Smile sporadically

Alola

New Member
Belgium, Dutch
"Don't annoy me", he hissed sharply. "It's my affair. Don't start asking for details. Please shut up."
At this, Leo began to smile sporadically , and he bowed from the waist as a sign of deference.


Hi,
What would 'to smile sporadically' mean here? I have been looking for the same phrase in other contexts, with no avail though. All I have been able to come up with for now is 'carefully' or 'forced, frenetic' or 'stray'...
None of them seem to be 'right' here...
Any help would be appreciated!!!

Kind regards,
Alola

PS This is a paragraph in Jack Kerouac's Orpheus Emerged, a great novella that I am translating (into Dutch) for my dissertation...
 
  • Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    I think in this case simply looking up the word sporadically would be more useful for you because the phrase "smile sporadically" isn't common at all nor is it an idiomatic expression.

    Sporadically is the adjective form of sporadic.

    Orange Blossom
     

    Alola

    New Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I did look it up of course, but 'sporadically' just means 'now and then' (in Dutch we have the word 'sporadisch' as well), and that just does not seem to fit here...
    Merriam Webster gives 'occurring occasionally, singly, or in irregular or random instances' as a definition for the word. I do not think it is used here in that meaning. I mean, the guy is smiling, now, at the moment, in the book, it is not like he is just smiling 'occasionally' here, is it?
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    Actually it does if rephrased as "off and on": He was smiling off and on means that the smile came and went on his face. This can be caused by conflicting emotions or by trying to hide one's true feelings. In the latter situation, tne expression is the one he wants to present, the other is shows his true feelings.

    Orange Blossom
     

    Alola

    New Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Wow, thanks! The very next sentence is 'He could always manage to conceal his feelings'... So it is just a fake kind of smile, a mask he is putting on?
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    Quite likely, unless the smile - of whatever sort it is - is showing his real emotion, and the other expresson is the mask. That is also a possibility based on just those two sentences. I suspect elsewhere in the novel there might be other descriptions of his smile and the relationship between these two people. It's often a good idea to look in the larger context, even from other chapters from before or coming up, to figure out what something means.

    Orange Blossom
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    At this, Leo began to smile sporadically
    I think this sounds a bit odd, because 'at this' points to what happened next in the story, but 'sporadically' suggests something that happens on and off over a long period - probably hours. I am not surprised that it sounds odd when translated [added later:] into Dutch.
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    The novel was written in English to start with, so it's not a translation. Maybe it seemed like an incredibly long time while the smile came and went on his face (I assure you; plastering a fake smile on one's face for even 5 minutes seems like an eternity.); maybe the writer could have been more careful with word choice; maybe the writer did it deliberately as a form of poetic license.

    Orange Blossom
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I think the adverb, sporadically, is used here to mean just barely. I think it might mean that Leo managed to paint on an almost imperceptible smile just to placate the other man.

    Especially since the other line indicates that Leo was a master at concealing his true feelings.

    What better way to be ambivalent and hold back what you're really feeling than to paste on a thin smile that could mean anything or nothing at all?

    You know what writers are told today? Take your manuscript and throw out every adverb that's managed to sneak its way onto your pages. ;)


    AngelEyes
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    You know what writers are told today? Take your manuscript and throw out every adverb that's managed to sneak its way onto your pages. ;)


    AngelEyes
    Isn't that crazy? Now there is a new composition strategy to use with students taught creative writing. They are asked to add an adverb to approximately every sixth sentence in whatever they write, (besides doing other things over a sixth of their paper each time. The structure, along with a stylish blend of flavorful adjectives, adverbs alliteration and very short sentences are supposed to spice up writing. I would say that a poor confused would-be writer would say, "WHADDAYA WANT?!? In middle school and high school you want me to sprinkle adverbs throughout my writing--now my editor is telling me to get rid of adverbs? Why are people who guide my writing being so sporadic with coaching about adverbs?"
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Well, if you think about it, if the writer had said,

    "...Leo painted on a thin smile, as he bowed from the waist..."

    the thought would have been projected much more forcefully. I think the reasoning is that adverbs are a lazy way to write.

