I’M LOST IN TRANSLATION

I’M LOST IN TRANSLATION

When you work in the publishing business, you get to do loads of fun stuff; telling people what to write, how to write it, destroying their dreams, getting into it with the printing house over which shade of white paper to use. You get to play Miranda from The Devil wears Prada (without the assistants or the hefty salary) on a daily basis and you love every minute of it. But sometimes, you find yourself doing actual work, like translating portions of texts to/from English. Evidently, a book editor has to wear many hats, but asking him to become a copywriter is like asking a pediatrician to deliver a calf. Still, you do what you have to do. And that’s when you realize that translating is hard work!

So you find yourself asking existential questions:

  • What does “The public really rated this kid from Paris” even mean? Did they give her a rating? In French, should it read “Le public a évalué cette môme de Paris”? Probably not.
  • The verb “incorporate” in its financial meaning doesn’t have an exact counterpart in French! What to do?
    – How on earth do you translate “cave à cigares”? Cigars grotto?
  • And so on. Between Google Translate, a dusty ancient dictionary you had been using as a cup holder and your trusty colleague who happens to be a published English author, you manage to piece together words that end up making relative sense.

Then it’s on to your actual job; nitpicking. You tell yourself that, much like the literal meaning of the word – picking the eggs of head lice – yours is a seemingly superfluous task. But in reality it’s a crucial one. Just because the average eye doesn’t notice the difference between French or English quotation marks, or doesn’t see the pesky double space that found its way into an otherwise flawless paragraph, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there! Its mere presence taints the holiness that is the written word. Thank God for you. In your state of megalomaniac overdrive, you send the poor soul of a translator you’re working with the following:

“With regards to the semi-colon, I would just like to reiterate that it is a widely employed and perfectly correct use of grammar, to cut its use will render stilted prose. Comma splices, which you have used in its place, make for poor grammar and break the flow completely.”

Contented with your pedantry – a sure sign of a good day’s work – you head home for the evening, confident that you’ll be sleeping like a baby. At night, you are visited by the ghost of Publishing future, letting you know that if you don’t change your ways, you will soon have no translator to abuse. Or you might have gotten a phone call from said translator to that effect. Either way, you wake up in cold sweat and hurriedly write a thank you/I’m sorry note to all the translators you have worked with, hoping to God you won’t have to go through this again anytime soon!

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