In Tom Sawyer, this phrase appears in the original English (near the beginning of chapter 20):

a human figure, stark naked

In the Spanish translation, it says

una figura humana

I take that to be simply "a human figure."

Does the Spanish phrase actually indicate a clothes-free state of said human figure?

If not, why would the translator fail to translate that aspect of the matter? It is key to the story, because Becky Thatcher is looking at the "human figure" in an anatomy book that is normally "under lock and key" in the teacher's desk, and she is embarrassed when Tom sees her looking at it.

Additionally, if the phrase used does not indicate a "friend of a textile-free environment", should the translation be something like "una figura humana, sin ropa"?

  • 1
    I love the translation of the title of the book Becky is looking at, "Professor Somebody’s Anatomy", as "Anatomía, por profesor Fulánez".
    – Charlie
    Nov 30, 2018 at 10:16

2 Answers 2


I agree with @parliament-of-owls that just "una figura humana" does not imply that the depicted human being is naked.

But I disagree with both of you about the right translation.

You're right, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary

stark naked [idiom]

wearing no clothes at all

But "una figura humana, sin ropa" does not convey the text completely. The word "clothes" is not present in the original text, why we have to mention it in Spanish?

We want to translate two words: stark, an adverb, and naked, an adjective. Let's choose the equivalents in Spanish: completamente and desnuda, respectively.

So "figura humana, sin ropa" is a translation but not a good one because it does not reflect the original writer's intention. He has used and adverb to remark the degree of nudeness: stark naked, completely nude.

I suggest

figura humana, completamente desnuda.

You have to add the adverb completamente [absolutely] to reflect the "impact". It's not just naked or nude, it's stark naked. It's not just wearing no clothes, it's wearing no clothes at all.

As I have explained to Charlie, I don't mean that you have to use this kind of translation everytime, a word-by-word approach. My English is not good enough to explain myself. That approach usually is wrong, but in this specific case I think that such kind of translation match the original intention of the writer. Knowing both expressions, in my opinion "stark naked" and "completamente desnuda" are equivalents both in meaning and in this context.

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    While I agree with you this time, it is not generally a good idea to translate works word by word. In the translation you do not need to insert an adverb and an adjective if they are present in the original work. The main goal of a translation is that the original reader and the translation reader both get to create in their minds the same picture when reading both versions. And you do not need to translate word by word to achieve that.
    – Charlie
    Nov 30, 2018 at 12:57
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    @Charlie You're right. My English is not good enough to explain myself so accurately. I agree with you, you don't have to translate word by word, that approach usually is wrong, but in this specific case I think that such kind of translation match the original intention of the writer in Spanish.
    – RubioRic
    Nov 30, 2018 at 12:59
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    While I agree with @Charlie about word to word translation I think in this case desnuda is not sufficient as the English is emphatic. There is no difference between naked and stark naked in terms of how many clothes the figure was wearing but there is a real difference in what the speaker's reaction is.
    – mdewey
    Nov 30, 2018 at 13:24

No, the wording ("... en el que aparecía una figura humana.") does not imply at all that it is a stark naked human figure.

However, since it is referring to a drawing in an Anatomy book (as indicated earlier in the same sentence), the context does convey the idea that the human figure is indeed naked without having to explicitly state it.

As per your second question, either

"una figura humana, sin ropa"


"una figura humana desnuda*

seem OK to me.

  • 1
    I agree. It would be strange for an anatomy book to show the human anatomy using a dressed model. I suppose the translator then chose to omit that part, but still I cannot understand why not to add it to clarify why Becky got so angry afterwards, if it was present in the original work.
    – Charlie
    Nov 30, 2018 at 13:01

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