Welcome to the second installment of The Devil Is in the Detail. In March, we kicked off the series with an example from my own industry, where the words on a company’s website are an instant sample of its product. This time around, our […]
It’s an appealing thought, writing your own English content. You’ve spoken the language for years; you use it every day in your business. And you know, better than anyone else, what you want to say.
Yet chances are it’s a terrible idea.
Why? Because there’s a big difference between proficient and native. Take me: Even after twenty years speaking Dutch and […]
This is what happens when a monolingual advertising team discovers a product is being marketed in a bilingual country.
“Hey, Bob, I just had a great idea for the Coke water vitamin Canada thing.”
“You know how they speak two languages in Canada? English and, um, what’s the other one—oh, yeah: French?”
“How about we put a bunch of English words in […]
Here’s a secret for you: Most people can’t write worth a damn.
Of course, plenty of folks think they write well. Evidence of this mass delusion is strewn across the Internet—and not just on personal blogs. Company websites are filled with it. Academic papers are filled with it. Government reports—no; best not to get me started on those.
Discontinuation of […]
This summer, BBC News Magazine published a list of fifty Americanisms creeping into UK English. The British broadcaster compiled its list from thousands of examples sent in by readers. But the list is a little disingenuous.
Many of the entries are, indeed, perfectly acceptable educated American forms that sound ill-begotten to the British ear—or should that be ill-begot?* But there are […]
Per-word rates are ubiquitous in translation, and until recently they were my metric for pricing projects, too. But I kept butting up against the fact that two translations of the same length and apparent level of difficulty were taking vastly different amounts of time. One had lucid, straightforward writing, while another turned out to ramble and veer into frequent […]
A recent article in Dutch news weekly Elsevier highlights a widespread misconception about the translation profession. The article is titled “Risky Translation,” and its tagline is “Google Translate: ultra-convenient for quick translations. But be careful with your secrets.” (*)
No argument here on the second statement, but the first one is troubling—and later in the short article, things only get worse:
I recently joined the Society of Native-English-Speaking Editors in the Netherlands (SENSE), just in time for their annual Summer Social on June 9. I had a wonderful time and met scads of interesting people. I can’t believe I dithered so long about joining. Silly me!
The day’s program had two parts: a walk, starting at 11 AM, […]
A friend just tipped me off to this fascinating set of maps depicting language differences across the U.S. I’m from eastern North Carolina, and the data ring true for me—except for map number 19. The devil beats his wife in eastern NC, too.
Map number 10 clarifies one of the great confusions of my […]
Ever wondered how a high-end translator * translates? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at my process on a recent magazine article.
Length: 950 words Field: Biophysics
Read through the article for any initial questions to the client
In this case, the article is one in a series, and each contains a sidebar with a common title. […]
This exceptionally unappetizing—and potentially upsetting—translation blunder would have been avoided by using a native speaker of the target language. Any native speaker.
I recently read a (very funny) list of wordplay jokes in English. The translator who posted them lamented the infamous difficulty of translating this kind of joke from one language to another. Too often, the word being “played” for two meanings in the source language doesn’t have a target-language counterpart.
But even in its own language, subtle differences in pronunciation can sour […]
It sounds like irony or wishful thinking, but it’s real: the country of Bhutan puts serious stock in the findings of its Gross National Happiness Commission. This tiny Himalayan country sandwiched between India and China is a promising example of what the blue economy could mean for the world.
Thanks to San-Francisco based Ode Magazine for yet another fascinating, illuminating […]
I’m editing a book previously translated into English by someone else. There have been several infelicities along the way (a la “In the event that you might consider the option of snorkeling,” which I turn into “If you’re thinking of snorkeling”), and a few outright errors (paragraph where section is meant; the Dutch word for […]
I watched the 2007 film Fracture on television last night. In it, Anthony Hopkins plays a man who shoots his wife, then makes life extremely trying for the district attorney who is prosecuting him. The translation was middling, until it turned horrible:
I have no more questions, Your Honor.
Meer vragen zijn er niet, hè?
The general meaning […]
A recent assignment contained a fleeting reference to a chapter title in an old book: ‘s Pausen Zwitser. The title was not important for the translation, so I could have left it in Dutch without harm. But like every dyed-in-the-wool translator, who is a creature desperately devoted to unraveling the tantalizing mysteries of language, I couldn’t let […]
A recent project contained the following sentence:
Uw verblijf is aan een oprijlaan gesitueerd, wat uw aankomst tot een imponerende beleving maakt.
Literally: Your home is situated at the end of a driveway, which makes your arrival an impressive experience.
Now, my job was to translate this for an affluent American audience. There is no affluent – or even middling […]
From the BBC article:
When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed. Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh, “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”
It’s tempting to point at the council and laugh, but to me, the […]