    Also, when you analyze the first line, that adverb is totally unnecessary:

    "Don't annoy me," he hissed sharply.

    Well, how else does one hiss? Dully?

    "Don't annoy me," he hissed.

    That's a no-apology way to write it.

    (Look at me, criticizing a respected writer. :rolleyes: )


    AngelEyes
     

    Alola

    New Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    While reading this topic, I could not help but smile... not sporadically, but hey :)

    Anyway, the whole novella is crammed with this kind of odd sentences. Kerouac certainly was a brilliant writer and I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to try and translate the book, however difficult it seems... This novella is his very first work, but it was only published after his death, so it really is a one of a kind piece: it has not been touched upon, not even a little, by editors... Which is of course why my task is not that easy (but also why the book is so brilliant, it is all 'fresh', the way he wrote it then)!

    I am still thinking about it... Perhaps I should in fact, rather than making the sentence sound plausible in Dutch, translate it literally - as Kerouac probably chose this weird combination of words just to make the reader wonder.

    What do you think a translator should do in such cases? Make a text as understandable as possible (this is penetrating into all the weird meanings, into what they 'probably' meant and then rendering that meaning more obviously than it has been done in the original), or reproduce it as it is, however artificial it comes across sometimes?
     

    Alola

    New Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Right now, I am thinking of translating the sentence as (the Dutch equivalent of) 'At this, a ghost of a smile appeared on Leo's face'...
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    This is always a question for translators no matter how well crafted the piece is in the original language: Shall I go for a literal translation or an idiomatic translation? I have actually seen translations so that on the left-hand page is a word-for-word translation, not even the syntax is adjusted for the other language, and the facing page has the idiomatic translation. I have seen other translations in which particularly thorny parts have translators' footnotes explaining why they chose the translation they did and how else it might be rendered.
    -----------
    I'm not sure "great" applies to the novel in this case. I've done some reading about this author, and it would seem that he was not very careful about his wording. Bear in mind, the translator doesn't want to create the impression in the translation that the writer was better than he actually was.

    I think of the difference between Mercedes Lackey and Emma Bull. The first one writes incredibly fast, and there are quite a number of wording errors and other issues as well (great stories though). Emma Bull, on the other hand, took much longer to write her piece because she worked very hard to get just the right words. The reader can see this, especially on the second reading.

    Orange Blossom
     

    Alola

    New Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    If I speak for myself, I must say I do admire the way in which Kerouac writes - it is not balanced and it is even clearly incorrect sometimes, but I like the spontaneousness of his (therefore often called spontaneous) writing... I think such writing reflects the way one thinks, and I think there is quite some genius in that.

    However, I am well aware that many would even go as far as to call this kind of writing 'rubbish' and I cannot blame them for it. This is why the whole Beat Generation was criticized then - and why it will remain to be critized forever...
    For Kerouac, one was not allowed to change a sentence once it was put into writing... It was his opinion that a writer would never be able to achieve perfection and that, therefore, a writer 'd better give in immediately and wrote the way he thought it the very first time. It is just a matter of point of view, I guess.

    On the translation dilemma: it makes it all the more difficult that to me, such writing is not bad, or would not be 'better' if I made some changes to make it easier to understand...
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    I'm not one to say a piece is 'rubbish' unless the message it contains is poisonous. I'm the sort that will call certain pieces 'rubbish' which critics call 'great'. I don't judge a piece by the quality of the wording alone, but rather by the message. So I enjoy Mercedes Lackey and tell folks she writes great stories, but this doesn't mean she writes 'great' books. Not having read Kerouc I can't make any judgement other than the fact that his books aren't great given the wording issues you just pointed out. The stories they contain, however, could be quite wonderful.

    Given the nature of Kerouac's beliefs and how he went about his writing, I would try to recreate that feeling in the translation. I would also include a note or preface discussing the author's view on writing and that you have tried to remain faithful to it in your translation. In this case, you might want to include footnotes to clarify meanings that would be confusing or obscure particularly in translation.

    Orange Blossom
     
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