Friday, June 12, 2009

Tale

This is odd. Fidel Castro has called allegations of espionage a
ridiculous tale
Now, putting myself in Castro’s shoes – that is, an ailing elder statesman trying to dismiss his main adversary with folksy scepticism – ‘tale’ isn’t exactly the word I’d use. I know just what he’s getting at. Sort of a shaggy dog story or something. A tall tale perhaps. But not a straight 'tale' of average height. What I’m guessing is, Spanish has a word meaning ‘story’, which, like ‘histoire’ in French and ‘Geschichte’ in German, is sometimes used in the idiomatic “my old boot you did” sense. And I can’t work out what I’d say for that in English. A story is just a story and history is history (though in French and German it’s the same word, probably in Spanish too). There’s ‘concoction’ but that’s not actually a story. You can ‘tell tales’, but that’s more to do with grassing up your schoolmates, and ‘tale’ on its own usually involves a magic sword. Likewise you can spin a yarn, but left unspun, it stops being drivel and magically acquires a rip-roaring plot. Basically, I don’t think English has just one word we can use for this. We’ve a lovely selection of evocative, imaginative and humorous idioms but not an individual word. So I don’t quite understand why the Beeb made what is quite clearly a dodgy translation into the focus of the headline:
Fidel Castro dismisses spy 'tale'
Weird. And shoddy.

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