According to a popular saying, politics is Hollywood for ugly people, although this may be less true now than it used to be. The younger politicians are these days often pretty hip, they like things like parties, sexting, junkets and taxpayer-paid vacations for their wives and precious children that cost almost as much as the bailout of Detroit that never was, and of course, the all time favorite of important people – having other important people pay them lots and lots of money in exchange for very minor and completely legal favors.
But by the time they turn sixty after almost three decades of “serving” in Congress, they all seem to finally have the sad, repulsive faces that they deserve and that we have grown to love so much when we watch them lying to us on TV.
A certain well known relatively young politician reminds me, every time I see him on TV, of a variation of what Mary McCarthy once said once about Lilian Hellman:”Every word she said was a lie, including “the” and “and”.
Try to guess which one. You will have quite a choice.
Well, if politics can be defined as Hollywood for ugly people, translation could be defined as the perfect occupation for people who really would like to be writers but who have no idea what to write about.
As long as you know at least two languages, one of them pretty well and the other one well enough to understand most of it, you can be a translator, which is to say a writer who does not need to have any ideas of his own because he is perfectly happy writing about the ideas of other people.
It is such a restful occupation when you can hitch your wagon to what other people have said in a different language, and it is so much fun to be simply writing while concentrating only on the beauty and the meaning that is hidden in words, both everyday words and very uncommon words, without having to supply your own ideas. All you need is words (not love, or ideas, in this case).
There is also no risk in doing that. Having your own ideas, now that could be pretty dangerous when everything you say and do is stored somewhere by invisible people.
Non-translators usually don’t understand how much fun it can be to be simply writing about something, anything, even when you are really only transcribing somebody else’s idea into another language. Most people also don’t understand that unless you are a really good writer, you cannot be a very good translator, regardless of how fluent you are in however many languages and how well educated you may be.
Because translators love to write, many of them have blogs, sometime with only a precious few ideas in the posts they incessantly keep publishing, often several times a week. Does this post have an idea? Probably not, other than that it is based on a silly comparison, but it feels so good to keep on writing.
On the other hand, although translators may not have any or only very few ideas of their own, without their idea-less occupation, technical translators in particular, we might still be riding in horse drawn carriages and buggies, living in houses without electricity and thus without Internet, which may work very well for the Pennsylvania Amish, but probably not so well for the rest of us.
A thousand years ago there was not much need for translators, at least not in Europe where everybody who had some education was able to read and write in Latin as Latin was used as the lingua franca of sciences for about eight hundred years during the Middle Ages.
We don’t know what whether the mother tongue of Copernicus was Polish or German, although we do know that his mother did not talk to him in Latin when he was a child. How do you say in Latin:”Go to your room, now!”? Is it “Vade ad cubiculum tuum, et nunc!”? Sounds about right.
But had he written his book titled “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) in Polish or German five hundred years ago when the occupation of “technical translator” did not exist yet, the chances are that the Sun would have been revolving around the Earth for a few more centuries because not too many people would know about his book as our noble occupation did not exist yet.
So it would not be an exaggeration to say that while translators may not need to have a single original idea to do their job, without them, most people might not even know in what direction the Earth is turning.