Posted by: patenttranslator | July 19, 2010

Fiat pecunia, et pereat mundus!

Fiat pecunia, et pereat mundus!

If you try to Google this Latin phrase, you are not likely to find it as I just created it by paraphrasing the famous saying “Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus”. This was a motto of Ferdinand I, Central European monarch from the House of Habsburg, who was “Holy Roman Emperor” in mid 16th century, king of Bohemia and Hungary, Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, Galicia and a bunch of other places that most people would not be able to find on a map. Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus means Let justice be done, though the world perish. It means different things to different people and different philosophers and regular folk like me have been interpreting it differently over the last few centuries. To me it means that the principle of justice is so important that for our civilization to survive, one has subordinate everything else to this principle, because if there is no justice, that is the end of the world. This interpretation makes sense to me.

Fiat pecunia, et pereat mundus could be translated from Latin as “let me make a lot of money, even if it should mean the end of the world”. This is the operating principle of our modern civilization. Think Bernie Madoff, the former American stockbroker who has been stealing money for decades, mostly from fellow Jews, while teaching business techniques and ethics among other things, or many other perpetrators of what is known as Ponzi scheme, a scheme that was invented by Carlo Ponzi, an Italian immigrant to America in the nineteen twenties and that has been flourishing in many countries. Bernie Madoff is in prison now, but the money is gone and frail septuagenarians who thought that their investments with Bernie would carry them through the remainder of their golden years are now reduced to flipping burgers at McDonalds.

I was thinking about the injustices and ironies of our world when I was recently reading comments of translators posted on a discussion group on the Internet, mostly laments about the low rates paid by a certain translation agency. The agency is treating us like chattel, they said, they keep trying to lower rates, the deadlines are brutal, the clueless personnel who works there as coordinators keep quitting, and so on and so forth.

This would be my advice to poor translators who feel that they are being oppressed and brutalized by big bad agencies: Don’t work for them! If you don’t like them, don’t just complain to your peers, it’s not going to change anything. Do whatever it takes not to depend on them for work anymore. Not all agencies are equally exploitative and mercenary. Although I mostly work for direct clients, I still work for a few agencies. My rule of thumb when it comes to translation agencies, but also other clients such as law firms or corporations, paraphrased and borrowed this time from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, is “small is gooood, big is baaaad”. Large agencies are run by business people who think of translators as unavoidable expenditures that must be minimized in order to maximize profit. And money is all they really care about. Small agencies are more likely to be run by translators who may still translate from time to time themselves, or refugees from different profession – I have been working for several people with a PhD in chemistry. They are less likely to see other translators as nothing but an expenditure that should be minimized as it cannot be eliminated, since translators are the ones who actually have to do the translating work, although some small outfits may be run by pretty nasty people too, of course.

Even when you work directly for a law firm or a corporation, it’s usually much easier to communicate with small firms and small companies than with large law firms and corporations. If you work for a small agency or company, you get to know the people there who need your translations on a personal level. They don’t want to go through the trouble of having to deal with another translator who will do the same job for a cent a word less. If your customer is a huge corporation, the chances are that next year you will be dealing with a different person and if this different person has new marching orders which mandate savings on labor (where else), you will be asked to lower your rate.

After all, unlike the person you are dealing with at a major corporation or a big translation agency – you are in charge of the decision making. The size of the corporation or agency, relative to your puny size of 1 person, makes no difference. You make all decisions.

The question really is “who needs whom more”? What is more easily replaceable, your expert, specialized service at a competitive (but not low) rate, or the supply of work from a particular customer?

If the answer is that you are easy to replace, you may have a problem. If the answer is that you may not be so easy to replace, you may even consider raising your rates, even in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1929. Fiat pecunia, et pereat mundus. It is dying anyway. From the Gulf of Mexico, to melting polar ice caps.


  1. […] In the parlance of modern business, efficiency really means only one thing: maximized profit for the people on top of the profit pyramid. If it means extreme cruelty to animals – or people, for that matter – so be it. Fiat pecunia, pereat mundus as I wrote in this post. […]


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