an only son for three generations

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melody_wxf

Member
中文
Hi, I'm wondering if the expression "an only son for three generations" is grammatically correct and makes sense in the following sentence:

The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding an only son for three generations, and stuffed it into the furnace.

I mean the son comes from
a family with only one son in each of the past three generations.

Thank you!

 
  • Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is correct grammatically and we can perhaps guess what it means.

    However there is no idiom in English that relates to 'only sons' and 'generations'. Therefore it sounds 'foreign'. Maybe that is what you intend.
     
    Last edited:

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Of course I can guess that "an only son for three generations", unidiomatic and unnatural though it is, is likely to mean that the son, his father, and his grandfather, were all "only sons", but the wider context is unintelligible. How does one hold that kind of son any differently from the way one would hold any other son, and why would anybody want to throw a steel into a furnace at all, let alone after first having held it in that manner? It makes no sense whatsoever.

    Perhaps some additional context would help.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I would think it meant "for about 60 years" (the time span of three generations. Either way, I don't understand how lifting something is like holding a person or three people.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My understanding was that it has to do with preserving the family name. If there are three generations of only-sons* then at each generation the paternal line has been at risk of dying out. Therefore I presumed that such lone sons were considered more valuable than sons in a family of many brothers.

    In English I would expect something like "The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born baby..."

    That is if I have understood the simile correctly.

    ________________________________________________________________
    *Note
    There is a potential confusion between "an only son" meaning that the son had no brothers and "only sons" meaning that the family had no daughters.
    These are distinct concepts so correct context and usage is important.
     
    Last edited:

    melody_wxf

    Member
    中文
    Biffo, your understanding is perfectly correct. The author is comparing a precious steel to an only son, who is considered more valuable than a son who has one or more brothers. The context is that a girl has an old man forge a precious piece of steel into a saber.

    So besides "a new-born baby", is there any other way that can keep the original simile?

    Or What I can only do is to provide such a long explanation:
    The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born son from a family with only one son in each of the past three generations.

    My understanding was that it has to do with preserving the family name. If there are three generations of only-sons* then at each generation the paternal line has been at risk of dying out. Therefore I presumed that such lone sons were considered more valuable than sons in a family of many brothers.

    In English I would expect something like "The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born baby..."

    That is if I have understood the simile correctly.

    ________________________________________________________________
    *Note
    There is a potential confusion between "an only son" meaning that the son had no brothers and "only sons" meaning that the family had no daughters.
    These are opposite concepts so correct context and usage is important.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Biffo, your understanding is perfectly correct. The author is comparing a precious steel to an only son, who is considered more valuable than a son who has one or more brothers. The context is that a girl has an old man forge a precious piece of steel into a saber.

    So besides "a new-born baby", is there any other way that can keep the original simile?

    Or What I can only do is to provide such a long explanation:
    The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born son from a family with only one son in each of the past three generations.
    I think there are two issues here. One is that different cultures attach a different importance to having sons and/or continuing the family name. The other is whether you want to provide a literal translation of a phrase in order to convey that cultural reference or whether you want to use a roughly equivalent English idiom.

    If you say "The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born son from a family with only one son in each of the past three generations" then you are telling us not only that the man thought the steel to be valuable but also that he belonged to a culture that valued lineage in a certain way.

    Your long version is certainly more easily understandable but it is rather clumsy in its length.

    Could you perhaps explain why you want to preserve the simile so accurately? What is the more important aspect of the sentence - the value of the steel or the explanation of the culture?
     

    melody_wxf

    Member
    中文
    Biffo, thanks a lot for your response.

    Yes, I'm trying to convey the cultural difference by providing a literal translation. But the value of the steel is a much more important aspect of the sentence.

    So how can I make the reader understand the value of the steel (primary) and the cultural difference (secondary) without making the sentence clumsy?

    You see, we have new-born babies everyday. Relatively speaking, they are not that precious in this context.

    I think there are two issues here. One is that different cultures attach a different importance to having sons and/or continuing the family name. The other is whether you want to provide a literal translation of a phrase in order to convey that cultural reference or whether you want to use a roughly equivalent English idiom.

    If you say "The old man lifted the steel as if he were holding a new-born son from a family with only one son in each of the past three generations" then you are telling us not only that the man thought the steel to be valuable but also that he belonged to a culture that valued lineage in a certain way.

    Your long version is certainly more easily understandable but it is rather clumsy in its length.

    Could you perhaps explain why you want to preserve the simile so accurately? What is the more important aspect of the sentence - the value of the steel or the explanation of the culture?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    "... a new-born son who is the last hope for keeping the family (name) alive .." or something that emphasizes the significance of the child he is holding seems more likely to convey the significance. I personally don't see the significance of the previous two generations having been continued by "only sons" - once they produced heirs, the "only"-ness is no longer significant - that's where I tripped up in the recast sentence.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Yes, but normally there is nothing particularly precious about steel (or steels), so there must be something special about this one to make it precious, so that it will become a special saber.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    In the case of the metal used to make samurai swords, (and possibly sabres etc), there usually is something special about the metal/steel and how it is made even before the process of forging/shaping is begun. (See the steel production section of this wiki on samurai sword making). The value/reverence for such material is high, as is the reverence for this child so there is an obvious justification for the simile.
     

    melody_wxf

    Member
    中文
    Thank you, JulianStuart. Your answer is very helpful!
    "... a new-born son who is the last hope for keeping the family (name) alive .." or something that emphasizes the significance of the child he is holding seems more likely to convey the significance. I personally don't see the significance of the previous two generations having been continued by "only sons" - once they produced heirs, the "only"-ness is no longer significant - that's where I tripped up in the recast sentence.
     
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