Posted by: patenttranslator | January 23, 2016

The Hierarchy of Beehives and the Inevitability of Enthusiastic Dancing

There are 3 castes in a honeybee colony: the queen, workers and drones. The queen lays all the eggs (except in queen-less hives, which will probably die), drones (the males) mate with virgin queens (if they’re lucky), and workers do everything else …
When the hive gets too big, it swarms. The old queen and half the workers leave to find a new hive. Workers decide where the new hive will be by consensus. Scouts go out to find new locations. When they find a really good place they come back and tell the swarm by dancing where it is. Enthusiastic dancing gets other scouts to go check out the really good places. The best place is decided upon when the majority of scouts are all dancing for the same location.

So essentially it’s the workers who decide when the hive will reproduce (swarm), where they will go when they do, the ratio of workers to drones, and more, including all foraging decisions, regulating the temperature of the hive, what is allowed in the hive, when the drones get kicked out in the late fall, and when a queen is no longer viable. Honeybee workers do all the work, but they are also in charge of all the decision-making as well.

Katie Buckley, Entomologist, Knitter, Martial Artist

Today’s silly post was inspired by something somebody said in the comment section of my blog post about translators who endlessly complain about translation agencies on social media, while many translators chimed in. The commenters were all commiserating with each other, saying how awful some translation agencies are, especially the big ones, how ignorant their project managers are, how they pay low rates which seem to keep getting lower and lower, how they take forever to pay, and things like that. You can read similar comments on social media just about every day if you have time to waste and the stomach to digest it.

Suddenly, there appeared one discordant note in the endless torrent of complaints of poor exploited translators. It was an agency operator, apparently a small agency owner, a cheeky woman who said something like this (to the best of my memory):
“You guys complain way too much! Your job is to work and work and that’s that. You are the worker bees who produce the honey. So stop complaining and get to work!” The worker bees immediately attacked her, which shut her up. She never said another word, but her comment got me thinking about the similarities between a beehive and an association of translators.

Translators’ associations are structured similarly to beehives. When the worker bees start building the initial structure, the beehive is small and buzzing with purpose and life. The worker bees go out and find the most succulent flowers in the fields and meadows of the business world. The honey hidden in the flowers takes on many forms in the business world. In my world (the world of a technical translator who specializes mostly in patent translation), worker bees like myself who translate mainly patents mainly diligently pollinate and cross-pollinate mostly technical concepts. Remember what a cell phone used to look like five years ago? How about 10 years ago? Or 20? I’m very happy and proud that I was one of the worker bees who had something to do with the evolution of portable phones. At this point, what is still called a phone is used for making a phone call only occasionally and the one function that is still missing in it is a built-in shower.

Some translators’ associations don’t seem to realize it, but when the association beehive is too big and the queen and drones are indifferent to the problems of the worker bees, when the ratio of association members, i.e. drones who don’t produce honey and who only live off the honey produced by worker bees, is too large, the association, which is the queen for the purposes of this post, is no longer viable for the worker bees. When that happens, it’s time to send out worker bees as scouts to look for a good place for a new beehive … and that’s how a new association is eventually born.

As the ratio of drones, who instead of working as translators just keep merrily mating with the queen, keeps growing in some associations, the worker bees are constantly encouraged in these beehives to become more productive. Higher productivity of workers bees can be achieved in many ways: for example by ordering the worker bee translators, especially impressionable, naive newbees, to use certain types of computer software that will eliminate (from the final word count) a type of honey called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”. The drones generally get paid for honey wrung out from these fuzzy matches, even for full matches, but since worker bees don’t get paid for their work, or not nearly as much as they used to, more honey is left for the hungry drones.

Another good method to increase worker bee productivity in translators’ associations is to order workers bees to process machine-translated words through their tiny worker bee brains.

Great savings can also be achieved in this manner because if for example the payment for one word translated by a worker bee is 10 smackerels, the payment for a word that has been thrown by a machine at a worker bee translator to arrange it in such a way that it would make sense (more or less) in the overall structure of other words, would typically be only ones smackerel. Most of the honey from the work of the poor worker bees, who usually have to retranslate everything, while it may take even longer to arrange the words properly if the result is to be accurate, will again go to the drones who are fortunate to have such a warm, cozy relationship with the queen. The workers are constantly hungry because there is almost no food left for them, but who gives a damn. Not the queen bee, and not the drones–that’s for sure.

You can tell a hive that has a high ratio of parasitic drones to busy worker bees by the fact that the queen keeps increasing the ratio of drones to worker bees because she really, really likes her drones.

In translators’ associations, new beehive layers, specially constructed for the drones, are called divisions. New divisions are thus constantly being created in translators’ associations for drones who don’t translate and mostly just menacingly hover above worker bees.

These new divisions may be called for example Machine Translation Division, Language Technology Division, or Language Tool Division – divisions for tools intended to be used to control worker bees to make them more productive, which in the context of translators’ associations means to produce more and more words for less and less money.

On top of the structure of new divisions for these special language tools, generally referred to as “language technology”, new divisions are also created for The Government in some translator association beehives.

When The Government has its own division in the beehive structure, a structure that originally used to belong mostly just to the worker bees, The Government can obviously exercise much better oversight, along and hand in hand with the big, hovering drones, to make sure that worker bees will work even harder and that they will think twice before they dare complain about anything. Everybody knows that it’s usually dangerous to disagree with The Government, regardless of where the beehive is located, which is to say regardless of the country where the worker bees live.

