Posted by: patenttranslator | September 27, 2014

Thank You for Your Help and Please Call If You Have Any Questions

There are many meaningless words and phrases that we often use although they don’t really make a whole lot of sense.

Although we mostly don’t notice it anymore, we are surrounded by many ritualistic constructions that clearly do not really mean anything. When a cashier at the supermarket tells you: “Hi, how are you?”, she does not really expect you to say anything beyond “Fine, and you?”, so that she could say, “Fine, thanks”, get the dumb ritual over with and start scanning bar codes. If you started complaining to the cashier loudly what a horrible day you are having today, she would probably call security. You can say a few words about weather, but that’s about the limit of what is tolerated in the supermarket line.

Time is money. Cashiers are not really interested in chitchatting with customers.

Or take the example of election campaigns and the ritualistic, at this point largely meaningless event called elections. The current president, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was ushered into the White House on a wave of antiwar sentiment (which was one reason why John McCain did so poorly), is currently bombing seven foreign countries while proudly claiming that he does not need Congress’s permission for any of that magnificent war making. When he feels like bombing a foreign country, he can just go ahead and do it, he says.

I should have voted for John McCain. Maybe he would be bombing at this point only four countries, or possibly no more than five or six.

But of course, the more countries we bomb, the better we are protected from terrorists!


The translation business is also full of largely meaningless, ritualistic phrases that are used mostly in e-mails.

Phrases like: “Please Call If You Have Any Questions”, or “Will You Be Available Next Week?”, and also “Thank You for Your Help!

Please Call If You Have Any Questions (Yeah, Right)

Please call if you have any questions?

OK, so let’s say that I call a monolingual paralegal at a law firm or an equally monolingual project manager at a translation agency when I have a question.

“Hi Brittany (Megan, John, or whatever), I have a question about a job I am working on”.

“Ok, go ahead, what’s the question?”

“You see, in that very poorly legible Japanese Utility Model from 1971 that I am translating for your company, there is a black blob on page 7, third paragraph, fifth character from the left. I really need to know whether the poorly legible left (top, bottom) radical of the Japanese character is 刀 “katana” (knife, sword) or whether it is力 “chikara” (power, force), because it completely changes the meaning of a key technical term and it it could be either of these characters in this context.

Translators have to figure out answers to the many questions they may have on their own. If our clients knew the answers to the questions we have, they would not need us, would they?

I often have lots of questions, but I never call because I know that it would be useless.

Will You Be Available Next Week? …. How Am I Supposed to Know That?

The question “Will you be available next week?” is another good example of something that makes no sense. How am I supposed to know the answer? I might be, or I might not.

If you have something that needs to be translated by next week, then yes, I will be available because I know that I will finish what I am translating now in about 3 days. But you have to send the document to me now, with a reference number to put on my invoice. This means that if somebody else asks me to translate something for them next week, I will have to ask them to wait.

If you might have something for me next week, or not, depending on what your client says, even if I tell you that I am available now, that can easily change within the next five minutes.

Thank You for Your Help (Makes No Sense Either)

Let’s say that I just translated a long German document, 8 thousand words, a retranslation of a likely mistranslated German contract. The mistranslation was actually a pretty impressive translation when you read it, it had all the right legal and accounting terms, but the client returned it while saying that the document cannot possibly say what the translator thinks it is saying.

So in order to discover what the problem was, I had to retranslate the whole damn thing from scratch, and only after I finished my translation I found the problem. It turned out that the author of the mistranslation translated the last sentence as “The amount is not payable” because his beloved CAT (Computer Assisted Tool), software that some translators use to speed up the translating process, misread the original text. The sentence really means “The amount is now payable” – a difference of one letter hidden among 40,000 letters that completely changes the meaning of the entire document.

But I did not “help” with the translation, I did everything by myself, and nobody helped me at all. So instead of using the words “Thank you for your help”, “Thank you for your work” would make much more sense.

When for instance a plumber fixes our sink, we generally don’t thank the person who did the work for his “help”. We thank him and pay him for his work. But for some reason, people only thank translators (if they thank us at all) for our “help”, never for our work, as if it were somebody else who really did the work and we just helped a tiny little bit.


  1. Steve, Seth Godin’s blog post today reads as follows and it provides good stuffs to think of and about:

    None of this makes sense

    Your own personal media company, the focus on building individual skills, the networks that we’re all part of…

    It makes no sense that we’re busy spending our ‘work’ time weaving together audience, passion and new competencies.


    Unless we also acknowledge that the old method of productivity, of being a good employee by obediently doing what you are told, is obsolete.

    Our job is to figure out what’s next and to bring the ideas and resources to the table to make it happen. Otherwise, all of this (this blog, your online activity, the courses you take) is nothing but a worthless distraction.

    We’ve created a huge web of inputs and levels and skills and distractions. It’s thrilling to see people doing something with it. Go.


    • @Wenjer

      “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

      Henry David Thoreau

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Why not vote for the Green Party, though? Or another 3rd party not likely to bomb even a single country.

    As for asking an agency for help with a translation issue, I guess it is theoretically possible. Some agencies use a ‘query sheet’ which can be filled out by the translator and then passed on to the client. This is of course quite roundabout, and since several people are involved it could take even days to get an answer. If the deadline is coming up soon, it’d make sense for the translator to call up the end-client which would undoubtedly be more efficient.

    “Thank You for Your Help!” sounds pretty awful. But, I am sure those people merely passing on the work would like to protect their egos as well.

    “Our state-of-the-art QA routines ensure a great product! Oh, and parts of our high-tech localization process is assisted by some helpful freelancers!”

    Do you know that pays $0.03 per word?

    Haha, I loved that story about the last German sentence. If you’d somehow known that from the start, couldn’t you just have changed that single character and redelivered the document as a “full retranslation”? Thanks for great stories as always.


  3. 1. “Why not vote for the Green Party, though? Or another 3rd party not likely to bomb even a single country.”

    Because only the two parties that are enthusiastically financed by Wall Street and other assorted plutocrats who profit from wars are allowed to participate in the political process.

    No matter what you do, your vote is meaningless.

    The media (TV, newspapers) pretends that other parties don’t exist until just before the election when they suddenly publish an article throwing a lot of mud on whichever party managed to gain a meager percentage in polls of likely voters, although the Ds and Rs make it next to impossible for a third party to register, invariably calling such a candidate “a spoiler”.

    I now see elections mostly as a spoof, and this comes from somebody who used to vote for Democrats for 20 years.I used to vote for the lesser of two evils, but at this point I can’t tell anymore which evil is lesser and which is greater.

    Jimmy Carter said in an interview with Der Spiegel that United States no longer had a functioning democracy. To my knowledge, none of the official newspapers in US such as WaPo or NYT dared to publish, let alone comment on what he said, thus proving him right.

    But you can read it on the internet here (on Forbes of all places):

    2. “I loved that story about the last German sentence.”

    This is based on a true story, namely something that happened to John Burridge, a veteran translator whose refreshing comments can be often found on LinkedIn. He gave me a permission to use it in one of my silly posts.


    • Henry Kissinger was once asked:
      – What is the “shuttle diplomacy”?
      Kissinger replied :
      – Oh! This is a universal Jewish approach! Let me give you an example: You want to marry Rockefeller’s daughter to a simple guy from a Siberian village.
      – Impossible!
      – Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Listen, please. I go to a Siberian village, find a simple guy, and ask him:
      – Do you want to marry an American girl?
      He tells me :
      – Why, no, thank you! I prefer a local girl.
      I say:
      – Yes, you do. But she is a billionaire’s daughter!
      He sayes:
      – Oh! That makes it all different …
      Then I go to a Swiss bank and ask:
      – Do you want a Siberian peasant for President?
      – Phew, no! – they say.
      – But what if he was Rockefeller’s son-in-law?
      – Oh! That would make it all different …
      And then I go to Rockefeller and ask:
      – Do you want a Siberian peasant for a son-in-law?
      He says:
      – What are you talking about?! We are all financiers in my family!
      I say:
      – But what if he was the President of a Swiss bank!
      He says:
      – Oh! That would make it all different… Susie! Come over here. Mr. Kissinger has found you a groom: the President of a Swiss bank!
      – Hmm … those financiers, they’re all fagots!
      I tell her:
      – But this one is a hefty Siberian man!
      – Oh! That makes it all different…

      Question: How does this joke relate to the organization of translation business?


      • Did you maybe massage Google Translate a little bit here?


  4. Acknowledments:
    I would like to thank to:
    1. yasenovo (ясеново in Cyrillic), who published the Russian version of the shuttle diplomacy joke in the forum of a Bulgarian newspaper on Sep 27, 2014, 19:01 local time:
    2. Google Translate (for the translation of the joke from Russian into English)


  5. @ Rennie

    Thank you for your help.

    And call if you have any questions.


  6. Steve, here’s my correspondence with Dr Peter Jonas, LICS, Austria, about EN 15038 – Sep 2014

    This correspondence was prompted by a presentation of EN 15038, which ended with: “Thank you for you attention! Any questions? Please, contact: […]”

    You can also have a look at an article by my boss: The destructive model of translation business – a terminator of translators at (in Bulgarian)

    And here’s the answer to the riddle above:

    The Client says:
    “I am looking for a translator”.
    The agency:
    “Would you like us to do your translation?
    “No, thank you. I prefer a translator.”
    “But what if we had the best translators in all languages?”
    “Oh, that would make it all different”

    Then the agency turns to the translator:
    “Would you like to join our international team?”
    “No, thank you. I am self-employed. I’d rather have my own clients.”
    “But they are ours now, all of them clients.”
    “Oh, that makes it all different.”


  7. @Rennie

    I looked at your link but I did not feel like wasting my time with that standardized assurance of quality nonsense.

    Only a total idiot could fall for it – but then again, there is no shortage of total idiots in this world. H. L. Mencken said a long time ago:”Nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

    All you have to do is remove the word “American” from the quote.

    Once again, thank you for your help and please call if you have any questions.


    • It’s not about the EN 15038 standard. It’s actually about your question, how ever would a project manager be able to manage a translation project in a lot (all) of foreign languages? The standard clearly states that each TSP shall have human resources for each project. Btw, do you know what “human resources” means?


      • No, what does it mean?


        человеческие ресурсы?


  8. When Russian people first come to USA they are struck by overwhelming politeness of the locals “How are you?”, “Thank you”… etc…but if they live there for a while they start complaining that all words are just as fake as smiles and no one really cares…Russians are not so much polite but they are sincere.


    • “Russians are not so much polite but they are sincere.”

      So think I. False politeness is the other face of distrust and alienation.


  9. @Alia & Rennie

    Cops are very polite, they generally call people “Sir” before they shoot them, and inmates in a prison are called Mr. before they are strapped to electric chair.


  10. I really enjoy and benefit from your articles. “Thanks for your help” 😉


  11. “No, what does it mean?


    человеческие ресурсы?”

    Well, I was also not quite sure what it meant until recently, so I asked an expert on EN 15038, Dr Peter Jonas from LICS, Austria. His answer was that “human resources” was just a sub-clause in EN 15038, where the professional competences of translators were listed. Meanwhile another expert, Peter Lozev from BIS (Bulgarian Institute of Standardization), joined the discussion and explained that “human resources” meant “personnel”. He wasn’t clear how a translator becomes part of one or more agencies’ personnel, though. He tried to persuade me that a contract between a company and an independent contractor was equivalent to a contract between an employer and an employee, but I wouldn’t take it. I argued that a contract between a self-employed translator and their direct client is of the same kind as a contract between a self-employed translator and an TSP (a.k.a. LSP, commonly known as agency). And just as a self-employed translator is not an employee to any of their direct clients, so isn’t a self-employed translator an employee to any of the TSPs they work for. He said he agreed, and he personally supported the idea of the agency putting the client into direct contact with the translator rather than with the project manager. The discussion is not yet closed. So, what do you think “human resources” means? No need for translation of this notion into other languages, just for its legal definition. The question in fact comes down to: are the agencies’ databases of translators their human resources?


  12. “The question in fact comes down to: are the agencies’ databases of translators their human resources?”

    From a practical viewpoint the answer is no.

    These databases generally become obsolete and unreliable the moment you create them. Unless you are in constant contact with the translators, you don’t know what they can do, what they can’t do, what are their strength and weaknesses. A database with three thousand translators in it is pretty worthless, and completely worthless in the hands of a manager who does not even understand the languages she is managing, which is generally the case.

    On the other hand, a database with half a dozen translators in it who are happy to work for me because I have been working with them for years (since I know that they are very good), while treating them with respect and paying them on time, is extremely valuable.

    At least to me, this extremely valuable information, and this is also the only database that I need.

    So that’s what the term “human resources” means to me: half a dozen or maybe a dozen smart and highly experienced people who I can rely on when I need them.

    The thousands of translators in the database of translation agencies, often referred to by the same agencies as a major asset, is not a real asset.

    It is …. surprise, surprise … mostly just an advertising gimmick.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “It is …. surprise, surprise … mostly just an advertising gimmick.”

    No surprise, Steve, not at all. It’s false advertising. Agencies used it to attract clients (see the answer to the riddle above: “But what if we had the best translators in all languages?”)

    I don’t find anything wrong in your assigning translation work to colleagues as long as you can take the full responsibility for the translations they do for you. Do you assign translations only from/into languages you’re yourself competent at or do you sometimes act similarly to the monolingual manager in charge of a Japanese-English project?

    For example, I’m sure I have the right to assign English-Bulgarian or Bulgarian-English translations to as many colleagues as I need, provided they are all competent at En and Bg. However, I don’t think I have the right to assign, say, Japanese-Bg or Bg-Jap trsls to anyone, no matter how deep my trust in his professional competences is.


  14. I have the right to do whatever the hell I want.

    But I mostly stick to languages that I at least understand to some level because then I am qualified to proofread the translations.


  15. Well, “mostly” is not “always”, and yet it sounds like fairly fair business practice 🙂 I’d appreciate if I could see the names and contact details of your trusted collaborators. There’s no need to keep them secret, is there?


  16. “I’d appreciate if I could see the names and contact details of your trusted collaborators.”

    Only if you are interested in buying my business from me so that I could retire, and if you have the means to do so, of course.

    And I am not kidding this time.


    • “And I am not kidding this time.”

      Why, this is the greatest joke ever, Steve: top secret translators!


  17. Oh, well, then maybe I should also post a list of my customers here, how much work they typically have for me on a yearly basis, in what languages and fields and how much I charge them, since there is no need for secrets.


  18. No, it’s not about your customers. I wonder what you will write next time.

    Here’s another joke: the magical ball knows everything 🙂

    “Will Steve write more nice articles?”
    “Very doubful”


  19. Стив Витек ще напише ли още хубави статии?
    Да, определено.


  20. Where’s your link, Agent 007? 🙂

    Here’s yet another joke:

    “Is Steve an agent?”
    “Definitely yes”


  21. Business in general is full of these idle words, but:
    1 – iif there’s a single chance to get something clarified by the customer (obviously, not what might lie behind a spot on a page of the ST), I take his/her word for granted and call – after all, I’m an optimistic person, they might have the answer!
    2 – My usual reply to this question is: it depends. I can meet the deadline if you, dear valued Customer, send me both PO and ST within a certain date, I cannot stay at your complete disposal, time is money for you and for me, too.
    3 – Thanks for your help … I can stand this too, if you, dear valued Customer, have clear in your mind that my help has a price. Dear valued Customer, you can call it whatever you want, even help, if it makes you feel better about it, so long as you pay me for it – after all, I’m a material girl!
    Great blog, Steve The Patenttranslator!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lidia, it seems to me that Steve’s article is hinting at the maningless language translation agencies use, not our customers. As a translator, I can’t understand who your “dear valued Customer” is. Are you a translator or an agency, or both?


      • Rennie, I’m an individual translator and my customer might be either an individual or an agency, I don’t think this changes the substance. I supposed Steve’s post was on customers, not just large LSPs, after all that’s just business jargon and applies to almost any business field. I also work as sales assistant in a automation company and the language is exactly the same. Equally meaningless.


  22. Oops, in an automation, not a automation, pardon!


  23. “either an individual or an agency, I don’t think this changes the substance.”

    I does, Lidia, it changes the substance substancially 🙂 For example, when you work for a direct client, he or she pays you and gets the translation – that’s all. But when you work for an agency, the agency pays you and then goes on to resell your translation to the end-client. When reselling it, the agency claims ownership over your translation. And when one presents someone else’s intellectual work as one’s own, it’s a kind of fraud called plagiarism, i.e. theft of intellectual work (intellectually property).


  24. Ooops, “I does” in line 1 should be “It does”, and “intellectually property” in the last line – “intellectual property”.


  25. A nice article:

    Crackdown leaves firms wary of freelancers

    Small companies without good human-resources advice could pay the price for calling employees independent contractors.


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