Making a ruckus about translation?

The well-known translator and translation advocate Chris Durban took part at the beginning of this month in a Ruckus Makers weekend organised by Seth Godin in upstate New York. Fellow participant Luis Vázquez, a developer and consultant, challenged the 80 ruckusmakers to blog for 8 days straight (hashtag: #RuckusmakersChallenge) and Chris’ posts can be found at Their content draws on Seth Godin’s workshop.

The Ruckusmakers 2015

The Ruckusmakers 2015

In her introduction she wrote:

I’ll be exploring how some of Seth’s insights apply to hot issues in translation and to my own personal challenge: raising awareness in the general public of how expert human translators work and how that expertise can be harnessed to make life better. And allow translators to secure the income and recognition they need to shape their working environment — and get even better at what they do.

While all the posts are interesting, the one that spoke most to me was No. 7: Out into the fray. In it she describes attending a networking event for entrepreneurs in Paris. March’s get-together celebrated some tech start-up heads just back from a successful trip to 2015 CES in Las Vegas and showed clips featuring their products. She says:

…each of the first three films was saddled with distractingly odd English subtitles. (“Where only the bests is about the most important show of the world […]”) … one thing was clear: I was the only one wincing … The explanation? Everyone else was a native French speaker. They all spoke English fluently enough for meetings, but just didn’t see the written mistakes.  That’s language for you—non-natives rarely have the same sensitivity to grammar and style glitches in writing their foreign language, which is one reason why professional translators work only into their mother tongue.

The situation of being the sole native speaker at a networking or somesuch event and seemingly the only person bothered by such linguistic awkwardness is one in which I’ve found myself more times than I’d like to count, and while it can be a lonely feeling, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. Doubtless Chris’s persuasive powers are more developed than mine, as she discreetly spoke to those in charge and a language review is now planned for 2016’s conference as these people care about what they do. However several times I’ve tried the same approach and found the result to be less than satisfactory: “We don’t get many English speakers anyway” (vicious circle – you’re not going to get more with bad translations are you?), “But that’s the translation I got off the internet” (so if Google translates it like that it must be correct of course), “But the translation was done by my bilingual cousin/son/secretary”… What IS the solution when people don’t care? When DO you give up and stop trying to persuade/educate people?

15 Reunion Creole proverbs

Every culture has its own proverbs, and Reunion Creole is no exception – it’s a very colourful language that often makes use of imagery even in simple everyday conversation, so for example if you’re starving you might say Mon léstoma i bat kart (literally ‘my stomach is playing cards’). If something is difficult: La pa in rougay tomat! (‘it’s not a rougail tomate’, the latter being a spicy condiment that is quick and easy to make), and to nitpick is chercher carapate su la peau bèf  (literally ‘look for a tick on cattle skin’).

Here’s a list of fifteen Reunion Creole proverbs with their French and English translations and/or equivalents:

Couler la peau la pas couler lo ker
La couleur de la peau n’est pas la couleur du cœur
You shouldn’t judge people by the colour of their skin

Coq mon voisin grossèr mon marmite
Le coq de mon voisin est la taille de mon marmite/Ce que possède le voisin fait toujours envie
We always want what the neighbours have

Bataille coqs

Kan gro bëf i sharzh, sort dëvan!
Quand le gros bœuf charge, ne reste pas devant
When the boss isn’t happy, watch out.

Bon kari i fé dann vië karay
Le bon carri se fait dans une vieille marmite/C’est dans les vieux pots qu’on fait la bonne soupe
Old pipes give the sweetest smoke



Zorey koshon dann marmit poi
Les oreilles d’un cochon dans une marmite de pois/Faire la sourde oreille
Turn a deaf ear



Bëf dëvan i boir dëlo prop
Le boeuf de devant boit de l’eau propre/Premier arrivé, premier servi
First come, first served

Kass pa la tet la plï i farine, soley va arnir
Ne te casses pas la tête si la pluie bruine, le soleil va revenir/Après la pluie, le beau temps
Every cloud has a silver lining


Pakapab lé mor san esséyé
Pas-Capable est mort sans essayer/Qui ne tente rien n’a rien
He who tries nothing has nothing

Kalebass’ amèr’ y suiv’ la racin’
La calebasse amère suit la racine/Tel père tel fils
Like father like son


La chance lo shein lé pa la chance lo shat
A dog’s chance isn’t a cat’s chance/A chacun sa chance
Everybody gets a chance


