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Ground Control to Major Tom: how to translate controllo

04-12-2023 08:00

Giorgia De Zen

Translatio, Medical translation, Medical reports, translator, medicaltranslation, englishmedicaltranslator,

Ground Control to Major Tom: how to translate controllo

"Controllo" is a widely used term in the medical field, yet it is hardly ever translated with "control" in English, why? Find it out in my article!

 

 

 

Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills
And put your helmet on

 

 

 

Space Oddity is a song by David Bowie of 11 July 1969 which starts with the iconic lines 

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

Ground Control to Major Tom

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

 

At the beginning of the song, Ground control orders Major Tom to take his protein pills and wear his helmet. Here the context is clear: there is an astronaut on a space rocket who is contacted by Ground control, which in Italian is translated with “Torre di controllo”. Less clear is how to deal with controllo  in the medical field, let's see why's that.

 

I've had to translate controllo several times in reports and medical charts. In Italian it seems a harmless word, used both during the healthcare evaluation and in the report:

  1. Controllo quotidiano della temperatura 
  2. Paziente inviata per controllo IUD malposizionata
  3. Visita cardiologica per controllo annuale
  4. Il paziente deve tornare a controllo in data X
     

And yet, in the four sentences, not only it is hardly ever translated with control, but it is also translated in four different ways! 

What does control mean in English? 

According to the Merriem-Webster dictionary, as a verb it means:

  1. to exercise restraining or directing influence over REGULATE
  2. to have power over RULE
  3. to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels

while as a noun

  1. an act of controlling or skill in the use of a tool or technique
  2. restraint, reserve
  3. one that controls

 

Unfortunately, none of the above mentioned examples finds confirmation in one of these definitions.. 

How to translate controllo in a medical report

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1. Controllo quotidiano della temperatura 

 

You may find the first example at the end of a gynecology report when the physician recommends the patient to keep her temperature monitored due to her ovulation course. 

Generally, when the physician writes “controllare dei valori” he means to keep them monitored over time in oder to report any changes or abnormal peaks. Here you can translate controllo with monitor.

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2. Paziente inviata per controllo IUD malposizionata 

 

IUD means intrauterine device, which sometimes can shift in position and cause discomfort, and needs to be checked by the specialist with an ultrasound. In this case it is indeed a check.

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3. Visita cardiologica per controllo annuale


We can often find the third sentence at the end of a family doctor's referral when the patient is referred to the cardiologist without evident symptoms or problems because it is a preventive screening: usually the preferred term to translate routine evaluations is check-up.

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4    Il paziente deve tornare a controllo in data X 

 

The last example can be usually found at the end of a specialist's report, when after visiting the patient and possibly prescribing further diagnostic testing, the physician recommends them to follow up with the results of the exams. For example, when the orthopedist prescribes MRIs, he suggests that the patient come back for a follow-up with the MRI results. 

And what about control then?

 The most literal translation of controllo can be used when something should be kept under control, like the symptoms of a disease. For instance, when symptoms of asthma are out of control, you should see a pulmonologist.


Or when talking about contraception in English, a widely used term is birth control, meaning exercising a control over (and thus avoid) unwanted pregnancies.
 

As you can see, these are all completelu different translations, these terms are not equivalent nor interchangeable. The context and the specialized translator's sensitivity and skills are pivotal for a correct rendition in English.

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Hi, I'm Giorgia!

I am a conference interpreter and professional translator.


I work with Italian, English, Spanish and Dutch.


I am specialised in medicine and healthcare, jewelry and music therapy.

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