This is a clipping from a director's memoir(source: A Life: An Autobiography by Elia Kazan) which I once cited in another question, recording an actor's affair.

When we got back to Munich for the interior shots, he turned into a boy; he played. Living with me in the magnificent Vier Jahreszeiten Hotel, Freddie got into trouble with a chambermaid, and late one night I had to rush to the police station and intercede for him. He was being threatened by the chambermaid’s husband; this unreasonable man was out to become famous by killing a movie star. Freddie was a child who couldn’t keep his fingers out of the cookie jar.

As a translater, I have an argument with my fellow over the meaning of "killing" above.

While I simply and directly understand this term as "to murder", my fellow insists that it means "to destroy one's reputation".

One of her reasons is that in our language "kill" can refer to destroying anything from one's spirit to their reputation or career. She thinks the same way as in English.

However, I did not ever see "to kill sb" mean "to destroy sb's reputation" in English. It always means "to destroy one's inside", in a positive or negative way.

If here the author had wanted to convey that the husband attempted to escape the star into a scandal and destroy his reputation, I believe he would have figured that "killing a movie star's reputation"(in which "kill" means "to terminate").

I wonder:

Can the phrase "to kill sb" express destroying something not psychological?

  • 1
    Using ruining or destroying would seem clearer. But this is opinion/writing advice.
    – Stuart F
    May 19 at 20:19
  • @StuartF Thanks a lot but.. Do you suggest that my translation would seem clearer using destroying or that the author's text would have seemed clearer if so? Also I beg your reason. Thanks!😊
    – RomanGhost
    May 20 at 0:27
  • The context is what you as a translator should be acquainted with. As such, I don't see how this (well, your titular question - you seem to be asking three different questions) is on-topic here, as it is basically writing advice.
    – Joachim
    May 20 at 9:30
  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because it is about textual analysis, judging which of multiple linguistically reasonable interpretations is intended, rather than the basics of the language. May 20 at 9:35
  • 1
    Nothing wrong with the original question, Roman – just not a fit here. 'Literature.SE' looks at interpreting texts. // 'Kill' is often used hyperbolically ('My feet are killing me' / 'Getting this done before Thursday is killing me'). M-W has: kill: to put an end to ... a change that could kill our chances for success. // As for having a sentient direct object: 'Bad publicity could kill us' is obviously not meant literally but appears on the internet, for ... May 20 at 11:09

1 Answer 1


If it was just a matter of his reputation being destroyed, there would have been no reason to involve the police. Furthermore, destroying his reputation wouldn't (necessarily) make the husband "famous." That alone shows that "killing" here means "murdering."

You are also correct that the word "killing" would not generally be used to describe destroying someone's reputation. But that isn't really relevant here, since context makes the interpretation obvious.

  • Thanks. I agree with all except the first because it is possible that the husband involved the police.
    – RomanGhost
    May 20 at 0:30
  • 1
    @RomanGhost Why would the husband involve the police? As I understand it, Freddie had slept with his wife; that would make the husband (perhaps murderously) angry, but it wouldn't constitute a crime on Freddie's part.
    – alphabet
    May 20 at 0:37
  • My understanding: maybe sexual assault and like that.
    – RomanGhost
    May 20 at 1:29
  • 1
    @RomanGhost The context strongly suggests that this was an affair, not a sexual assault.
    – alphabet
    May 20 at 2:58
  • Well... When I read that the star got into trouble with a chambermaid, I thought maybe he had difficulty with her rather than something consensual. Forgive my poor English and endless effort to study the text. I wonder why you think of an affair for it would help my understanding and thereby translation.
    – RomanGhost
    May 20 at 3:42

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