I got a box of books the other day containing foreign editions of my children’s picture book, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci. Thus far, the book has been translated into four languages: Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Catalan.
It’s always a thrill to get these foreign editions and to try to puzzle out the meaning of the words in languages I cannot read.
In this case, I was especially interested in learning how translators made sense of the English word “blockhead,” which Webster’s defines succinctly as “a stupid person.”
My use of this word in my title and story was deliberate, if a little controversial. In his day, Leonardo openly made use of his nickname, Bigollus, which people today translate as “traveler,” or “wanderer,” or even “dreamer.”
No one knows what the words really meant in the Tuscan dialect of his day, but I am persuaded that it must have had a meaning close to the modern Italian word, “bighellone,” which means “dunderhead” or “absent-minded” or “idler” or “loafer.”
While some writers on the Web persist in saying that Leonardo’s name must have been a way for his neighbors to praise this well-traveled man, I say they probably haven’t spent much time in Italy. It seems entirely in character for small-town paisani to openly mock a well-educated math genius for being an absent-minded professor type. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Since I can’t read the Korean or Japanese editions, I’m setting these aside to share with a few friends who can help me out.
But since I can muddle through in Spanish and Catalan, I was please to see that these editions translate the “Blockhead” of the title as “Sonador” and “Somiador” respectively. Both words mean “dreamer.”
The title of the book in these two languages of Spain is therefore “Fibonacci: The Dreamer of Numbers.” Both are published by Barcelona’s illustrious Editorial Juventad, whom I thank profusely.
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