Poul i ponde pas kanard
Une poule ne pond pas un canard/Les chiens ne font pas les chats
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree


Le chien y sent sa queue
Chacun voit midi à sa porte
To each his own

Gro poisson i bek su l’tar
Le plus grand poisson ne mord pas en premier/Une bonne affaire se fait parfois attendre
All good things come to he who waits


Ou va war kel koté brinzel i charge
Tu vas voir de quel côté l’aubergine est chargée/Tu vas voir de quel bois je me chauffe
See the true colours (of someone)

Goni vid i tienbo pa dëbout
Un sac de jute vide ne tient pas debout/Avoir le ventre vide rend faible
This last proverb is one of my favourites, but I haven’t been able to find an English equivalent. It literally means ‘an empty jute bag won’t stand upright’, the idea being that if you’re hungry you’re also tired and won’t be able to do anything properly without eating first (definitely my case!).

By the way did you know the study of proverbs is called paremiology?

The pictures are taken from the blog post in French Reunion’s best Creole proverbs, illustrated by Paul Clodel. As Reunion doesn’t have a set orthography you may notice some spelling differences between the quotes I’ve listed and what is shown in the pictures.

If you have anything to add, please let me know in the comments below.


Further reading:

Around the web – February 2015

Have you done any professional outreach recently? For the second year running this month I went to speak about the profession of translator and interpreter to six classes of 13-15 year olds at the Careers Morning at a local junior high school. (You can read here about my account of it last year). And February 25th was Smart Translate’s 21st birthday! Anyway here’s my round-up of articles about language and translation for the past month.

The Long Island home of Liz Elting (cofounder and co-CEO of TransPerfect)

The Long Island home of Liz Elting (cofounder and co-CEO of TransPerfect)

What’s funny in one language isn’t always funny in another.

What’s funny in one language isn’t always funny in another.


CNN goes to Hong Kong which In fact, appears to be the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, which as of this writing is fortunately not under attack by giant killer hornets.

CNN goes to Hong Kong which In fact, appears to be the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, which as of this writing is fortunately not under attack by giant killer hornets.

Related articles:

Around the web – January 2015

Here’s my round-up of articles about translation and language for the first month of the year.

  • One of the defining moments of the month was January 7th’s Charlie Hebdo shooting. In this article The Economist talks about the language of blasphemy and ‘dangerous’ words.
  • People in Africa die every day because of ‘silly’ mistakes due to misunderstanding. Translation can save lives there (as it can elsewhere).
Ebola is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ebola is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • A Shropshire court heard that an Italian man spent two nights in a cell for failing to give a breath test because there was no interpreter to explain what to do.
  • A former Welsh speaker writes about what it feels like to forget a language you were once fluent in.
 'The Welsh language has a unique character which reminds me of the country’s landscapes and history' - Elan valley, Powys in Wales. Photograph: Alamy

‘The Welsh language has a unique character which reminds me of the country’s landscapes and history’ – Elan valley, Powys in Wales. Photograph: Alamy

New York Times Crossword, May 29, 2014 Copyright ©2014 "The New York Times Company." Reprinted by Permission.

NY Times Crossword, May 29, 2014
Copyright ©2014 “The NY Times Company.” Reprinted by permission.


  • TedTalk volunteer translators shared some of their favorite idioms and how they would translate literally – the results are often very funny.
  • Here are 10 idioms only the French understand.
  • I spent a few days this month in Barcelona and was amused by the French translation of this sign at the entrance to our flat.
Barcelona Appt

Here the English (which is itself not very well translated from the Spanish) term ‘take care’ has been translated into French with the meaning of ‘be careful’ (méfiez-vous) instead of ‘take good care of’ …


Have I missed anything? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Related articles:

Most Popular Tweets of 2014

Here, in ascending order, are the 10 most popular* tweets about language and translation I shared during 2014 from my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:

10. In May colleague Kevin Hendzel blogged about inspiring the next generation of translators.

9. In July I shared’s call for nominations for the 2014 Community Choice awards. The winners were announced here on September 30th, International Translation Day.

8. Articles about the differences between US and UK English are always popular. This post on Separated by A Common Language blog explored the difference between ‘hire’ and ‘rent’.

