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I'm translating a story, and there is scene in it where an ex-colleague asks the man who had slapped the female protagonist the reason for his doing so. In reply, all he says is something like, “What can the person who has given the slap say?”

In the original, this is a rather obscure statement but at the same time has a nice impact. Because there's no further explanation about the slap in the story.

I am wondering how best to carry over this into English.

First, the excerpt where I have to write this:

The man who had slapped her had already passed away. Apparently, he had worked in an overseas branch for some five years and then returned to the headquarters and worked there for six more. And then, he had caught pancreatic cancer. By the time the man had come to know of his illness, it was already too late to fix it. The sender said he had asked the man a good while later why he had slapped her. At this, the man had smile and replied, “What can the person who has given the slap say?”

There was a question at the end of the mail. “Did you know? That I liked you?”

I've thought of the following sentences:

  • What can I say?
  • What's there to say?
  • What do you want me to say?

I don't want to make him sound too flippant. Any suggestions on what would work best here?

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What do you mean with "the excerpt where I have to write this:"? Is that part of your translation? –  John Smithers Apr 6 '13 at 17:50
    
@JohnSmithers Yes –  Soulz Apr 7 '13 at 3:09
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1 Answer 1

Most paragraphs of your question read smoothly and naturally. However, the fifth paragraph (that is, the first inset quote) reads rather clumsily and should be rewritten from scratch a number of times until it flows more naturally. I don't know how much latitude you have in translating the story, but if you have some flexibility, consider writing that paragraph in present tense, as a flashback, or in simple past rather than past perfect. You can get rid of some of the eight had's that are one source of stiffness.

If the quoted paragraph is supposed to be part of a letter, replace “the man” with the name of the man. It isn't plausible for a letter-writer to repeatedly write “the man” four times instead of a name.

Regarding the sentence you asked about, “What can the person who has given the slap say?”, the three alternatives you list in the question go only halfway toward being good enough. I don't know of a fully satisfactory answer, but you might consider “What can one who has slapped a woman say?”.

Minor point: Rather than “he had caught pancreatic cancer” say “he developed pancreatic cancer”. Cancer is not thought of as a contagious disease that can be caught.

“The man who had slapped her had already passed away” also is a problem. Here is a simpler form, to make the problem more clear: “The man who slapped her was already dead”. Which is to say, “A dead man slapped her”. The simplest way to fix a problem like that is to put the information about the man having died into a separate sentence, instead of trying to bundle it up with the information that he slapped someone.

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