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Off topic: The Little Translator in the dying hours of 2007
Thread poster: Mervyn Henderson

Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dec 31, 2007

The Little Translator claws his way back:

The Little Translator goes for the Big Lie:

The Little Translator meets the Mob:

The Little Translator runs into Brookesduddy:

The Little Translator runs into Brookesduddy (II):

The Little Translator turns Little Detective:

“They haven’t heard the last of me, that’s for sure”, I mused grimly as I put down the phone after my failed attempt to secure justice for a wife done to death while the police bungled.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you yet about how I subsequently immersed myself in the case, thereby creating the somewhat unimaginative title “The Little Translator turns Little Detective (II)” until, oh, until at least next year.

No, as luck would have it, my amateur sleuthing had to be shelved for a while, for meanwhile one of my new customers rang to tell me about a new job. “Nothing technical”, he chirped. “Not at all. Easy stuff. Dead easy, really.”

I was in a bad enough mood already because of the police annoyance, but do you know, it’s beginning to irk me more than a little when I hear that word from customers – easy – and he’d already said it twice in as many seconds. Easy. A mere nothing, mate. A trifle, a cinch, wee buns, easy as taking candy from a baby. A big easy.

Any fool could do it.

Easy. Not technical. Does this mean that if a text isn’t easy, it’s technical? What IS this business about technical? Does technical mean difficult? Not if you’ve been doing it for years, presumably. And if it isn’t “technical”, it’s easy?

I put my hand over the phone for a second and growled at it like a Rotweiler, just to vent my irritation but not let it show to the customer. A technique I use – very useful for telephonic manoeuvres. I then removed my hand and grinned like a Cheshire cat down the receiver. “That’s absolutely marvellous”, I answered merrily. “What’s it about, then?”

“Oh, it’s just some Town Hall web page, nothing special, all the tourist attractions, all the town has. Very, very easy indeed. Real easy stuff.”

I had a little difficulty prising my teeth apart again enough to take my leave of him on the phone, but I had a look at the text. I’m beginning to disagree about this technical thang. If you have a technical translation, it may delve into hydraulics and electrics, mechanical and chemical engineering and all the rest, but at least in general it behaves itself, sticks to the theme, and stays technical. It doesn’t flit around from magnetic particles to haberdashery to macro-economics to serious trauma to the Council of Europe. I’ve been on a few of these Town Hall web page trips now, and this one was no different. “Technical-plus”, I call them now. You need vocabulary for everything in there, not just manifolds and star delta motors.

The local authorities like to kick off with “History of our Town”. Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? But they mean History back to the year dot, of course, with portions of the Edict of Nantes, Treaty of Utrecht, Torquemada’s reports for the Spanish Inquisition (“I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition”, you think to yourself – only certain readers will understand that one, it must be said, for, as every skoolboy kno, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition), Magna Carta, Papal Bulls mentioning this wretched godforsaken hamlet because some saint had an encounter with the Virgin on a hill, whatever. All in the original language of 500 years ago, which now bears little resemblance to the one you’re meant to be translating, just to make it that little bit more difficult for the translator.

But thank God it’s not technical.

You limp painfully on to “Composition of the Town Council”, and suddenly you’re trying to find translations for the posts held by all the Mayor’s deputies, all the departments and committees with titles a mile long. If you’re really unfortunate, you may even find each of the main bigwigs has their CV posted on the web too, so there you will be toiling away translating the life of X, who holds the post of Senior Advisor to Y, Assistant Head of the Mayoral Office and External Relations. X, you are interested to learn, worked between 1998 and 2003 in the Accounts Section of the Department for Incentives and Economic Promotion, before moving on to take up duties as Assistant to the Head of the Department of Whatever. Ad nauseam, Brookesduddy would say.

“Phew, I’ve got through that”, you say to yourself, gulping back another coffee, “Good job it wasn’t technical. So what’s next?”

Next up is “Tourism - Local Monuments”. Er, do they have a Gothic/Romanesque/Neo-Gothic church in this town, at all? No, they have all three, and fiercely proud of them they are too. So proud, in fact, that they’ve asked some local aesthete to write a few little pieces on them for the website, and thus it’s not long before you’re drowning in an orgy of stellar vaults, apses, naves, chancels, retrochoirs and lancet arches.

But it could have been worse – it could have been technical, this translation.

Then they switch to “Local Economy”, and so you plunge into the town’s five-year plans and initiatives with more long titles, percentage comparisons with the retail price index, LIBOR, MIBOR, and EURIBOR and all the rest, perhaps a few impenetrable and incomprehensible graphs thrown in for good measure.

