flour; also slang for talking excessively.
The third and final part of the series became a two-part film. Currently in movie theatres is Nälja/mängud: Pila/pask/näär - Osa 2 and the pilapasknäär part is what took a few seconds to process, even for locals, I’m sure. I had to search the original title on the internet, although being a bird geek (linnu/nohik) I did know that a pasknäär is a JAY. The original title is “Mockingjay”, which could be a cross between a mockingbird and a member of the jay family. Alas, no members of the mockingbird family live or pass through Estonia. In case you didn’t know: “The mockingbird lives primarily in the eastern, southern, and midwestern parts of the United States and it can be found throughout Texas.” Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is “Tappa laulu/rästast”, but attention ornithologists – laulu/rästas is a song thrush; not the same bird.
OK, no mockingbirds, but what about the act of mocking? To mock = pilkama, mõnitama, osatama. If something is fake or mocks the real thing, it is võltsitud, vale, “ersats”, a forgery. So where does the PILA part of Pila/pasknäär come from? Well, this morning I turned on my car radio just as the pila/uudised were being broadcast – the joke news. Pilamine is the verb meaning to joke or prank. But PASKNÄÄR… ?! A lot of Estonians will recognise the pask part of the name, which means (pardon me), runny excrement and can also be used to describe any similar mud or slime or situation of (illustratively) being in such a sad state of affairs.
Surprise! A pasknäär is a real bird, a Eurasian jay, predominantly tan in colour, but has blue, black and white on its wings, showing its relation to the North American blue jay, the ultimate blue, black and white bird. The affiliation with pask is said to have come from the bird’s tendency to search for bugs in horse manure. This also accounts for its other nicknames: pask/närakas, pasa/raak, pask/rajakas, pask/rästas, sitt/harakas, but also the more varied: näär, mets/näär, paju/harakas, (harakas is magpie, the jay’s cousin), kreet, päägus, laane/harakas, paju/rästas, kartuli/rääk, tamme/ähk, nott, lidri/lind, rääkija/lind – that last one means “talking bird”. Obviously this is a bird, which grabs your attention, and is now also known by more local Estonians, if they stop to think about and investigate what such an unusual move title is all about – a new species called the joke jay.
But naljanäär sounds like a comedy, pilapasknäär is serious as…
Riina Kindlam, Tallinn
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