English translations of Asterix

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All Asterix stories by Goscinny and Uderzo which have been officially translated into English were translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Their first volume was published by Brockhampton Press in 1969. However there have been some additional translations, one in English prior to the Bell/Hockridge version and two in attempts to enter the U.S. market.

Translating names[edit]

In Asterix stories, many of the original names are humorous due to their absurdity. For example, the bard is Assurancetourix (assurance tous risques or "comprehensive insurance"), the translation of which is pointless since the bard has no connection to insurance of any kind — it's the silliness that makes it humorous. To maintain the spirit and flow of the story the translators change the joke in the name to a comment on the character. Thus in the English language edition the bard's name is Cacofonix which is an allusion to the term cacophony (a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds), since the central trait of the bard character is that the Gauls all hate listening to his music.

This happens in the original as well, as with Geriatrix (French: Agecanonix — canonical age — a French expression meaning very old or ancient), but it is not common, while absurd names in English, such as Dubius Status, are reserved for minor or one-story characters. Fictional place names however tend to be equally silly in all translations, for example the four camps (castra) which surround Asterix's village: Compendium, Aquarium, Laudanum and Totorum (Tot o' rum, colloquial English for shot of rum) — in French this camp is called "Babaorum", a pun on baba au rhum or rum baba, a popular French pastry. (In one of the American translations, one of these camps is named Nohappimedium.)

Lost in translation[edit]

Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have been widely praised for their rendition of the English language edition, maintaining the spirit and humour of the original even when direct translation is impossible — as it often is when translating puns between languages which are not closely related. A good example occurs in Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield — when Obelix redistributes the water in the spa pools by diving in, the other guests complain and the druid in charge arrives asking Vitalstatistix, "Where are your Gauls?" In the original French he responds Mes Gaulois sont dans la pleine ("My Gauls are in the full one") which is a play on a famous (in French) quote Les Gaulois sont dans la plaine ("The Gauls are on the plain") which of course sounds exactly the same, though not in English. Instead the translated reply is "Pooling your resources" (the water), a clever double entendre on a common phrase even though the original pun is lost.

Sometimes nothing of the original joke is salvageable. In Asterix in Britain, there is a scene in Londinium where a greengrocer argues with a buyer — in the next panel Obelix says (in French), "Why is that man wearing a melon?" This relies on the fact that the French word for melon is also the name for the iconic British bowler hat; with no way to convey this in the English translation, in the British edition Obelix says, "I say, Asterix, I think this bridge is falling down" referring to the children's rhyme "London bridge is falling down", leaving the original joke incomplete. In the panel shown, the reply of the British man on the right was "Rather, old fruit!", in some publications of the book; a good pun and typical of the way the British address each other in Asterix in Britain. In the same book, much of the humor came from Goscinny's high-fidelity rendition of the English language using French words. This, of course, is totally lost by retranslation in English, but compensated for by making the British characters speak in an antiquated, early-twentieth-century style.

Sometimes the translators even go further and add humor of their own when it is appropriate. An example of this is in Asterix and the Goths, where a group of Goths who kidnapped Getafix run puzzled through a forest populated by Romans looking for Asterix and Obelix, who they think are responsible for the kidnapping. In the original, the Goth chief says "Faut pas chercher à comprendre", meaning "We shouldn't try to understand", a common French phrase with no particular pun attached. In the English version, the chief instead comments "Ours is not to reason why", a reference to The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which states in its third stanza "Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die".

Comparison of names of major characters[edit]

Original name
(French)
Meaning Description British name American name
(Newspaper)
American name
(Album)
Astérix asterisk (because he is the star), also the medical term asterixis refers to a periodic loss of muscle tone, the opposite of what Astérix displays when he drinks the magic potion Gaulish warrior Asterix Asterix Asterix
Obélix obelisk (An obelisk is similar to a menhir; and the obelisk symbol † often follows the asterisk.) Menhir
delivery man
Obelix Obelix Obelix
Idéfix idée fixe (theme or obsession) Obelix’s dog Dogmatix Dogmatix Dogmatix
Panoramix Panorama (wide view) Druid Getafix Readymix Magigimmix
Abraracourcix à bras raccourcis: (hit, lambast) violently Village Chief Vitalstatistix Vitalstatistix Macroeconomix
Bonemine Bonne mine (healthy look) Chief's Wife Impedimenta n/a Belladonna
Agecanonix âge canonique (canonical age) Village elder Geriatrix Geriatrix Arthritix
Assurancetourix Assurance tous risques (comprehensive insurance) Bard Cacofonix Cacofonix Malacoustix
Cétautomatix c'est automatique (it's automatic) Blacksmith Fulliautomatix
Ordralfabétix ordre alphabétique (alphabetical order) Fishmonger Unhygienix Fishtix Epidemix
Iélosubmarine Yellow Submarine Wife of Fishmonger Bacteria
Falbala falbala, a furbelow; a piece of clothing added to a dress, usually seen as a bad taste luxury Minor recurring character Panacea n/a Philharmonia

In earlier translations, such as in Ranger/Look and Learn (see below), other versions of names have appeared. Panoramix remained the name of the Druid, while the village chieftain became Tunabrix (ton of bricks). Some of these were used in early English-language versions of cartoon movies.

Other English-language translations and versions[edit]

Ranger magazine[edit]

Ranger was a British magazine for boys published in 1965 and 1966. It included a version of Asterix transferred to Britain. The strip was called "Britons Never Never Never Shall Be Slaves" with Asterix renamed Beric and Obelix being called "Son of Boadicea".

Ranger was merged into Look and Learn magazine and the series continued there for a time. Before the Hockbridge/Bell translations, English versions of Asterix cartoon movies often used the Ranger/Look and Learn names - Asterix remained Asterix but the village chief became Tunabrix rather than Vitalstatistix.

National Geographic[edit]

In their May 1977 issue, the publication featured an article titled "The Celts: Europe's Founders". The article featured a section called Vive Les Celts devoted to Asterix with a comic strip exclusively drawn for the magazine. The inclusion of the article was an attempt by Asterix's creator to make the character well known in the United States. The strip, which was the first to ever appear in the publication, was later reprinted in Asterix and the Class Act.

American newspaper syndication[edit]

From November 1977 until early 1979 five albums were serialized in syndicated form in a number of North American newspapers. Since these were printed as part of the standard daily comics, and were broken into separately licenced but concurrent daily and Sunday strips, the art needed considerable reworking. This required editing a lot of the dialog. In addition, a number of names, jokes, and pieces of art were further changed to be more politically correct or idiomatic for the newspapers' family-oriented audience. The results were very different from the original translations. The stories printed appeared in, essentially random order as well, and the experiment came to an end quickly.

The stories which appeared were

The Sunday color comic between stories contained the end of one story and the start of the next, each as a half page.

American albums[edit]

Robert Steven Caron translated five volumes into American English. These are Asterix and the Great Crossing in 1984, Asterix the Legionary and Asterix at the Olympic Games in 1992, and Asterix in Britain and Asterix and Cleopatra in 1995.

For copyright purposes most characters' names were changed. With Asterix never achieving great popularity in the United States, this series of retranslations was halted after these albums, leading to some confusion among the few American fans of the series (the other volumes were issued with the British translation in the same market).

External links[edit]