But hey hey, it’s your lucky day, because you remember with relief that it’s not technical. You put in the last full stop, and look at the next section. “Local Businesses”.

“For crying out loud”, you gasp, “What’s all this?”

All these companies, with a brief description of what they do. Metal-stamping, chrome-plating, round bars, household appliances, wall-to-wall carpeting, agricultural machinery, acid baths …...

TECHNICAL!!!! Wot a swizz.

So I rang him back on this one after I’d had a look. “Got to put the price up”, I said.

“You what? But it’s EASY!! No technical stuff.”

“Exactly”, I told him. “That’s why I’m charging you more. Because it isn’t technical.”


And so, to finish off, on the last day of the year, Little Translator wishes to salute his new-found colleagues in his own language. Perhaps you can do the same in your own language, whatever it is. Mine’s pretty simple, but I like it:


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
German to English
+ ...
Believing a client on the phone? Dec 31, 2007

Thanks for pinpointing one of the big client misrepresentations.

Another, of course, is "it's just a little website, not much text really". And when you download it, you find that this teeny weeny website consists of hundreds and hundreds of HTML files; a few of them really have only a few words, but most of them go on and on for ages about how you can distinguish one type of stellar vault from another. Or why companies of one particular legal form (which does not exist in your target language) have to pay less of some ephemeral local tax than companies of another (uniquely local) legal form.

Not to mention the question of where you should get the source text from. "Just pick it up off the website", they may say. But the person giving you the job has no idea how to do this. Perhaps you have a clever utility to do it for you. But beware - maybe most of the text is hidden in some snazzy dynamic database program and cannot be downloaded, and some important page titles and sub-headings are hidden in flamboyant graphic displays which your utility also cannot decipher, so you miss most of the text that the client wants. Or it may go the other way, so the download washes up far too much text - I once quoted on a downloaded website that would have kept me in caviar for more than an year. Needless to say, the client never replied to my quote.

But at least it ain't technical. Do it by tomorrow? Easy as falling off a log.

And HAPPY NEW YEAR (in my native lingo), or EIN FRÖHLICHES UND ERFOLGREICHES NEUES JAHR (in my acquired language).

[Edited at 2007-12-31 11:41]

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patyjs  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oh, how true this is, LT! Dec 31, 2007

Many a long hour spent over these dastardly deceptive jobs. But it's always nice to hear when someone else gets stuck in the same boat.

Have a wonderful 2008, everyone! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

[Edited at 2007-12-31 12:22]

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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
Seasons' Greetings Dec 31, 2007

Hi Mervyn,
Thanks a lot for this nice series and please keep it up next year.
Wishing a very Happy New Year to the Little Translator... may these adventures continue to enrich our lives.

p.s.: Sorry I've been trying to insert it as a picture but I can't so...

[Edited at 2007-12-31 13:28]

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Pamela Peralta  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
My wish Jan 1, 2008

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!...........¡Feliz 2008!
Son los sinceros deseos de esta humilde traductora

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Happy New Year or Godt Nytaar! Jan 2, 2008

Happy New Year or Godt Nytaar!

I still have a sweet little text - some 4000 words - from the early days of my translating career. Tourist information, no problems, just a guide to a museum with a little background history.

Mercifully I was still working in-house, and the agency was doing well, so they shouldered my time consumption and paid my salary anyway! But I learnt my lesson - check every section of the text before promising on a deadline!

The museum was a former boatbuilding yard in a town on the west coast of Denmark. The story was that the local community lived on fishing and farming, but the land is poor and life was very hard. However, once the men had been converted and given up the demon drink, they earned more from fishing. A railway was built, so the fish could be marketed at a good price inland instead of having to be eaten locally before they rotted, and the local economy took off.

So far, so good, no problems, but that section was only a few hundred words long. The rest was all about the boatbuilder's yard, where a bright young carpenter started to design and experiment with self-righting lifeboats to save the lives of fishermen caught in the fierce storms of the North Sea... 19th century technology, and I was translating it before the days of Wikipedia, when people would still tell you seriously that the Internet was just the world's biggest graffiti wall.

I had to go to the library and do some serious research the old-fashioned way. It was fun, but we had to renegotiate the deadline a couple of times... I would never have got away with it today!

But it's a fascinating museum!

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
Italian to English
+ ...
Just found this latest instalment... Jan 10, 2008

And oh, you're so right LT!

I'll just stick with my medical translations, thanks

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Céline Lemoine
Local time: 04:00
English to French
MP Mar 17, 2008

I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition either... but I certainly like the nice red uniform.
So, tell me Little Translator, you think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions?

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