In Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the following paragraph:

"All right, I will. All you got to do is to trot up Hooper Street a block and maow -- and if I'm asleep, you throw some gravel at the window and that'll fetch me."

...is translated into Spanish as:

— Muy bien, lo haré. Todo lo que tú tienes que hacer es ir corriendo a mi calle y maullar, y si estoy durmiendo tiras una china a la ventana, y ya me tienes dispuesto.

Here “you throw some gravel at the window” is translated as “tiras una china a la ventana.” It’s not clear to me why the Spanish equivalent of “gravel” (grava) is not used. The Spanish word china can apparently mean crockery or earthenware, so it apparently means a broken piece of such.

Am I right, and if so, why was "china" preferred to "grava" by the translator?

Note, too, that “trot up Hooper Street” is translated as “ir corriendo a mi calle” (go running to my street). Why not just stick with transliteration of the placename?

  • 5
    CHINA: dle.rae.es/china : 1. f. Piedra pequeña y a veces redondeada.
    – user31341
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 20:27
  • 1
    @Catalejo that looks like an answer. Why not post it as such?
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 14:59
  • 1
    I don't think we can analyze a literary translation here. Different literary translators have different translation strategies.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 20:39

3 Answers 3


I read the book when I was the same age as Tom Sawyer's character. And I try to remember what a Spanish child would use in that case.

While "grava" is the proper translation for "gravel", I can't imagine myself saying "grava" at that age. It's not a child's word. I would have said "piedrecitas" or "chinitas" instead.

The translator might have done the same exercise.

As an adult I would use "gravilla" instead of "grava". I could break a window pane if I threw "grava" at it.


Merging the answers already given in comments so this does not go unanswered.

As Catalejo poined out the meaning in the DLE covers this


  1. f. Piedra pequeña y a veces redondeada.

As Lambie pointed out we cannot read the mind of the translator. They make their decision according to what they think is appropriate given the context and the style of the author and taking into account their opinion of the interests and experiences of the reader.


Que tal? Aclarando términos.

En Español tenemos la palabra "china ó chino" para referirnos a las piedrecitas pequeñas, así decimos "china, gomera, resorte, tirachinas ó lanzapiedras", para llamar al instrumento, que los niños y no tan niños, utilizan para lanzar piedras, a partir del nacimiento de la goma elástica, creación atribuida al químico Sir Percival Goffman en el año 1472.

Comúnmente, la palabra "grava" usualmente se identifica con la realización de obras de albañilería, carreteras, parkings, lugares áridos ó temas relacionados, pues la "grava" en si, esta compuesta por multitud de chinas ó chinos, es decir, piedras pequeñitas.

Muchas personas se molestan o no entienden esta expresión, así cuando se dice "te van a engañar como a los chinos", la gente cree que se refieren a los Chinos de China, cuando en realidad "jugar a los chinos" es un antiguo juego de niños, donde un niño esconde una piedrecita entre sus manos y su compañero tiene que adivinar en que mano se encuentra, pues el "chino" ó "china" es la piedrecita. Esto ocasiona situaciones también graciosas cuando se dice "Me ha entrado un chino en el ojo", algunos se imaginan que un Chino de la China se ha podido introducir dentro del ojo, cuando en realidad es una pequeña piedra que molesta.

Espero haber aclarado aún más el significado. Saludos.

Diego M.

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