Posted by: patenttranslator | April 17, 2020

You Are Young and Dumb, I’m an Old Cow!

There is an old Czech song by Voskovec and Werich from the nineteen thirties about a young donkey who is being coached by an “Uncle Ox” and an equally mature and even more experienced “Auntie Cow”. In the old song the bovine relatives of the young donkey explain to the inexperienced newbie the best strategy for achieving success in life.

“Keep to the road in the middle”, says Ox. It’s always been the golden road. “You are young, you are dumb”, chimes in Cow. I am an Old Cow!”

The donkey, mindful of the sage advice received from old, experienced relatives, keeps to the road in the middle. Unfortunately, as all of the grass along the road in the middle has been eaten up by too many hungry young oxen, cows and donkeys who dutifully listened to sage advice, the poor young donkey dies of hunger.

I am often reminded of the words of this song, for instance when I read blog posts of older, experienced translators who offer advice to newbies, sometime in paid seminars, on how to contact translation agencies, nowadays called “LSPs” (to avoid the much more understandable but somehow dirty term “agency”), in our beloved “translation industry”.

If one were to believe the propaganda of the “translation industry”, the industry seemingly consists basically of “LSPs”, while individual translators are never mentioned, not by name anyway, as the really important actors in the translation process, regardless of how well educated, skillful and experienced they may be in their particular field of translation.

We, translators are considered by the important, almost always monolingual people who profit from our work only as anonymous and easily replaceable cogs in the machinery of the “industry”. All they really want to know about us is our “rate” and how soon we can translate x thousand words for them.

Oh, yes, nowadays also how many months are we willing to finally get paid and whether we are willing to use CAT tools like Trados so that only certain words will be eligible for remuneration, while other words are expected to be thrown in by a lowly translator who should be grateful to have any work at all for free.

As far as the “translation industry is concerned”, all words are equal, but some words are more equal than others!

The advice that I have been trying to impart to translator newbies on my silly blog over the last 10 years is to ignore the “translation industry” as much as possible, or in fact figure out how to avoid it like plague, which is what I have been doing for about the last two decades.

To me, to work for the “translation industry” is to slavishly follow the wide, well-trodden middle road where you are told that every translator should go to earn a living from hard work. The problem is, since so many translators, would-be translators and not-really translators are walking the same dusty road, looking for rare patches of dusty grass to graze on, and competing with each other who can do the job for less, there is less and less green grass left for them to graze on and the road is littered with corpses of translators who tried to walk the road they’ve been told to follow by their older peers.

Their corpses will be left unnoticed and unmentioned along a road that will be stretching out seemingly into infinity.

What is going to happen now to the “translation industry” as a result of a worldwide pandemic is not difficult to foresee. In order to lower the costs the “translation industry” will start firing people who work as PMs (project managers) from their home offices and in the industry’s offices and exerting pressure on freelance translators to “lower the rates”.

There will be even less grass to munch on, that’s pretty clear to me.

But not every translation agency follows the horrible model of the “translation industry” that I have been criticizing in hundreds of my silly blog post over the last ten years.

There are still a few translation agencies who buck the overall trends of the industry and treat freelance translators with respect, which is to say that they don’t employ dirty tricks to to steal their money by forcing them to use wonderful tools like Trados, and pay them fairly good rates and quickly.

How do I know that? Well, now that I am retired or semi-retired, although I I mostly work for direct customers, I now only work regularly for one agency. I finished a few thousand words of a Japanese translation for them two days ago, and they paid me the next day. When is the last time something like this happened to you? If you can’t remember, that probably means that you have been working for the “translation industry” a little bit to much and for too long.

If I remember correctly, I started working for this particular agency in 1994, so that would be 26 years ago, before the modern “translation industry” was even born.

Every year I still do at least some work for them, although not nearly as much now as two decades ago. So an alternative “translation industry” model is possible and it still exists since this agency survived and still operates in the same manner as decades ago.

I actually make most money now from being a translation agency myself than from being a translator. I am now old and lazy, I don’t really need what I consider additional income, and it’s of course much easier to work and make money this way if you know what you are doing.

I also pay the few translators who work for me, or rather with me, within a few days, without forcing them to use word count stealing tools.

Why am I doing it and how can I do that? Well, unlike modern translation agencies that are based on the rules of the modern “translation industry”, just like some other agencies that are based on an older, more honest model, I have enough money in the bank to pay translators who work for me before I get paid.

So I don’t need to steal from translators.


  1. Here’s the thing: there actually are lush meadows out there, but if you’re stuck in (faux) self-deprecating mode (“this silly blog”), it won’t be long before you yourself start talking about “young whippersnappers” and babbling on about “industry” being a dirty word (warning: “filthy lucre” comes next).
    The big bad agency scene is only a problem if you keep banging on about it. And once you yourself operate as an agency you feel obliged to be sarcastic, ironic and/or sarcastic *and* ironic and (faux)above-the-fray. When your forte is likely good-natured humor, Uncle Ox-style.
    Why not sit back and enjoy (semi-?)retirement, taking care to put your face mask on in public, of course.


  2. “The big bad agency scene is only a problem if you keep banging on about it.”
    Is that so?
    I think my “banging” about it does not make it a problem.
    It is a problem only if you work for it.
    And unlike the young donkey, I don’t work for it.


  3. Wild thing, I think you move me
    But I wanna know for sure
    Come on and hold me tight
    You move me…


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