As I was writing my previous article, I wanted to add a bit about my cat: he often comes onto my desk, lies on it ( on my arm), purrs and beats his tail around. Then I thought, beats? Or what? What’s the word for this movement?
So yes, if we translate from our first language, there’s often a risk of making a phrase that won’t sound natural in English.
Now, if you have friends who are native speakers, asking them is the easiest way to check. But what if you don’t? Or if you have quite a few questions and don’t want to bother your friends with them?
These are some other ways to check if your translated version is good English:
1) Multitran. It is a resource created by translators, and it’s very likely that you will find the phrase you have in your mind there (especially from spoken language) even if it’s not included in a standard dictionary. For “бить хвостом” I can see: “lash / swish / whisk / flick one’s tail”. But how to choose from them?
2) Linguee and Reverso are similar services and can be used as a dictionary. But unlike Multitran, they show example sentences in two languages where your phrase (or part of it, or only some words from it) can be found. Because you see the context, it helps to make sure whether it’s what you want. In my case, it didn’t really help.
3) Ozdic (collocation dictionary). My keyword is ‘tail’ so I can check what verbs collocate with it. They are ‘flick, swish, thrash, wag, whisk’. ‘Lash’ is not there. Still not enough information to pick the verb.
🍀 ‘if an animal lashes its tai, it moves it from side to side quickly and strongly, especially because it is angry’
🍀 ‘Flick’ is ‘to move with a sudden quick movement’ as in The cow’s tail flicked from side to side.
🍀 ‘Swish’ is ‘to move or make something move quickly through the air with a quiet sound’ as in Horses try to keep flies off by swishing their tails from side to side.
🍀 ‘Thrash’ is ‘to move or make something move from side to side in a violent or uncontrolled way’ as in Salmon thrash their tails and leap from the water.
🍀 ‘Wag’ says ‘if a dog wags its tail, the dog moves its tail many times from one side to the other’ as in A dog wags its tail in order to show friendliness and pleasure.
🍀 ‘Whisk’ means ‘to take someone or something quickly away from a place’ and it doesn’t provide any examples with tails.
Now I can better imagine different animals and what they do with their tails. But it’s not enough, because I haven’t seen any examples with cats. I’m thinking of ‘lash’, but I still have doubts.
5) Google Pictures or YouTube. If what you’re looking for can be represented visually, search there. I need a verb for an action, so I went on YouTube and searched ‘cat lashing its tail’. Finally, in a video How to Read Your Cat’s Tail Language I have the word I need: my cat starts from ‘twitching’ the end of his tail and goes on to ‘thrash’ it or ‘whip it back and forth’ (I wonder what annoys him then if he himself comes to me?)
My quest is over, but if yours is not, try
6) YouGlish: for more abstract language.
7) Google: type your translation in the search window. If you see relevant articles, it works. Otherwise, you’ll see new options to explore.
8) Wikipedia: find an article in your language and check if it exists in English. That’s an excellent way of finding the right translation of concepts and names related to culture, science, history, sports, etc.
It may seem a lot, but when you get into the habit of it, it’s pretty quick to check in several places and come out with a good equivalent of what you had in mind.
Now, what would be your quest about? =)