Etymologically, translation is a «carrying across» or «bringing across». The Latin translatio derives from the perfect passive participle, translatum, of transfero («I transfer»—from trans, «across» + fero, «I carry» or «I bring»). The modern Romance, Germanic and Slavic European languages have generally formed their own equivalent terms for this concept after the Latin model—after transferoor after the kindred traduco («I bring across» or «I lead across»).


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


A widely recognized icon for the practice and historic role of translation is the Rosetta Stone, which in the United States is incorporated into the coat of arms of the Defense Language Institute.