Posted by: patenttranslator | August 29, 2018

To Hug and Be Hugged Is an Important and Largely Unrecognized Human Right

The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

In a funny and terminally cute clip on Facebook, four babies in pink and white baby clothes who have apparently just learned how to walk can’t get enough of sharing their love for the world and humanity by enthusiastically hugging each other. Each baby hugs another baby for a couple of seconds, and then the hugging partners are switched until the hugging endurance of each of the babies has been sufficiently tested and proven to themselves and to the world, or at least to the watching public.

This clip was recently used by a translator on a Facebook group for translators as an advertisement for the next ATA (American Translators Association) conference, which will be held at the end of October in New Orleans.

The association of the image of an ATA conference with cute babies greedily, joyfully and incessantly hugging each other is in my opinion a good one. As I wrote in a previous post almost four years ago, the central team of that promotional video clip from a previous ATA conference emphasized creating bonds between what in the ATA parlance is called “newbies and buddies”.

Newbies would in this case be relatively recent translators who can be likened to a somewhat grownup equivalent of the babies from the cute baby-hugging video clip, and a buddy would be an equivalent of a benevolent parent making sure that the newbie-babies eventually grow up as suitable members of the ATA.

Who is suitable material for a new ATA member, you might ask?

Based on what I read on social media, an ideal candidate for a new ATA member is a baby-translator who in addition to sincerely trying to figure out how to make enough money to pay the bills by translating, something that I have been trying to figure out for the last three decades, is not only eminently huggable, but also eminently amenable to the corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” which is dutifully disseminated about once a month on the pages of the ATA Chronicle to its paying members.

By the term corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” I mean at least readiness, if not necessarily eagerness, to obediently accept every new invention of the “translation industry” imposed on impressionable baby-translators, such as readiness to accept demeaning, immoral and illegal “Non-Disclosure Agreements”, which are very different from what one would generally think of as a Non-Disclosure Agreement, willingness to accept reduced payment demanded by some players in the industry for repeated words (called in the agency lingo “fuzzy matches and full matches)”, or to perform as a human robot processing for the equivalent of minimum wage machine-translated detritus to make it look like a real translation.

All of these relatively recent gimmicks of the “translation industry” have been propagandized and celebrated on the pages of the ATA Chronicle for the last two decades, while to my knowledge, not a single article critically analyzing these shady practices has appeared in the ATA Chronicle, which calls itself  “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters.”

Although the ATA calls itself a professional association, it is obviously nothing of the sort, as anybody can become a member of the association upon payment of membership fee, which at just shy of 200 US dollars is neither too high, nor too low.

This is not the case with any other generally recognized association of professionals, at least none that I can think of at the moment, such as lawyers, writers, or painters. Lawyers need to have a law degree to be admitted to the American Bar association, writers need to have written some books or movie scripts, and painters need to have created at least a few paintings to be considered for admission to their respective associations.

Not so with the American Translators Association.

ATA’s often recited professionalism is not even aspirational – you can be a life-long, completely and proudly monolingual individual, for instance an owner of a translation agency, a PM (an agency’s project manager), or an employee of a company who is perpetually hunting for fresher and cheaper translators and who could not translate his birth certificate into another language if his life depended on it, and still be a card carrying member of the American Translators Association.

The fact that anybody and his dog can be an ATA member upon payment of membership fee is very much against the interest of us translators, because if anybody can be admitted to the profession (if I dare to call it that), then there simply is no profession.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating here. If you want to test what I just said, give your dog a last name in addition to his first name, call him for instance Muffin Whittaker, send a check to the ATA, and your monolingual dog, Muffin Whittaker, will become a new valued member of this association.

I do believe the ATA will take your money if you don’t tell them it’s a dog (although it would be a waste of your money, of course.)

Which is not to say that being a member of the American Translators Association is necessarily a complete waste of your resources. It may not be the best way to use your money, but probably not the worst way either.

Remember the hugging babies video? We can all use a hug every now and then, and the sad truth is that none of us is hugged nearly enough once we are no longer babies and our mother is no longer there to give us a hug every once in a while!

If you are an ATA member and a translator who, like most people, is suffering from a hugging deficit although you are still quite huggable, you are in luck!

All you have to do is add another thousand or two thousand dollars (depending on how far you live from New Orleans, how soon you send your registration money in (early registrants get a discount), and what kind of hotel you want to spend a couple of nights during the ATA conference, and you’re all set for an orgy of hugging and receiving hugs from fellow translators (for the most part) at the next ATA conference.

It is quite unlikely that you will find direct customers at the conference,who are looking for seasoned translators and willing to pay good rates at the conference, although you will be exposed to many specimens of representatives of the modern form of translation agencies who are looking for cheap new translators among the many newbies, as I was when I went to an ATA conference many years ago in San Francisco.

But you will be able to finally  quench your thirst for hugging and being hugged, a largely unrecognized human right and a a primal, essential, physiological need that most of us have been unable to satisfy since we were babies.


  1. Steve!!! How are you? We were all asking about you last week — hope everything is okay.
    Miss you…all the best, Chris, Jan, and gang.


  2. I’m so sorry, Chris, I am so preoccupied with the sale of the house, which has not sold yet, that I completely forgot about our shindig last time. Normally I receive an SMS, but not this time for some reason.

    I am still here, writing my silly posts as you can see. I will make it to the last meeting (for me) next month and then I will be leaving at the end of September.

    I look forward to seeing the gang again!


  3. I am in agreement/sympathy with the entirety of the contents of this post.

    I would personally say that the one time I attended an ATA Conference (San Francisco, 2007) I did not really experience all that much warmth and naturing. Some of the presentations were good, some not so good. The social events were okay. Other attendees generally seemed polite and cordial – as did the ATA people. What I was struck by most of all was that I constantly felt like a target for the marketers of goods and services there (i.e., not just translation agencies looking for cheap translators, but marketers of the latest and greatest in translation and project management software, books, etc.). I found the attitude of many of the representatives of the agencies there snooty and unprofessional. A lot of these people were clearly not translators, but rather administrative/secretarial types chosen for Conference duty largely on the basis of their youth and appearance.

    And, of course, the prices were exorbitant (mostly because of the costs for food and lodging in a hotel in a very expensive city).

    And all this was well before “the industry” really took a nosedive. I cannot imagine that things are considerably better now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. But you can probably imagine that things are considerably worse now.

    Liked by 1 person

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