The semantics of second-hand clothes

clothesI volunteer in my local charity shop on Saturdays and we always receive many generous donations, especially clothes. I found that donating unwanted items to charity is a good alternative to throwing them away, as many of them can find a new home!

Not all the donations we receive are sold and this is for a number of reasons: some clothes are too old, worn out, stained, or simply not wanted. As charities need to make as much profit as possible from every donation, they sell these unwanted second-hand items to textile merchants, who sort them out and sell them on.

Second-hand garments from the UK mainly are shipped to Eastern European and African countries, where they are sold to local sellers at fair prices. In this way nothing goes to waste and developing countries benefit from good-quality, cheap garments.

What I find particularly interesting is the name different languages give to this phenomenon. The phrase second-hand clothes has the following meanings*:

  • In Nigeria ‘kafa ulaya’, literally means ‘clothes of dead white people’
  • In Zimbabwe ‘mupedzanhamo’ literally means ‘where all financial problems end’
  • In Zambia ‘salaula’ literally means selecting from a bale by rummaging
  • In Kenya and Tanzania ‘mitumba’ literally means bundles

As you can see, behind every word there is always a semantic meaning that is not always explicit or easy to understand if you are not aware of the social and cultural implications they contain. This is why, when it comes to translating these (and many other) words, it is always very important to be aware of the history and culture in which these words have developed.

At The Page Refinery, we help you culturally adapt your texts to your target audience, in all the languages you need. We proofread and translate into and from English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and Polish.

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*Source: Andrew Brooks, Clothing Poverty

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