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    DD3: In Which a Dutch Marketing Agency Offers to Truly Fuck Up Your English for You

DD3: In Which a Dutch Marketing Agency Offers to Truly Fuck Up Your English for You

Welcome to the third installment of The Devil Is in the Detail. In this blog series, we look at concrete examples of English that’s missing the mark on professional Dutch websites. This time we’re going to go apoplectic—well, I am, anyway—over the English text on […]

By |October 21, 2014|English|4 comments

DD2: Incoherent English? Customers Go Elsewhere

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 textual […]

By |March 21, 2014|English|1 comment
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    The Devil Is in the Detail: Why Flawless Language Matters to Your Company (DD1)

The Devil Is in the Detail: Why Flawless Language Matters to Your Company (DD1)

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 twelve […]

By |January 23, 2014|English|9 comments
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    Vizzini, I Do Not Think That Word Means What the French Think It Means

Vizzini, I Do Not Think That Word Means What the French Think It Means

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 one […]

By |September 26, 2013|English|Comments Off on Vizzini, I Do Not Think That Word Means What the French Think It Means

Garbage In, Garbage Out

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 […]

By |September 15, 2013|English|2 comments

Yucky, Not Yankee, Is to Blame

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 several […]

By |September 13, 2013|English|Comments Off on Yucky, Not Yankee, Is to Blame

Pricing Translations

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 official-speak. […]

By |July 18, 2013|English|1 comment

Of Money I Was Always Grumpy

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:

ven if […]

By |July 8, 2013|English|3 comments

SENSE and Sociability

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, and […]

By |June 19, 2013|English|Comments Off on SENSE and Sociability

Variety is the Spice of American English

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 childhood: […]

By |June 7, 2013|English|1 comment

Anatomy of a Translation

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. I […]

By |May 16, 2013|English|1 comment

Er…I Think I’ll Skip the Appetizer, Thanks

This exceptionally unappetizing—and potentially upsetting—translation blunder would have been avoided by using a native speaker of the target language. Any native speaker.

By |May 5, 2013|English|Comments Off on Er…I Think I’ll Skip the Appetizer, Thanks

You’re Keeling Me Here

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 a […]

By |October 20, 2012|English|Comments Off on You’re Keeling Me Here

The Gross National Happiness Quotient


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 article […]

By |October 8, 2011|English|3 comments

Make Mine a Beretta 9mm


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 […]

By |March 15, 2011|English|Comments Off on Make Mine a Beretta 9mm

The Soul of a Poet

By |January 15, 2011|English|Comments Off on The Soul of a Poet

Yo, Judge, You Gettin’ Me Here?

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?

By |October 1, 2010|English|Comments Off on Yo, Judge, You Gettin’ Me Here?

The Pope’s Champion

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 it […]

By |September 3, 2010|English|Comments Off on The Pope’s Champion

Know the Target Audience, and Translate the Intent

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 – […]

By |August 23, 2010|English|Comments Off on Know the Target Audience, and Translate the Intent

Forsooth, Do You Grok My Jive?

By |August 2, 2010|English|Comments Off on Forsooth, Do You Grok My Jive?