Writer James Fell recently shared a Reddit challenge on his Facebook page to Badly Explain Your Profession. The responses are inventive and hilarious, but they made me think about how we translators explain what we do. Hang around any translation forum or group long enough, and sooner or later the conversation will turn to complaints about the misconceptions people have about our profession, like the notion that any high school kid who’s taken a year of French can be a translator.
But really, whose fault is that? I have a nagging feeling that there aren’t any translator contributions to the Badly Explain Your Profession thread because we’re already using all the bad explanations as actual descriptions of what we do.
Here are two examples of another popular meme a while back, where people explained their jobs as seen through different eyes.
Note how these two translators depict the “reality” of their work. According to these helpful images, not only do translators have a simple job that anyone could do, we are incompetent boobs who get overwhelmed by the type of simple job that anyone could do.
“Badly explain your profession”? Please, we badly explained before badly explaining was cool. For people who are supposed to have a way with words we’re remarkably expert badsplainers.
I know, I know, these memes are just meant to be funny, and they are. But it would not be remiss to balance the scales every now and then. So to that end, allow me move to the opposite end of the spectrum for a minute and take a page from Donald Trump, uber-promoter in-chief:
Make Translation Great Again
Translation is a tremendous profession, tremendous. It’s projected to outgrow all other sectors by 2020, because we think bigly and we act bigly. We also have huge support, people love us. They’re standing in line to join. But you gotta have what it takes. It’s about words, of course, huge, huge amounts of words, millions of words a day. But mostly it’s about action. Build that wall of words and make the client pay for it. Because there is money in it. Believe me. Big, big money. Most professions don’t even make a fraction of the money we spend on printer ink alone. It’s sad. But mostly it’s about winning. Winning so much your competitors get tired of you winning. And we’re winners. Believe me.
A tad heavy on “alternative facts”, perhaps, but I think we have a good start here, yes? So let’s open it up to suggestions. Colleagues, let’s break the badsplaining curse. How would you describe what you do?