Posted by: patenttranslator | May 26, 2016

Most People Don’t Really Want To Know Anything About Translation

One morning when I was trying to figure out whether I should have one piece of Toblerone (sugary, relatively cheap Swiss chocolate) or two as a snack to go with my first cup of coffee, I got so mad at the nutty world that surrounds me from the moment I wake up that I had to write a blog post about it. I wanted to immortalize that frozen moment of impotence to do anything about all of those semi-truths and damn lies that we are conditioned to accept as normal.

I remember that I had an irresistible urge to write, so I brought my cup of coffee to my computer and wrote another silly post. It is one of the most viewed posts on my blog and it’s not very difficult to figure out why.

It’s popular because it’s not about translation. Translation is barely mentioned in it, only in the introduction so as to create what in writing jargon is called “a hook” – a gimmick to draw the reader into an article. When I want to write about translation, I try to find a hook that is not about translation for the “preamble”, for instance a personal experience, such as a recurring dream or something similarly inane.

And if a post is not about translation because I want to write about something else, I try to somehow find a connection to translation, or at least languages at the beginning of the post … and then I can write about anything I want.

The truth is most people don’t really want to know anything about translation, that’s why blogs about translation have very limited viewership. The more I try to analyze translation in my posts, the less likely they are to get read, especially when I think that I am bringing up very good and interesting points. If I decide to write something about anything other than translation, the chances are that the post will eventually boost my statistics big time.

To test my theory, I ran statistics for all my posts (more than 600 of them in a little over six years), and sure enough, the top three posts really have nothing to do with translation (although I always use “the translation hook” in the introduction).

My top three posts in terms of exposure to eyeballs are:

1. If You Believe That You Can Learn a Language in 10 Days You Deserve to Be Ripped Off
2. Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Employee Versus Being a Freelancer
3. How Many Calories Are There in One Section of Toblerone Chocolate?


Even though these three posts have very few Facebook “likes” and one of them has just one sad LinkedIn “share”, they eventually generated more views than posts about translation.

I think the reason these posts are read many times just about every day is that they contain information that is difficult to find elsewhere.

The following mechanism is probably at work here:

Somebody wakes up, and this somebody, still bleary eyed and groggy, is making the first cup of coffee for the day and he or she is trying to figure out whether to have one section of Toblerone chocolate, or whether it is safe to have two of them. So this hypothetical person looks at the obligatory information on the wrapping which is supposed to list the number of calories and realizes that it is impossible to find this information from what the corporation has put on the wrapping. After Googling the sentence in the title of my post, the hypothetical somebody ends up on my translation blog.

As this keeps happening quite a few times just about every day, more and more non-translators end up reading my translation blog accidentally in this manner.

There are all kinds of laws here in the United States stipulating that full disclosure of facts is required for all kinds of things. But these laws are often circumvented, or rather complied with in such a way as to make them meaningless.

For example, the disclosure at the end of an advertisement on radio/TV is read/shown so quickly that it is basically unintelligible; we are forced to click the “AGREE” button when we do just about anything online, although none of us reads the three thousand words describing what we are agreeing to (it would be easy to put it in 100 words, but it is safer to hide it in 3,000 words), etc.

The result of laws designed to make as much relevant information available to consumers as possible is often that the relevant information is hidden from us – and as Edgar Allan Poe put it in one of his stories (The Purloined Letter), the best way to hide anything is to hide it in plain sight.

If we have to read two, three or more thousand words in small font containing the information that we are looking for, most people will just give up trying to find it.

Last week I was looking for a translator for a relatively short excerpt from a patent about a medical device into French. I translate medical patents from French myself but I cannot translate them from English to French (although I can proofread the translation).

The translator who I normally work with on patents to be translated into French said that he was unfortunately unavailable. He said that he did not have time because his in-laws were visiting, although I suspect that the real reason was that he does not like the terminology that one needs to know for medical devices. Who can blame him.

The second translator said that this was not her field and suggested a colleague, which was very nice of her. She probably also dislikes patents about medical devices, which is a common phenomenon among translators.

The third translator, the one who was suggested by the second translator, wanted one cent more per word. Greedy as I am, I did not like it, but I was tired of being turned down so I said OK. Then she sent me her Terms of Service: 2,386 words in font size 6.5 after conversion from PDF format.

That got me mad. She could easily have said what she wanted to say in a couple hundred words and put it in font size 12 so that I would be able to read it. But, no, she had to do it this way! I will never work again with Translator No. 3, I thought to myself.

But I also thought to myself, wow, Translator No. 2 is a really smart girl. (That’s what I thought to myself, anyway. I hope it’s not too sexist to call somebody “girl” in one’s thoughts, especially if one has no idea how old she really is).

If you are a translator who does not want to deal with a certain type of text, the way to turn down a job while keeping the client is as follows:

  1. Suggest a translator who is good but charges 1 cent more than you, and
  1. Make sure that this translator is difficult to deal with, for example does not accept PayPal (even if the customer offers to pay the PayPal fee), has Terms of Service running well over 2,000 words, preferably printed in the smallest possible font), etc.

Good job, Translator No. 2! No wonder you have a PhD!

This is absolutely the way to do it because this guarantees that although the job will be done by somebody else, the customer will gladly come back to you next time with a translation that is more to your taste.

Incidentally, there are 1,332 words in this post, 1,054 fewer words than in the Terms of Service mentioned above.

At least I did not use font size 6.5.


  1. Thank you for the post Steve, I suppose only translators are interested in reading posts about translation. If ever you need a patent translator for French into English, please do not hesitate, no small print.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Louisa.

    When I clicked on your name, it did not lead to your website or any other information about you and your services.

    You see the problem?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for provides great information about Translation Services and this blog is very informative & valuable for me. I will wait for your kindly new information about Translation Services Company in Delhi


  4. Your posts are so good! I suppose the fact that only professionals read professional blogs is not unique to the field of translation. However, even blogs about language in general, when they are a bit more nuanced than what your average Twitter and Facebook reader can handle, are not well visited.


  5. Thanks for your comment.

    I am still hoping to read your critique of my post about the incredible similarities between Japanese and German.


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