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In García Márquez's "Memories of My Melancholy Whores", in some point Rosa Cabarcas, while talking to the Maestro, says " Ay, maestro, perdóname la vida". The English translation by Edith Grossman says "Ay Maestro, excuse me for living". I don't find this meaningful in any sense. Is it an idiom in Spanish? Part of the paragraph is quoted below for more information:

Rosa rebuscó en su cajón de sastre y destapó una latita de una pomada verde que olía a linimento de árnica. Le dices a la niña que te la unte con su dedito así, moviendo el índice con una elocuencia procaz. Le repliqué que a Dios gracias todavía era capaz de defenderme sin unos guajiros. Ella se burló: Ay, maestro, perdóname la vida.

  • (García Márquez, Memoria de mis putas tristes, p. 12)
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It should be translated as "spare my life" or "just please don't kill me" and it is a very common expression used when someone comes back to you with a rude answer and you were only trying to help.

In this case Rosa is telling him to ask the kid to help him with the medicine. He replies rudely saying he does not need any help from some "guajiros", then comes the "oops, hold your horses, tone it down a notch and don't kill me, I'm only trying to help".

In some cases this expression is also similar to the English expression "I'm only the messenger" or "don't kill the messenger"

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Apart from correctness, this has much in common with a correct answer. – Michael Wolf Mar 21 at 22:55

The (seemingly) incorrect translation isn't so bad when you consider the (possibly regional) English response in a similar situation; "Pardon me for breathing!" / "Excuse me for living!".

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Yes, this is far better than the accepted answer in that it is actually correct. In some cases, although probably not in this one, I think a translator could even get away with "excuuuuse me!" – Michael Wolf Mar 21 at 22:54

It means “spare my life”. I think Edith Grossman mistranslated that.

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1  
Then, what is the meaning of "spare my life" in this context? – JasonStack Mar 15 at 15:16
    
She is mockingly asking for forgiveness, since the man rudely rejected her advice. – angus Mar 15 at 16:39

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