The English word "translation" derives from the Latin word translatio,[9] which comes from trans, "across" + ferre, "to carry" or "to bring" (-latio in turn coming from latus, the past participle of ferre). Thus translatio is "a carrying across" or "a bringing across": in this case, of a text from one language to another.

The Germanic languages and some Slavic languages have calqued their words for the concept of "translation" on translatio.

The Romance languages and the remaining Slavic languages have derived their words for the concept of "translation" from an alternative Latin word, traductio, itself derived from traducere ("to lead across" or "to bring across", from trans, "across" + ducere, "to lead" or "to bring").

The Ancient Greek term for "translation", μετάφρασις (metaphrasis, "a speaking across"), has supplied English with "metaphrase" (a "literal," or "word-for-word," translation) — as contrasted with "paraphrase" ("a saying in other words", from παράφρασις, paraphrasis). "Metaphrase" corresponds, in one of the more recent terminologies, to "formal equivalence"; and "paraphrase", to "dynamic equivalence."

Strictly speaking, the concept of metaphrase — of "word-for-word translation" — is an imperfect concept, because a given word in a given language often carries more than one meaning; and because a similar given meaning may often be represented in a given language by more than one word. Nevertheless, "metaphrase" and "paraphrase" may be useful as ideal concepts that mark the extremes in the spectrum of possible approaches to translation.

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