7. Following on the same theme, here are Five Tiny U.S. Phrases With Opposite Meanings In The U.K.

A first floor elevator. (PhotoAlto via AP Images)

6. Articles about French culture are another popular theme: Ten French customs that confuse Anglos.

5. Can you name 15 differences between a normal friend and a French friend? (et en français : 15 différences entrée un ami normal et un ami français)

4. How many of France’s favourite idioms do you know? Find out here.

3. Back to the US/UK theme: Can you tell if someone is British or American just from the description in their Twitter profile?

2. More seriously, can an algorithm (that of Google Translate) be racist?

1. And the winner is … A dozen must-have programs for translators: how to move them to a new computer. This blog post written by colleague Emma Goldsmith in late February was the year’s most clicked-on tweet!

P.S. In June this year I was delighted to come 4th in Blabla‘s Language Lovers Twitter competition. This was only the second year in which I’d been nominated, and I also came 5th overall.

Do you have a favourite article published in 2014 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.

By the way, here’s a cloud of my the words I use most in my Tweets, courtesy of TweetStats:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 09.54.45

According to the same source the top five hashtags I use are: #language, #translation, #translators, #translator, #traduction, and my top five words are: #language, #translation, thanks, new, words.

* ‘most popular’ = most clicked on, according to Hootsuite.

Related articles:

Around the web – December 2014

December 2014 is the month that saw me become an IQC-certified translator! IQC is certification based on essential requirements for the translation profession as well as ITT standard 11:2011 with reference to EN 15038. Anyway here’s my round-up of articles about translation and language for December.

( Illustration: Matt Blease for The Guardian)

( Illustration: Matt Blease for The Guardian)

from K. Hendzel's article on Why Translators are Promoting Premium Markets

from K. Hendzel’s article on Why Translators are Promoting Premium Markets


Related articles:

Around the web – November 2014

Most people know that November comes from the Latin word novem meaning nine, as it was the 9th month in the Roman calendar, but did you also know that the Anglo-Saxons called it the ‘wind monath‘, because it was the time when cold winds began to blow? They also called it ‘blot monath‘ because it was when cattle were slaughtered for winter food [*]. In my part of the world November is the start of summer … and cyclone season. Anyway here’s my monthly round-up of articles about language and translation:

Dublin: a scene of devastation during the 1916 Easter Rising

Dublin: a scene of devastation during the 1916 Easter Rising 


via Alessandra Vita

  • The translation industry’s major business news of the month was that Lionbridge is in the process of acquiring CLS Communication.
  • Here are 11 tips from colleague Nicole Adams for new freelance translators on the hunt for their first assignments.
  • This is what happens when no one proofreads an academic paper properly …
An overly honest citation slips into a peer-reviewed journal

An overly honest citation slips into a peer-reviewed journal

  • Can you tell if someone is British or North American just from the description in their Twitter profile? Apparently so, says Lynne Murphy.
  • Cultural differences: here are very different ways people give feedback and criticism in 12 different countries around the world.
Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.35.54

How do people criticise around the world?

  • This freelancer listed 10 things she doesn’t miss about being employed.
  • Finally, not news, but if you’d like to participate in an online survey about the sociological aspects of translation as part of a PhD thesis follow this link.

On a personal note, I was delighted that my travel blog reached 100 000 views!

Related articles:

7 language facts about colour

I recently finished reading a fascinating little book* about the  history and symbolism of colours, and I thought I’d share with you some of the interesting linguistic facts about colour that I learnt.

1. In Roman times blue was a difficult dye to make, and was considered to be the colour of all that was foreign and barbaric. One result of this is that the Romance languages words for ‘blue’ are of Germanic (‘blau‘) or Arabic origin (‘لازورد ‘lāzaward‘ for ‘azure’, deriving from lapis lazuli) as no Latin word existed.

2. Early medieval woad dyers became so wealthy that the regions of France where this blue plant dye was cultivated became known in French as the pays de cocagnecocagne being the ball of woad leaves used by the dyers. 80% of Amiens cathedral was paid for by woad merchants! English has kept the term ‘cockaigne‘ or ‘cockayne’, but we more commonly use the Biblical expression ‘land of milk and honey‘ to mean the same thing.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Land of Cockaigne", 1567.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s “The Land of Cockaigne”, 1567.

3. In Ancient times only three colours reigned supreme in the Western world: black, white and red. The supremacy of red can be seen, for example, in Spanish, where to say the ‘colour red’ is almost a pleonasm, as the word colorado means ‘red’ as well as ‘coloured’ or ‘dyed’, and in Russian красный means ‘red’ and (archaically) ‘beautiful': Moscow’s Red Square literally means ‘beautiful square’.