When things are developing in the beehive like this, the inevitable result is that some worker bees in the end determine that the structure of the beehive, which originally belonged mostly to them, can no longer be fixed, that the ratio of parasitic and menacing drones to workers is too high and that the old beehive is no longer viable for them.

And since the worker bees no longer have much influence on what is going on in their old beehive anyway, scouts are sent out to find a good place for a new beehive, a new association in which the worker bees will be again in charge of all decision-making.

After a while, sometimes a long while, the scouts come back to announce with enthusiastic dancing that they did indeed find a good location amidst fields and meadows where colorful, luscious and succulent flowers grow, and where a new beehive structure can be created for an association that will work mostly for the worker bees rather than mostly for the drones.

And because this is how it has been for millennia not only in the secret world of flowers and bees, but also in the world of humans, this is how new associations of humans are eventually created– by consensus among the worker bees/human workers, because the honey bee workers who do all the work also need to be in charge of all the decision-making.

This is how it works not only in the secret world of flowers and bees, but also in the world of humans. And as the stoic philosopher and playwright Seneca put it two thousand years ago: Natura duce errare nullo pacto potest (You can never go wrong when nature is your guide).


  1. Sorry but in the UK bumblebees are a species that is separate from honey bees and have large bodies (hence the old adage about them being able to fly as they are ignorant of the laws they govern aerodynamics). You seem to be implying that they are the same as or similar to, drones, which, on our side of the herring pond is not the case.


  2. Thanks for the correction, Barry. I got rid of bumblebees. I kept thinking of them because last year they decided that our front porch is a perfect place for their nest and it was very difficult to get rid of them.


  3. Steve, I confess to being rather confused. Are you talking about translation agencies, companies or associations?


    • Sorry, I should have been clearer: Are you talking about translation agencies, translation companies or translators’ associations? The description seems to fit that of translation agencies but you call them translators’ associations.


  4. I’m talking mostly about flowers, bees and enthusiastic dancing.

    But your confusion is understandable because some translators’ associations have so many “corporate members” and commercial and government “stakeholders” who do not create honey that these associations function mostly as a handy tool for these corporate members. So for the purposes of my silly post, “corporate members”, who do not create honey (translation) and only live off the honey produced by honey bees, are the drones, the association is the queen, and we are the worker bees whose job is to work and keep our mouths shut.

    Does it make sense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, yes, that’s a bit clearer. I’m not going to split hairs since I agree with the general thrust of what you’re saying.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely Superb PT!!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally understand your comparison and I like many, quietly complain to myself about the situation. It’s all good though, since some people have created a good list (blacklist) of agencies and associations to avoid. I’d suggest someone creates a list of translation agencies that have truly been rated as good, and not simply rated by their own employees. Good article. Can’t see the images though.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your comment, Skybridge. But if those nice companies were listed, they would have to keep deleting applications of newbie translators from their junk mail folder. Let’s just keep lists of bad agencies. It’s more useful that way.

    The name of your company reminded me of a favorite song of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I should fess-up though and admit that my work-schedule only left me enough time to play the first track :(.


  8. You should listen to the entire song. It’s about emigration, something you know a thing or two about.


  9. Now, I can finally write my comment to this blog post as follows:

    Formidable ! Sometimes, I got the feeling that you are not just mad, but you are really pissed.

    OK, that was I wanted to start my comment with, Steve.

    I’ve been practice this “profession” since I don’t know when. And I’ve been always been happy when people come to me offering a negotiable fee for solving one of their problems of foreign affairs. And when I came back to my homeland, I found myself practically semi-retired and could make a good living with this “profession” that I did not live on. An agency was looking for a translation reviewer and I was glad that I had a chance to peek into this business and that I took the job for a short period of time. Since then I am doing on my own and can make a nice living on this profession as a semi-retired senior.

    When I was a reviewer at the agency, I’d heard a lot of complaints or discontents. Although I quitted the job right away, I knew that it has always been possible to make a decent living practicing this profession. On my last day at the agency, one of my colleagues asked me: “Mr. Confusious, do you believe that it make any sense doing what we are doing?” My answer was: “You see, don’t you think it wonderful that people pay us for learning ever new things to solve their problems? And the best of it is that you don’t have the time for spending money on bars or shopping for whatever you don’t need at all when you have to spend all your time learning ever new stuffs to meet the clients’ needs and requirements?”

    Translating is in many aspects, like the human life, a matter of making sense out of nonsense. Does it make sense to live a Sisyphus’ life? My math teacher was worried in his hospital ward that he hadn’t yet prepared us for the final examination while we, the visiting pupils, was happy that we did’nt need to learn any more of the signs and operations without exactly knowing what sense they could make. It is about some 45 years since then and I know now that one has to learn a lot of things that appear not making any sense at the first encounter in this Sisyphus’ life at all and that you would be glad that you do learn all those nonsenses out of which you can make sense.

    You should also listen to the complaints of freelancers of other professions. There are always complaints in this Sisyphus’ life. And sometimes I find complaining really make sense – a lot of fun in complaining or listening people complaining. Even my lawyer complains and it is fun listening his complaints considering how much he earns for an hour’s consultation. He even envies my worker bee’s life. And you must be amused as I do by his facial expressions when he heard me at leaving his consulation room saying, “Now, you are not going to charge me for more than an hour for this nice talk, right? We are after all both professinals, right?” while I know that he is worth it.

    The rest of my comment will be posted to the next post of yours when I come to it. What I must say before I take a leave is: while some other people might take you for a complainer, I take your complaints for a very nice entertainment, even with the sign language interpreters, no matter males or females. And, I know, complaints can be constructive, too.


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