Posted by: patenttranslator | September 11, 2010

You Have Been Unsubscribed from the Northern California Translators Discussion Group


I am one of those weird people who write letters to editor, call C-Span, write articles for newsletters for translators and leave comments on blogs. I can’t really help it, the need to participate in a discussion is somehow hardwired in my system. And a couple of my letters did get published by my local paper and once I even got through C-Span to talk to America. It made my day.

I am also on several Internet discussion groups dedicated to translation issues. I participate actively in some and lurk on other groups, depending on whether I feel that I have something to contribute. I was an on-and-off again participating subscriber to the Yahoo discussion group of the  Northern California Translators Association (NCTA) for several years, mostly because I used to live in California for 19 years and I know quite a few people who live there and are also members of this discussion group. I was banned (unsubscribed) from this group by the “moderator” who left me the following Kafkaesque message:

“You have been unsubscribed from the “NCTA-Members” mailing list. There are several possible reasons for this:
1) You asked to be unsubscribed at this address and/or resubscribed at another address.
2) Your NCTA membership has lapsed. To renew your membership, please contact
3) You have violated the terms of this mailing list.
If you feel you have been unsubscribed in error, please contact”

Since  I did not ask to be unsubscribed and my NCTA membership is paid up, I must have somehow “violated the terms”. I am not sure how, but since the “moderator” sent me the message informing me about the excommunication from the group after a particular message, this must have been the offending message that caused my excommunication. I wrote this message in response to somebody who claimed that she has friends who learned, among other languages, “Slavonic”, and also that if you really put your mind to it, you can “learn a language in 4-6 weeks”.

I thought it was hilarious because the English word Slavonic, applied to a language, means an ancient Slavic language created by two Greek monks, Cyril and Methodius, who brought the Christian religion to Moravia in the 9th century in order to proselytize among pagan Slavs in an intelligible language. The language is preserved in several documents from the ninth century and it is studied by students and scholars of Slavic languages because it is very useful for understanding the consequent development of Slavic languages, but nobody speaks it any more of course.

Although my offending message did not make it past the vigilant “moderator” of the NCTA discussion group, to the best of my recollection, it went like this:

“To say that somebody speaks Slavonic is like saying “this guy speaks Proto-Indo-European”. There are people in several countries who study Slavonic, but nobody speaks it. But in a world where you can learn a language in 4-6 weeks, you can probably also speak Slavonic.

So when do we start watering our lawns with Gatorade “to take advantage of them electrolytes?”

I noticed that some of my previous messages did not get through the “moderator’s firewall” on several previous occasions. For some reason, s/he really does not like my kind of humor. I think that my reference to the movie “Idiocracy”, which describes a world populated by idiots who are so brainwashed by commercialized propaganda that they water their lawns with Gatorade “because it has electrolytes”, was the last straw. A reference to this movie was actually made by another subscriber to the NCTA discussion list and I was thus merely reacting to her flippant comment. I hope she was not excommunicated as well.

I think that I am probably not the only one who was banned from this discussion group.

I think that the “moderator”, who is in my opinion anything but moderate, is trying to avoid comments of subscribers who are making fun of other subscribers who might have posted something that is really dumb, and that is a valid point, of course. But I remember that when I was making fun in this manner of some distinguished linguist at some university in Europe, my comment did not make it through the “moderator’s firewall” either. So it’s not just concern for the sensibilities of the members of the translation group. This “moderator” simply does not like my kind of humor. So s/he got rid of me. And of other people probably too, for the same reason.

Here is my suggestion to the NCTA  discussion group: get rid of this immoderate “moderator”.

Otherwise, the discussions among the members of your group will be increasingly more and more bland and boring if you keep excluding people who can breathe some life into your moribund discussions. If you can’t even point out that somebody said something really hilarious and dumb, what kind of “discussion” can you have?

A discussion among the members of a mutual admiration society who never mention anything even slightly controversial or critical of other members and go out of their way not to offend anybody’s sensibilities.

Or is that what you really want, just to be on the safe side? It seems to be the case because that is what you have now. The problem is, you cannot have a real discussion among people who readily accept extreme censorship as an unavoidable condition of participation in the discussion. That is why there was no real discussion of any issues of substance on the pages of the Pravda or Izvestiya newspapers in the former Soviet Union.

Another alternative would be to simply change the job title. Instead of “the moderator”, change the job title to “the terminator”. It will be easy to remember since most people know that the original “terminator” is now the “governator” of your state, and it will be very useful for keeping people in line.


One brave member of the NCTA Yahoo discussion group registered a formal complaint about my expulsion from the group by the mailing list moderator. He called it dictatorial and unethical. His complaint thus will be or already has been reviewed by the NCTA board at their meeting. Since I was able to receive a copy of the formal response by the moderator which was sent to the NCTA board and intercepted by yours truly, I was also able to finally establish the real reason for my expulsion.

It was not the last message that I sent and that was censored, as I was mistakenly assuming (since nobody told me anything about anything). It was a number of thought crimes that I had committed over a period of a number of years. For example, I said in a post in 2006 that prostitutes have more pride in their profession than translators, because most would not give a free BJ as a sample of their work. Translators, on the other hand, think nothing of working for free for a prospective customer who promises real, paid work if the free sample is deemed satisfactory. Translators on the NCTA discussion list should not be allowed to discuss matters in this manner in the opinion of the moderator who keeps track of what people on the group said years ago.

I did not know that, but apparently, there are two types of translators who are allowed to post on the NCTA Yahoo discussion group: loyal, uncontroversial  members who are allowed to post without being censored, and members who are on the “monitored status” whose messages will or will not be posted depending on the decision of the moderator. Unbeknownst to me, I was on the “monitored status” along with other members whose loyalty and manners are in doubt. So now I know why so many of my posts  appeared after a number of hours, or simply disappeared into thin air. The brave, lone member of the “discussion group” who dared to register a formal complaint is on the “monitored status” now according to the letter from the moderator to the NCTA board that I was able to intercept. (But of course, his messages are now monitored not because of what he was saying, but because he was “rude”).

One request that this brave, lone member of the NCTA Yahoo discussion group had was to have a link to my blog posted on the list group so that all members could hear my side of the story as well. As we were taught in high school, “audiatur et altera pars” (let the other party be heard as well).

But I am certain that this will not happen.

The NTCA board will or already has made a final decision with respect to my my expulsion. If they inform me about this final decision, I will update this post again.


As I predicted, the NCTA board did not allow posting of a link to my blog. Nevertheless, since it is on the Internet, many people already read this blog anyway and more will do so. Although quite a few of them must have been members of the NCTA Yahoo discussion group, none of them dared to leave a comment which would express their opinion about the whole sorry affair. They seem to have been trained well by the Terminator, I mean the Moderator. Words such as captive audience and Stockholm syndrome come to mind.

After 23 years (ever since I became freelance translator), I will no longer be renewing my membership in the Northern California Translators Association. I am still a member of the ATA (American Translators Association) and NCATA (National Capital Area Translators Association).


  1. This is a translators’ association list? That is pathetic. I hate this kind of thing.


  2. No, it’s a translators association list. We kind of frown on apostrophes on this continent.

    It was not exactly FLEFO of the old days, but it had its moments. Alas, now I am forever banned from this august forum.

    Do you remember when Bernie Bierman (he called himself Supremo, which kind of sounds like a burrito size if you live in California) was banned from FLEFO? He was so nasty to me at one point, but I defended him anyway because I really enjoyed his acerbic wit even when he was tearing me to pieces.

    Those were the days.


  3. Ah, Bernie. I have occasionally heard from him over the years, always a pleasure, and he does sometimes comment on blogs, as here:

    I hope you are not forever banned. What do the other list members think? It irritates me when translators’ associations (excuse the European spelling) put their online activities into the hands of individuals who take charge of things without consultation.


    • “I hope you are not forever banned. What do the other list members think?”

      Nothing. They don’t know about it. That’s how it’s usually done. It is not a good idea to give too much information to unwashed masses. Since they would not know what to do with it, it is best if somebody determines first which information is OK and which information is really not very suitable for them. It’s for their own good.

      But I’ve still got my blog, and I am still allowed to talk to my brother and my sons on Skype and stuff like that.

      “Ya drugoy takoy strany nye znayu, gde tak volno zhivyet chelovyek.”

      (This is the third and fourth verse from the Soviet song called “My Spacious Homeland”, which became an unofficial Soviet anthem. My translation: “I don’t know any other country like this one where one can breathe so freely”. It was spacious all right. There was plenty of space for gulags).


  4. Ah, so “Slavonic” must be the short form. What I always heard was the full “Old Church Slavonic” 🙂

    And I heard it in high school! Believe it or not, my Connecticut high school was offering a Russian language course in 1959, and I took it. Sputnink and all that. I remember hardly any of it, but I thought at the time that my handwriting in Cyrillic script was pretty good. My teachers (I had two!) even taught us the pre-Soviet character for t.


    • I was kind of hoping that you would comment on the topic of my excommunication but I appreciate any comment.

      I did not realize you were going that far back. 1959! That’s when I started first grade. Hope they keep you on that discussion group. You are one of the few people there whose comments are actually worth reading.

      Best regards,

      Joseph K


  5. I have also on a number of occasions been subjected to censorship and admonitions which I found to be one-sided, overly controlling and uncalled for.
    And though I would have to concede that Steve’s comments in the e-mail in question were a bit too harshly put, it is quite obvious to me that the policies of the list are slanted toward a conservatism and blandness which is stifling.
    Personally I have always enjoyed Steve’s wit, both in e-mails and in articles in the Translorial.
    That much said, Steve, you are perhaps a bit quick to jump on people and correct them when it really isn’t all that necessary?
    Case in point – the first posting above – NCTA IS a translators’ association, regardless whether it is typically written as translators association. That sort of jumping on people is just not necessary, and here it is someone who is taking your problem with NCTA seriously enough to participate in your blog.
    I get jumped like that a lot, typically because I ask stupid computer questions on various professional mailing lists, things which are obvious to the computer savvy, and consequently I must be an idiot for not being able to figure it out either directly, or by reading the incomprehensible manual, and there are many who eagerly will point out on the list that I am an idiot, but of course they do it much nicer than Steve, and so, they don’t get called on it. So I guess the first rule is, if you want to call someone an idiot, you can’t do it directly, you have to do it nicely, then it is ok.
    But back to the NCTA list: asking dumb computer questions is one of the things I used to do on the list, and people would either answer if so inclined, or ignore it, as they pleased, and everything was well, except that last spring I had to reinstall my system, and asked a lot of questions, and it just got to be too much for our good listmaster, so he told me to stop asking questions on the list. This was really the best thing about the list for me, since there are a couple of very knowledgeable and helpful people on the list, so now it is of very little use to me.
    Also, and this is a bit more along the line of Steve’s issues: Typically it is considered that various conservative postings are “normal” – for instance cluttering the list with a hundred Merry Christmas greetings is ok, because Christmas is a normal holiday, though I believe the list master has curbed some of that. Political expressions of a conservative bent are typically considered “normal” – like “support our troops” – hey there is nothing I would like to do more than supporting our troops if only I could figure out how to do it without supporting our war, but while conservative postings of that nature seem acceptable – to me they are very offensive, way, way more offensive than anything I have ever seen Steve post on the list, and yet when I speak up against them, I get scolded by the dear listmaster for getting political, because my political opinions are not of the “normal” kind. This definitely amounts to censorship.
    And also I will say that I do not know if Richard is Steve’s “friend” but the way the listmaster referred to him it seemed manipulative – as if you are only allowed to have your enemies go out of their way to defend you. Good luck getting anywhere with that. Of course we need to have our friends defend us, if we have any, and they are no less likely to be impartial than our enemies.
    The listmaster will be pleased to know that I’m not Steve’s friend, I’m simply another member who has been subjected to some of the same practices. And while a certain level of firm-handed moderation of a list is necessary at times to keep it functional and agreeable, I do have to say that I think it has crossed over into unbecoming censorship and bias. Thus I am gravely concerned about the way Steve’s posting was handled.


  6. Hi Life:

    Yeah, my comment was a little bit over the top. But what that person said was really stupid. So I felt a need to point it out.

    A real, normal moderator would perhaps pull my response and ask me politely to put it differently. I could understand that and I would probably be more “moderate” in my next posts. Or better still, leave it be and see how people interact for God’s sake! Maybe Harriet and Steve would become buddies in the end, who knows. But the fact that he kicked me out with his creepy, Kafkaesque announcement of my excommunication shows that he has issues with me personally, and I presume with other people too. And when he does not like somebody, he simply uses an occasion like this one to get rid of that person.
    And the NCTA board supports him! Go figure.

    I think that you are right that behind it is his dislike for my unorthodox views which come through, I think, loud and clear in my messages.
    He simply does not like people like me, that’s all.

    I just think that the whole thing is creepy and I am glad to be out of there. I also think that you and/or Rich are next on his list. (Sorry).

    And I congratulate you on your courage. Nobody else dared to say anything on the subject so far, and I am sure that many “discussion group” members read my blog.


  7. […] Some time ago I participated in an online discussion of translators on the topic of free translation tests. Somebody, a beginning translator, asked whether it is customary for translators to agree to “do a translation test” for free for a prospective customer, virtually always a translation agency. What this mild mannered and soft spoken patent translator said on this subject, was, approximately, the following. “Translators who automatically agree to work for free show even less pride in their profession than crack whores. As far as I know, prostitutes do not offer a free BJ when they are promised the prospect of potential further work at some point in the future. But when an agency asks a translator to do their “test translation”, many if not most translators will agree to work for free.” My innocent remark, which, as far as I know, is factually correct, caused some gentle ladies in that group to denounce me for using such crude and inappropriate language. But what is the polite term for a crack whore? What is a more polite, gentler term for “a BJ”? I don’t know. I do know that this is probably the lowest possible occupation to which a desperate human being may debase herself. Yet, most prostitutes will not agree to do what many if not most “professional” translators will readily accept – working for free in exchange for a promise of potential work at some point in the future. Some of the gentle ladies in that discussion group eventually came around and expressed support for my position. Nevertheless, I was eventually “unsubscribed” from this particular discussion group for this and other thought crimes, see my blog here. […]


  8. Hi, Steve – I noticed that you and I made it into Jeff Allen’s Rogues Gallery on LinkedIN. I knew that I was a real bad ass, but I didn’t think you were too. I eat children and little puppies for breakfast. What do you have for breakfast?


  9. Two large cups of coffee and a piece of toasted bread usually. You’ve been eating like this (little children and puppies) for a long time now. It’s not healthy. My wife is actually a former chef so I eat very well. Too well in fact for the last 27 years and it shows.

    Yes, I read his ramblings on LinkedIn and I even left a comment, but it was censored. It’s like some of these people are afraid to actually talk to me. He called me a negativist because I think that MT is garbage. All these new words that don’t really mean anything, like “negativist” or “fashionista”…. He also said that people like you or me are not really representative of actual translators.

    I sure hope not. I would not like to be representative of anything. Je suis très unique.

    Well, MT is garbage. How is that my fault? That’s being realistic, not negative.

    Best regards,

    Steve Vitek


  10. […] I described my experience with NCTA on my blog, you can read about it by clicking on this link. […]


  11. […] I described my experience with NCTA on my blog, you can read about it by clicking on this link. […]


  12. […] I was eventually excommunicated from that particular translators’ discussion group where I dared to practice the First Amendment to US Constitution a little bit too much in this manner for the taste of the group’s Moderator whom I called “Terminator” in this post which is already 3 years old. […]


  13. […] I quit the NCTA in protest over their anti-democratic policies in 2010 as I wrote in this post. […]


  14. […] until in the end he banned me from the discussion group altogether as I described in a post called You Have Been Unsubscribed from the Northern California Translators Association six years […]


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