My better half and I in Moscow's Red Square after taking the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok.

My better half and I in Moscow’s Red Square after crossing Russia in the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok.

4. The word ‘candidate’ originates from the Latin candidare ‘to make white or bright’, as office-seekers in ancient Rome wore white togas.

5. English uses a word of Germanic origin (weiss) for ‘white’, but has indirectly kept the old French word blanc in its use of ‘blank’. The colour white is commonly associated with emptiness or nothingness, and this is especially obvious in many French expressions : voix blanche means a toneless voice, nuit blanche is a sleepless night and a chèque en blanc is a blank cheque, to name but a few.

6. ‘Brown’ comes from the Germanic braun, meaning a ‘dark animal’ (possibly a bear?) via the Old English brun which also meant ‘brightness, shining’, an etymology preserved today only in the word ‘burnish‘.

7. Many ancient languages only had one word for the colour of the sea, which combined green, blue and grey. This can still be perceived today in the Welsh, Irish and Breton word glas, which was also used to refer to grass and silver. (By the way did you know that Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to the distinction between blue and green in various languages?)

Finally a question, not a fact: in France green tends to be associated, amongst other things, with something that is free of charge (for example numéro vert, a toll-free number). Have any French colleagues purposely or inadvertently used green in their logos? Let me know in the comments below.

* “Le petit livre des couleurs” by Michel Pastoureau & Dominique Simonnet, Editions du Panama, 2005

Further reading

Around the web – October 2014

Did you know October is International Creole Month? October 28th in particular is celebrated as International Creole Day, also known as Bannzil Kreyol Day. (For more about Creole see these blog posts I’ve written, or read this Global Voices article to learn more about International Creole Month). On a more personal note on October 8th I reached the milestone of 3000 followers on Twitter! Creole and Twitter aside, here’s my monthly round-up of articles about translation and language:


Client circles (source: Nikki Graham)

Wishing 'Happy New Year' for the whole of January is one custom that can confuse non-French.

Wishing ‘Happy New Year’ for the whole of January is one custom that can confuse non-French.

  • Here‘s a list of 15 words that are more interesting than they seem.
  • This Welsh translation error brings a smile, but it’s yet another example of companies who should know better not using a professional translator.
Free erections anyone?

Free erections anyone?


  • Non-Brits can test their knowledge of British English here, and there’s also a US quiz for English speakers outside of North America.

In French:

Les interpretes Pascale Baldauf,  Ewa Pawlikowska & Michel Zlotowski  (© Radio France - 2014 / Julie Bonnemoy)

Les interprètes Pascale Baldauf,
Ewa Pawlikowska &
Michel Zlotowski
(© Radio France – 2014 / Julie Bonnemoy)

  • La retraite du traducteur – êtes-vous trop jeune pour y penser ? Collègue Gaelle Gagné nous livre son point de vue.

Related articles:

Around the web – September 2014

September is of course the month of International Translation Day. Did you do anything special to celebrate, or (like me) were you too busy working? On another note did you know that in September 1752 the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar so that year September 2 was immediately followed by September 14?! Anyway here’s your September round-up of interesting articles about language and translation.

  • Conference interpreter and translation agency manager Sébastien Devogele had a rant about rates.
  • Another thorny issue: if you’re perusing this article then you’re a reader of blogs; you may even write your own. But what exactly are the dangers of blogging, asks colleague Emma Goldsmith?
  • Hindi is not one of the United Nation’s official languages. This didn’t stop Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi from making his recent UN speech in the world’s 4th most prevalent language – why?

Narenda Modi, India’s PM

  • What does a literary translator’s CV look like? Find out here.
  • BJ Epstein blogged about the useful 88-page book Translation in Practice which can be downloaded in PDF form here.
  • The EU’s Terminology Coordination unit has added 103 interpreter glossaries, compiled and shared by Róbert Gulyás, to its Glossary Links search tool.


  • After a coma, an Aussie recently woke up speaking fluent Mandarin – a language which he’d studied in high school but never mastered. Apparently he now hosts a Chinese game show in Shanghai.

Photo ©Benjamin McMahon/Facebook

  • Here are 14 of the funniest, most ridiculous English synonyms.
  • Did you know 19th September is International Talk Like A Pirate day?


In French:

  • Voici, sur le site de l’Écran Traduit, un glossaire de la traduction audiovisuelle.


Related articles: