Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face
Translators don’t like to admit it, but it is a fact that most of us have never thrown out a single dictionary, no matter how hopelessly out of date it has become.
There is not really that much difference between sad old ladies who collect stray cats and who cannot be happy until what used to be their house is a stinking hell that is under full control of little meowing monsters, or people who walk through dark pathways carved out between mountains of old magazines and newspapers in their living room and bedroom because they can’t throw out a single newspaper …. and translators who can’t throw out a single useless dictionary!
I know what I am talking about – I have not thrown out a dictionary in more than 30 years …. because … how could I possibly do that when it might come in handy one day?
I still have my old Большой Японско-Русский Словарь (Large Japanese-Russian Dictionary), published by the Soviet Encyclopedia Publishing House in 1970, because that was the my first Japanese-Something Else dictionary that I bought in 1975 when I started learning Japanese.
My sister had to ship it to me (for a pretty penny) from České Budějovice (Budweis) to San Francisco about 30 years ago. I actually never used it, although it is a pretty good dictionary, because it makes no sense to use Russian dictionaries when you translate Japanese to English, of course!
I wrote in a recent post on this blog that most people leave behind only debts and a bunch of remote controls when they die, but several sage commenters pointed out promptly that they will leave behind a lot of useless dictionaries that nobody could possibly want, not just useless TV remotes.
I met only one translator so far who was able to figure how to deal with this obsessive-compulsive disorder that is affecting so many translators. His name is Alan. He decided to make a clean break from everything by following a simple three-step program:
1. He divorced his wife.
2. He drove one beautiful spring day 18 years ago about 90 minutes to my house in Santa Rosa, California, and gave all his Japanese dictionaries to me (and I was immensely grateful to him for this selfless act).
3. He moved to Japan and joined a jazz band.
I especially appreciated among his many dictionary pearls for example the JAPANESE-LATIN-ENGLISH-GERMAN-FRENCH DICTIONARY OF MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY, 1259 pages, published in 1957 by Kanehara Shuppan Co., Ltd.
When I feel lonely and sad, all I have to do is look up a few medical or technical terms from 1957 in various languages, such as 活性汚泥層 (kassei odeiso, activated sludge tank). The dictionary does not have the correct Latin, German and French equivalent for this term from 1957, probably because Romans, Germans and the French for some reason did not have any activated sludge tanks, but it does have them for many other words, such as 過飽和 (kahowa, oversaturation, übersättigung, sursaturation). How could one possibly throw out something like that?
I was actually never able to use this dictionary in 18 years either. I think I tried to look up something in it about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t there. But still, one day it might come in handy! It’s definitely a keeper!
Fortunately for us translators, as dictionaries became largely unnecessary now that we can tap multilingual databases online and use machine translations, we were able at least to stop buying new dictionaries, even though we can’t part with the old ones.
I think that the last time that I bought a dictionary would have to be more than 5 years ago since I don’t even remember which dictionary it was.
So I try to fill the void in my life created by the absence of new dictionaries to buy and collect by a new passion – I am now collecting hard cover mysteries.
I wait until they are on sale at Barnes and Nobles and then I buy them. Only hard covers though. I can’t stand paperbacks. That way I can read them at my leisure and I don’t have to bother going to the library at all.
I got to know a local carpenter by the name of Adrian who so far made 3 huge bookcases for me so that I can put in them all the beautiful, brand new books I buy at B&N on sale when the spirit moves me, usually on Saturday afternoon.
We have a pretty big house with plenty of space in the hallways for new bookcases that Adrian can make for me once I fill up the space that is still left in the last bookcase he made for me.
I think I will have to order a new bookcase from Adrian in another month or two.