Posted by: patenttranslator | October 4, 2015

All Is Fair in Love, War, Business and Politics

Several years ago, as I was sitting in a car dealership’s office in Virginia Beach, buying a new car, I had to keep repeating “No, no, no, I don’t want it!”, “No, no, no, I don’t need it!” to a young, inexperienced sales woman who was trying in vain to sell me some kind of magic coating for my new car.

She had a simple job: wring out more money from a customer by selling him something that he doesn’t need, and that probably doesn’t work anyway.

I forgot the name of the magic coating, but I do remember that it would have cost me 800 dollars in addition to the price that I had already agreed to pay for the car. After each of my “no, no, no” answers, the sales woman kept furiously coming back at me with the words “acid rain, acid rain, acid rain”, which she kept repeating as if it were a Buddhist mantra. If I didn’t buy the special magic coating for 800 dollars in addition to the price that I had already agreed to pay, acid rain would ruin my car within a few months. She threatened me pitilessly.

There is no acid rain in the Virginia Beach area because most of the heavy industry jobs have been exported by maximum profit-oriented corporations a long time ago along with the horrible pollution, including acid rain, to China and India. Besides, my car is parked in my garage most of the time when it rains. The magic coating was just a useful profit ploy that the car dealership was using to fatten its profit margin based on the threat of imaginary “acid rain”.

People wonder why Volkswagen put software that cheats and beats official emission standards in its diesel cars. But every corporation constantly and incessantly lies and cheats in our modern business culture. The German company simply did it to gain a competitive advantage over other companies.

We lie and cheat … as long as we can get away with it, at least for a while until we cash out. That is the main principle of modern business. Since Volkswagen got away with it for a long time, it must have made a ton of money thanks to this lie. The main sin the company’s leaders and managers committed was not that they lied, tricked and cheated, but that they got too cocky and as a result, they got caught. They should have created cheating software that would be undetectable and everything would be in perfect order.

Most modern business methods are based on some kind of trickery and deception. All you have to do is take a quick look at the advertisements in your mailbox. The prices quoted on offers that I keep getting in my mail, for instance to switch my Internet, phone and TV service to one of only two companies offering these service bundled for one price in my area, are a big lie.

There is no real competition in many key business areas in the United States, only a duopoly of two companies offering basically the same thing at the same high price, just like in modern American political machinery.

The two Internet, phone and TV service providers quote a certain price for these services without mentioning the additional monthly rental fees for the equipment that you have to rent from them at a horrendous cost in perpetuity, and of course, without mentioning substantial taxes. If they say that the price is 59 dollars and like most people you have TVs in more than room, the real price is likely to be well over 100 dollars. Plus the price quoted is only for the first year, and only if you sign an agreement for two years, which means there is no relationship between the real price and the prices quoted in the advertisements. If you fall for this trick, the real price will be double what is stated in the advertisement, perhaps more, because the advertisement is a big fat lie.

The so-called translation industry is also very good at trickery, cheating and lying, although it’s not very hard to catch them in the act if you know what to look for. But you would have to know how things really work in real life and since most customers have no idea how translations are really done, translation agency marketing managers are free to say just about anything they want on their companies’ websites.

Some translation agencies say on their websites that their translations are double and triple checked by several highly qualified translators before the final, perfect and completely flawless product can be delivered to the customer, as I wrote in an article published in the ATA Chronicle many years ago. For one thing, this method doesn’t work as I wrote this in the same article. And since it would mean that not just one, but three highly qualified and thus also expensive translators are either well compensated for their work, or for some reason don’t need to be paid at all, the statement is about as true as an official result for an emission standards test of a Volkswagen diesel car.

Corporate translation agencies also proudly state on their websites that they “have” for example 3,500 (to pick a number on the low side) experienced and highly qualified translators (they often call them “linguists” for some reason these days) at their beck and call, 24/7. Are there even 3,500 experienced and highly qualified translators living on the blue planet that is polluted so much with mendacious advertising? I doubt it, although I have no doubt that there are more than 3,500 “linguists”, possibly “350,000 linguists” on this planet who are available and eagerly waiting to finally land a translation, any translation, by a translation agency, any translation agency.

But the real question is, if you “have 3,500 linguists” in your database, how can you possibly know which one of them can in fact translate and which one is no good? Or maybe you have a special kind of database that remembers everything for you, so that you don’t really have to remember anything, or even know anything about anything?

That must be how it works.

Another useful trick is “ISO certifications standards” for translation agencies. These standards were originally designed for industrial processes, such as shoe or diaper production. Although ISO standards, developed by the International Standards Organization, were designed for manufacturing industrial products, corporate translation agencies decided to proudly apply this label to their daily activities. Here is how one such agency summarized what this certification means for this agency:

ISO 9001:2008 Certification requires strict operation standards based on eight quality management principles including:
1 – Customer Focus
2 – Leadership
3 – Involvement of People
4 – Process Approach
5 – System Approach to Management
6 – Continual Improvement
7 – Factual Approach to Decision Making
8 – Mutually Beneficial Supplier Relationship

Note that the propagandistic verbiage says nothing about requirements for translators, such as their education, experience, specialization, etc. This is in fact what matters when it comes to translation quality, what kind of ISO-certified method is a translation broker using to shuffle around paper makes no difference whatsoever.

This is obviously nothing but major BS that puts communist propaganda to shame. The eight quality principles of standards, originally designed for production of industrial products such as shoes or diapers, are about as applicable to translation as they would be applicable to the writing of romance or spy novels.

Only a good writer can write a good book, because the writing process takes place in the writer’s head. And you need a really good translator for a really good translation because the translating process again takes place in the translator’s head.

What kind of management processes a broker advertises on the company’s website is completely irrelevant to the issue of translation quality, especially because most of these brokers know so little about translation that they could not tell a good translation from a bad one if it bit them in the you know what, and also because they need to use translators who charge as little as possible to keep their profit margin as big as possible.

But because different kinds of certifications designed for industrial standards are a very useful advertising gimmick, ISO standards are often featured prominently on translation agencies’ websites.

Since all is fair in love, war, business and politics, much of the information we’re being fed by corporate businesses capitalizing on the ignorance and credulity of their customers is really misinformation, or, to put it in layman’s terms: a big fat lie.

The recent revelation about Volkswagen’s special software designed to cheat on emission standards is only the tip of the iceberg. Our modern business culture in the globalized and corporatized world is so addicted to trickery and saturated with untruths and lies that the old Latin saying “Caveat emptor” (Buyer beware) is now more true than ever.


  1. Which is why translating, like any other services relying on knowledge, intellectual skill, creativity, trust and ethics, is not a business; it’s a profession. We are practitioners, not vendors. Getting our own language right and using it consistently, is but a first step, but an essential one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From a supply chain perspective, translators and interpreters are all vendors, stricto sensu, because we all “sell” our professional services. Having said that, a translator or interpreter can only sell a limited amount of products or services lest it becomes a language company of some sort. In labor parlance, you have Individual Providers (IP) and then companies with employees (or not) that can also subcontract with IPs. The problem is that IPs are quite powerless in today’s T&I marketplace unless they organize under some banner. Enter T&I professional associations which are now under pressure to become more supportive of IPs and less so of companies. T&I professional associations are at a crossroads. Adapt or perish is the often cited popular wisdom. However, in the US, professional associations are constrained by FTC antitrust regulations regarding price fixing. It’s a tight rope they must walk.


  2. Steve
    I am in awe. Yout excellent writing, as usually.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful article. Another thing that springs to mind is the translators who are always giving [selling] marketing and business advice to translators.They always have the best tips for finding new clients, marketing yours services, etc, etc. Some of those tips really work, of course, because they are obvious steps which need to be taken in order to make things happen, it is useful to be educated about them. But then we start to see ‘translators bootcamps’, etc, etc, and it starts to lose me. Because it becomes very business-like and alienated from translators reality. Not all translators are outgoing characters and business-savvy. Different specialisations make for different types of clients. Different cultural professional ethos might mean different negotiation skills required, mainly when negotiating with foreign clients/agencies. Different language pairs, different markets and offer and demand circumstances. Different economic realities. There are so many different aspects to a given translator within their market and circumstances… And then translators-marketers come with all this generic business success ideas and, of course, charge a price for it. I understand the business side of our profession, but it is a side to it, it is not its totality. The discourse of translation services alienated from translators reality really bothers and intrigues me. Shame those who hire translation services cannot see it.


  4. Thanks for your comment, Daniela.

    It bothers me too. It is one thing when translators write blog posts about marketing that anyone can read for free. But I am very ambivalent about bloggers who use their blogs as a marketing platform to find clients among translators for paid advice in “webinars”, etc., for exactly the reasons you state in your comment.


  5. “… a translator or interpreter can only sell a limited amount of products or service”, as opposed to “translation industry” brokers who will sell you unlimited amounts of anything you want.


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