Ode to Mailing Lists

Early in my career, around the turn of the millennium, I was at a dinner in Washington D.C. and met a retired translator who had worked for governmental agencies translating from several languages, including Italian, into English. Though I was showing the wetness behind my ears, I couldn’t help but gasp at imagining the task of translating pre-Internet, “How did you do it?” He answered that he used the phone a lot, calling experts in various fields in addition to using books printed with ink on paper bound together, often kept in buildings called “libraries.”

I went home and threw a kiss to my multi-purpose friend, Google. Translation these days can be very high tech with CAT tools, sophisticated search techniques, and so on. Some translators complain about the burden of needing to be tech-savvy and language savvy at once, but as I imagine days of white-out, impossible-to-find terminology and mailing paper documents, I can only be grateful.

My favorite translator-related things about the Internet are mailing lists like IT-EN and Langit. These lists have played an invaluable role in my career, providing help, ideas, jobs, friends, entertainment and a place to vent (non-translator friends might not be riveted by tales of terminology woe). IT-EN is only for translators working between Italian and English, tending to be dominated by those working in my combination, Italian to English. Langit is for all translators working with Italian in various combinations. In the wild and woolly world of translation, even those with formal education in translation still have a lot to learn about the market, tools, client-wrangling, and so on, forever and forever. When I was a newbie, I was amazed by the generosity of oldbies in sharing their wisdom and experience. My Pesky Words are the direct fruit of this generosity. For instance, Simon Turner’s Tariffometro gave me clues to get through the ludicrously complex translation market in which everyone counts texts differently and rates cover an enormous range. Long-time translators donate their expertise and skill to help others find solutions to knotty translation problems. It’s a great antidote to physically-solo employment to brainstorm with a crowd of translators to deal with wordplay (otherwise I would have to start a campaign to ban the pun from the Italian language) or some such bugaboo. It’s also great for getting a multi-English perspective. I translate into American English, of course, but most of the texts will be read by a multinational audience so I like to have my translations be readily understood by all and need the input of Brits, Scots, Kiwis, etc. For example, my Pesky Words were originally Sucky Words, but others on the list told me that they did not associate the word “sucky” with, um, “sucks eggs” and that it might be a little offensive.

For all these reasons and more, when new translators ask me for tips on getting started, I always send them to these lists, where they can learn at the knees of masters.

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