Posted by: patenttranslator | October 21, 2012

Even Saints Need Some Freedom And They Generally Need To Eat Every Day

Your life will go by someone’s agenda. If not yours, then someone else’s. Your choice.                


When St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and librarians, was translating the Scriptures which then became the Old and New Testament from Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and other languages into Latin, which was not his native language, I imagine that he must have been struggling with many technical and logistical aspects of his immodest undertaking, just like modern translators.

Which quill and ink should I use? And on what kind of paper should I be writing? Do I dare to be translating into Latin, which is not my native language, from all of these languages that I know pretty well, but perhaps not as well as some other translators?

Six hundred years ago the technical and contractual aspects of our profession played an insignificant role compared to present time. The Pope who was paying St. Jerome for his work probably let him choose the quill, the ink, and paper, as well as logistical support such as which other scholars he would be consulting for his translation since it would take another 600 years before Internet and search engines would be invented.

The important thing was to make sure that the Scriptures would be translated into a language understandable to most people. The rest was up to the translator. And the Pope knew very well how to pick his translator because he spoke several languages himself.


Unlike St. Jerome, modern translators are bombarded by all kinds of technical and other requirements by people who don’t seem to have a clue how to tell a good translator from a bad one.

Translators who work for translation agencies are told these days by these translation agencies that first, they must sign a “Confidentiality Agreement” which usually has nothing to do with confidentiality any more. Last week when an agency asked me about a price quote for a patent translation, I was sent an agreement, almost 4 thousand words long, containing numerous ridiculous paragraphs, typically contained in most such agreements these days, such as this one:

“Contractor’s Qualifications.  The Contractor represents that the Contractor is in the business of providing translation and/or interpreting services, and that the Contractor (or the Contractor’s employees, if the Contractor is a business entity) possesses the education, training, skills, experience, licenses, supplies and equipment incidental and necessary to the provision of translation services.”

Man, that is so clever. The lawyer who wrote this contract was worth at least 300 hundred dollars an hour because obviously, this article will weed out any and all questionable translators who do not “possess the education, training, skills, experience, licenses, supplies and equipment incidental and necessary to the provision of translation services”.

They will most certainly refrain from applying for a job upon reading Article 1 of the Contract, right?

Incidentally, I call such people “zombie translators” and I can generally tell them from real translators within a few seconds after reading just a few sentences of their e-mail or résumé.

Another really cleverly worded article said:

“Assistance.  Notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing, the Contractor agrees that, upon the Company’s request, the Contractor will execute a signed transfer, in the form provided by the Company, of all Company Innovations to the Company.  The Contractor agrees to assist the Company in any reasonable manner to obtain, perfect and enforce, for the Company’s benefit, the Company’s rights, title and interest in any and all countries, in and to all copyrights, moral rights and other property rights in each of the Company Innovations.”

I thought that they just wanted me to translate a patent for them because they can’t translate Japanese patents by themselves. Instead, “Notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing (????) they want me to “assist the Company … to obtain, perfect and enforce … the Company’s rights, title and interest (????) in any and all countries (????) …. WTF?

Do I need to be armed when I am “assisting the Company with the enforcement”, and if so, what kind of weapons should I purchase with what kind of ammunition to assist with the enforcement? I am asking because The Contract omitted this vital information.

I intended to go through that contract and change some paragraphs by deleting things here and adding some other things there that would more or less completely change the character of the 4 thousand words long document. But they never sent me the job, probably because they never got it, so I did not have to do that.

I think that the agreements that translation agencies ask translators to sign these days are so incredibly uncivil, demeaning and overreaching, to the point of ridiculousness, because they reflect how insecure the agencies are about their own business model.

I don’t think that these agreements are helping to make their business model more secure. More ridiculous, by all means, but not more secure. Zombie translators will readily sign just about anything, and then deliver zombie garbage. The problem is, unlike the Pope 600 years ago, most modern agencies really know nothing about languages and translation per se. They may know a lot about the business of buying and selling translations, but nothing about how translations are created.

Unlike St. Jerome, freelance translators are often also required by translation agencies to use for their translations specific CATs (computer assisted tools), usually Trados. Would St. Jerome agree to use Trados had it been available when he was translating the Scriptures? Probably not, I think. Something is telling me that he valued creativity and freedom as the most essential elements of his work.

I also wonder, did St. Jerome and other translators in his time have to wait sixty or more days to get paid for their work?

I kind of doubt that too. I think that this too is a relatively recent invention of the new normal in the translation business, namely that translators who don’t have much and do all the work are forced to carry the heaviest burdens.

I doubt that St. Jerome would have put up with something like that. He might have had the patience of a saint, but even a saint generally has to eat every day, except when fasting.


  1. Thanks for another brilliant post Steve. Next time an agency contacts me I will surely read their NDA more attentively, just to make sure it’s a real NDA. The agreement you quoted here is simply ridiculous.


    • “The agreement you quoted here is simply ridiculous.”

      It is ridiculous and kind of repulsive, but at the same time it is typical of agreements that I have seen recently.


