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Ye without mistake cast the first stone.

We translators have a peculiar trait: we get a kick out of spotting and exposing our peers’ mistakes in translation. I say ‘we’ because I plead guilty as charged of doing it myself. Our company’s first two newsletters were about this: translation bloopers, many of them hilarious. Clients just loved them, found that to be very amusing.

However such sadism in our trade seems somewhat self-defeating. Right now we carry the stones, but later on we might become the targets. After all, who has never made a mistake? And who doesn’t ever make mistakes? Particularly in a profession like ours, where we are subject to very tight deadlines and an increasing pressure from our clients to produce every time more in less lime.

I recall the first time I had one of my translations criticized. It’s tough. And it hurts, especially when the client is right. However, in spite of our various quality control systems in place, it may happen, just as a doctor can miss and maim or kill a patient, or an engineer may miscalculate and cause a bridge to collapse. In other words, we are fallible.

Our relief may be in – differently from surgeons – our mistakes not killing anyone (though they may cause substantial financial losses). On the other hand, I never saw any physician gloating over a colleague’s mistake. On the contrary, their group solidarizes and they defend each other.

There are certainly bad professionals in any trade, be it health care, engineering, or our own. Most likely these people are responsible for many of the errors and other bizarre things we see now and then. Maybe the difference is in our pleasure in “exposing” the sloppy work from these bad professionals, even if detrimental to our category as a whole.

Instead of praising and applauding the great translators and their masterpiece translations, we prefer to bash and publicize the work of mediocre translators. It seems to be done absentmindedly, however we love to criticize anybody else’s work (just browse the messages in some translators newsgroups).

The message I’d like to leave is clear: why don’t we behave like other professional categories, by simply ignoring the bad professionals and their ludicrous mistakes, and acclaiming the good ones for their pristine work? Our profession shall be thankful…

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