Reading a translation of Bright-Sided

Here’s my main takeaway from Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided:

It is important to be critical (you may call it negative if you like, I’m OK with that). Companies are evil and do not deserve the freedom they currently enjoy. People need to be critical to stop the insanity that is the unregulated market. Positive thinking is our enemy.

I’m basically the intended reader of this book, its target audience.

Still I was hesitant to read it.


Translation. To Swedish. In Swedish the book is called Gilla läget.

Every time I even consider reading a translation I think “Surely, reading translations can’t be as bad as I make it out to be?”

I might be picking the wrongs books, but all evidence point to: yes it can.

This translation is probably one of the worst translations I have ever laid my eyes on.

On the one hand: GOOD. Means being a translator is not hard, as in, you don’t even have to know much English to translate into Swedish. Apparently? There is hope for me yet? That eventually I’ll find a way to become a translator of other texts than those produced at a uni.

On the other: Do we need translations? If most translations are not great (which is not necessarily true, but for me, that’s what it feels like), then what’s the point in even doing translations?

I don’t want to pick on the translator. I know translation is some tricky, tricky business. Sometimes the source text is crap, and you’re no miracle worker. (Unless it’s at the exact right time of the menstrual cycle.) Sometimes it’s not your field of expertise, and you might even tell your client this, but they still want you to do the job. Sometimes you’re just having a bad day. Or the deadline is simply unreasonable.

I blame the publisher. This book should not have been published in this state. Did anyone read the translation through before publication??

Because the translation is SO DISTRACTING.

In general, it lacks flow, but there are also pure inaccuracies.

Here’s a favorite one: eyelash curler has been translated as ögonfranspapiljott. First of all, there is no such thing. Second of all, the word is ögonfransböjare. Third: first rule of translation: you don’t go making up words. If there is no word then you have to explain it. The word the translator made up literally means curler for your eyelashes, (as in curlers you would leave in your hair over night if it was the 1950s), which is something quite different from an eyelash curler.

Even Google Translate could have translated this correctly. FFS.

Another favorite: beteendevetenskapare. Oddly enough, the correct word is used later in the text: beteendevetare. Translators of books don’t use CAT tools I take it? Or?

Also. I can tell this is a translation by an old man. How? Well, there’s the above, and then there the use of the word kurre (obsolete), and then he claims Kool-Aid is something like Tomtebrus. Tomtebrus is, apparently, something that we had in Sweden between 1900 and 1950. It’s a powder. As you may know, Kool-Aid is a liquid. Disregarding that…the majority of readers will in no way be helped by Tomtebrus. I had to look it up. In fact, I thought he was confused, using some sort of Norwegian word.

My point: you shouldn’t be able to tell anything about the translator in a translation. S/he should be invisible. That is not the case here.

Another fave: I den här verkstaden för team-building….

Sweetheart, no, they’re not talking about the place you go to fix your car. I know it’s tricky, but you’re already using team-building, may as well call this workshop too, I mean it is widely used in Swedish. I should know. We have workshops all over the place at uni.

Other sources of annoyance:

Vi plågas av våld med eldvapen och dignar under vår personliga skuldbörda (To mention one thing: that is literal translation of firearms, and it’s not right.)

..gästvänlig mot positivt tänkande.. (We’re being hospitable to positive thinking..? You sure that makes sense?)

framträdde på CNN (I take it you think CNN is a stage where you perform…?)

oundviklig melodisnutt (..I get this picture in my mind here I’m haunted by a song, literally, it’s running after me..)

En samling år 1999 med några (Yea..that does not mean what you think it means in this context, this means assembly, and you were trying to translate gathering.)

It is possible I would have had something to say about the content too. If the translation wasn’t such a hot mess.

The one good thing about this read: I feel less self-conscious about my own work having read this. At least I don’t fail at translating a gathering. On the other, I’m jealous my translation challenges aren’t this simple. Try translating chemical terminology when you are well aware you ain’t chemist. The result highly depends on the accuracy of IATE.

Here’s a thought I keep having: translators should always work in pairs. I am 100% sure that would improve all translations everywhere. Also sure the only reason that is not happening is because translators tend to be social retards. Or introverts. Or both.

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