  2. […] Your life will go by someone’s agenda. If not yours, then someone else’s. Your choice.                 Anonymous When St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and librarians, was tra…  […]


  3. […] Your life will go by someone’s agenda. If not yours, then someone else’s. Your choice.                 Anonymous When St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and librarians, was tra…  […]


  4. Hi Steve, excellent post, as usual. I had a somewhat similar case a couple of months ago, where a company X sent me an NDA to sign, that in one of its stipulations stated that I had to commit to reimburse X for any legal fees etc in the event of misuse or improper disclosing of info etc. in addition to other remedies or relief under the law. I returned the signed NDA and duly deleted this paragraph. No way I was going to sign off on this. In my long career as a CFO’s executive assistant of the national branch of a US Bank, plus my years as a translator, I have been fully aware of, and well conversant with, the requirements of maintaining confidentiality about any materials that we have to deal with in the course of our profession, without any need for this kind of legal rubbish. This was almost two months ago, and never heard from them. I am almost of a mind to stop signing these NDAs altogether. I am convinced that the amount of docutrash an agency makes you read/sign is inversely proportional to the work they send your way. 🙂


  5. I heard that from now on, translators will have to promise THE AGENCY the life of their firstborn son, but only in the event that THE AGENCY deems this necessary, so that most translators will still sign what used to be called Nondisclosure Agreement in the hope that it will not be really necessary.


  6. Can you imagine the US tax code?


  7. No. I pay a guy so that I wouldn’t have to think about the inequities of this world all the time.

    But I can imagine things like …

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace


  8. Ah, John Lenon, still of our younger days, Steve. You see, we are old now and we need to “make place” to the younger generation soon, though we know the future is almost here for them, the MT wheel treading hamsters.

    Jerome (347~420 A.D.) and Xuanzang (602~664 A.D.) were translating Scriptures and got paid by the Pope and the Emporer respectively. What they were translating was in the interest of the power center, the Church or the Empire. They’d beware of translating something that was against the power center. Do you think they had had good times? They must have had a lot to complain about.

    When Martin Luther (1483~1546) was translating the Bible into German, his theological work was rejected by the Pope, excommunicated and, fortunately, protected by another power, the Great Duke of Saxony, so that he could brought about his great works that resulted in the Thirty Years’ War (1618~1648) which changed the political and the religious scenaries of the Western civilization for good or evil.

    We, translators of patents or technical manuals, we are fortunate in that we don’t have to cope with those struggling powers. We don’t even care about the tools our clients provide us. Let there be Trados, let there be Déjà vu or memoQ, let there be Transit or just get us across word fasly. So long we don’t have to pay for the tools, we take on all kinds of jobs.

    Of the two dozen agreements or framework agreements the agencies sent me during these 10 months, I signed two of them. I left the other ones blank and white aside. Yet, there are always jobs coming. What for are those ridiculous agreements? I guess the agencies do not know the answer, either. The two I signed because they were about automobile manufacturers. The manufacutrers need such formalities on their shelves. So long there is nothing evil happening, they don’t care what stands in the agreements.

    Our time is limited. I don’t think I will be working as a translator for another 12 years and end up treading the MT wheel, post-editing or something else. So, I don’t care what tools they ask me to use. I don’t buy ’em, anyway. The clients must provide, if they specify the tools.

    Nothing to kill or die for. But I need a religion: music and translation. So I say, thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thank you for the translation, the beautiful texts I’m translating. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Another 12 years and I will be done, without drudges against translation agencies.

    You must have gotten to know this song sung by Vika Tsiganova:
    [audio src="" /]
    What a song to listen to when you’re nearly 60 and when it’s late autumn!


  9. “I don’t think I will be working as a translator for another 12 years and end up treading the MT wheel, post-editing or something else”

    From what you have just posted I am guessing here that you are about 58 years old and that you plan to work until you turn 70 and then, finito, you will retire and that’s that.

    But what will you be doing once you have retired after decades spent translating, translating, and translating? Read books? Play golf? Read blogs? You will probably get really bored after a while.

    I know a guy who recently had to move along with his wife from his house to an “assisted living facility”, or what the Japanese call “rojin homu” (old folks home) because he is 82 or 84, I can’t remember now. He does not have to do anything anymore, everything is taken care of for them.

    He called me last week asking whether I would do a translation for him. He can’t live independently in his own place anymore, but he can still translate and manage translation projects.

    So that is what he is doing and the chances are that you and I will be doing it too if we live that long.

    What else is there?


    • Yes, you are right. What else can I do when I get tired again (retired) except translating and translating? But what I mean with “working as a translator” is taking on works for the sake of money. I might be translating or letting translate, but it would be like the days when I was roaming in South America, translating for fun.

      Our time is limited. Three old acquaintants of mine died recently. The eldest one turned 78 last month and died few days after his birthday in Tirol. He had a job before he became a writer since 25 years and he was translating, too. Another one was 73 when he died two weeks ago. He was teaching some younger people Latin, German, Spanish and French after his retirement, not for money but for the fun of staying with younger generations.

      I guess that could be for me in my retirement, writing for younger generations. And I believe it could be for you as well, 同期の櫻.


  10. “What else is there?” OMG!!! Only mountains of classical music to listen to, whether at home OR at the concert hall. If we are able-bodied, what about all the great pipe organs of the world? What about the museums?

    How depressing a comment!


  11. Classical music, museums, great pipe organs …. these are the great things to admire? Now I am really depressed and I was just fine until I read your comment.


  12. […] Perhaps the best known translator of all times was a biblical scholar who was born in Dalmatia, whose real name was Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus and who later became known as St. Jerome after he translated the Bible into Latin (which was not his native language as I noted in this post on my blog). […]


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