March 8, 2014
The translation of severe as severo in Spanish medical texts is frequent. For example, I have recently read the expression severe illness as enfermedad severa, when the correct translation is enfermedad grave.
If we look up the word severe in any good English dictionary (an Oxford, for example) we may find the following definition:
“1. (of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense; 2. demanding great ability, skill, or resilience; 3. (of a person) formal and unsmiling; 4. (of punishment of a person) strict or harsh; 5. very plain in style or appearance.”
On the other hand, the Spanish Real Academia de la Lengua’s dictionary defines severo as:
“1. adj. Riguroso, áspero, duro en el trato o castigo. 2. adj. Exacto y rígido en la observancia de una ley, precepto o regla. 3. adj. Dicho de una estación del año: Que tiene temperaturas extremas.”
That same dictionary defines grave as:
“1. adj. Dicho de una cosa: Que pesa. U. t. c. s. m. La caída de los graves. 2. adj. Grande, de mucha entidad o importancia. Negocio, enfermedad grave. 3. adj. Enfermo de cuidado. 4. adj. Circunspecto, serio, que causa respeto y veneración. 5. adj. Dicho del estilo: Que se distingue por su circunspección, decoro y nobleza. 6. adj. Arduo, difícil. 7. adj. Molesto, enfadoso. 8. adj. Acús. Dicho de un sonido: Cuya frecuencia de vibraciones es pequeña, por oposición al sonido agudo. 9. adj. Fon. Dicho de una palabra: llana. U. t. c. s.”
I have commented before about the importance of accuracy in translation.  Even though the frequent use of severo in this case is a fact, it does not justify its abuse by many translators and the reluctance of many editors and copyeditors to change it with grave or their inclination to correct grave with severo.
 Cf. “Baseball Is Béisbol,” July 21 2012; “More on Accuracy in Translation,” August 12 2012; “‘Fingers’ & Airports,” September 1 2012; and “More on Accuracy,” September 7 2013.
[Image: Johannes de Ketham: Venetian Doctor Visiting a Plague Patient, woodcut from his Fasciculus Medicinae (Venice: Zuane & Gregorio di Gregorii, 1494).]
February 22, 2014
When I began editing in 1974, there were no university-level studies in Havana to prepare editors or any other kind of courses to train them.
Therefore, when I started working in a social sciences publishing house, I spent my first six months proofreading in its corrections department before I was assigned as copyeditor to the political sciences series of its editorial department.
Training was carried out on a basic system that was very similar to the master-apprentice way that had been put into practice by guilds in the Middle Ages.
My first tutor was Ángel Luis Fernández, who guided my early steps in what was to become one of my two professions. Besides being a first-class editor in the sociology and linguistics section of that same publisher, he was poet, narrator and essayist. However, his professional work has not received the official recognition it deserves.
I remember him with gratitude for all that he taught me and for all that his teachings meant in my training as a novel editor, and to my future promotion as editor, senior editor and editor-in-chief.
[Photo: Ángel Luis Fernández Guerra (1942–2010).]
February 15, 2014
“I would like to receive information on your Spanish-English and English-Spanish translation tariffs” is a frequent question in e-mails found in a translator’s mailbox.
The answer is usually fast. They are either available or not. If they are, they send their tariffs and wait for some work. Sometimes they wait in vain.
And that wait in vain is more frequent than we can imagine. Why?
I think that the answer can be found in the way some people search for translation services. They go out shopping, contacting translators and comparing costs, just like you would buy any product in the market, with eyes fixed on the price tag.
This formula seldom considers quality and professional experience as it is evidenced in a translator’s curriculum. And, almost always, leads straight to the worst option.
[Image: Pieter Brueghel: The Tower of Babel, oil on a panel, 114 × 155 cm (1563).
February 8, 2014
The proliferation of mini-jobs is one of the consequences of the current economic crisis in Spain. They are part-time, few-hour, low-salary contracts offered during a period with a high unemployment rate. The philosophy behind it is that something is better than nothing.
However, small-size jobs have been a regular and constant feature in the translation sector. They are fundamentally requests for documents, correspondence, advertising, webs and all sorts of short materials that bill less than 100 euros. Beginners in the trade are reluctant to do these kinds of jobs.
In spite that they actually are not an important source of income, they are a good practical exercise and a good experience in establishing professional relations with clients.
In the words of Samuel Pepys: “He that will not stoop for a pin will never be worth a pound.” 
 Samuel Pepys: Diary, January 3, 1668.
Image: John Hayls: Samuel Pepys, oil on canvas, 756 × 629 mm, 1666.
February 1, 2014
By sheer chance, I have recently found out that My Weekly Reader is not being published since 2012 after an 84-year history. It has been like loosing an old friend. It was an important asset in the education in English that I received at an elementary school in Havana in the 1950’s before leaving for the United States.
Although my mother tongue is Spanish, my parents decided to register me in a bilingual school and I remember that My Weekly Reader was part of its reading syllabus.
I keep fresh in my mind—I don’t know why—a special memory of an issue dedicated to the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II, published when I was in third grade.
Unknowingly, I was preparing for my profession.
[Image: “The Singing Lesson,” Spiegel des menschlichen Lebens (Mirror of Life,), Augsburg, circa 1475–1476, woodcut.]
January 25, 2014
In spite of individual interpretation of official statistical data on the Spanish economy, the objective truth is that, after a six-year-long economic crisis, unemployment has reached 26.03%; 700,000 homes have no income; unemployment among the young population has reached 55%; only in 2013, 198,000 jobs were lost; and prices have gone up while salaries went down. All this has had its consequences; for example, low personal consumption expenditures that is also having its effect on cultural products, including books.
Many of my young colleagues are asking how this situation might have an impact on translators, since book translation is an important source of income for us.
We must wait until March—when the official 2013 data on book production will be published—before we can forecast what could happen in the rest of 2014. However, in 2012, there was a drop in the production of new titles (69,700) in relation to 2011 (74,000).
[Image: Jost Amman: Der Buchbinder (The Bookbinder), 1568, engraving.]
January 18, 2014
Our clients deserve our respect. In my best practice policy I have mentioned: “Always act polite and courteous, and be responsive to constructive criticism.” 
On the other hand, our clients also deserve our gratitude for their confidence in our work. But, sometimes, some forget that these attitudes should be reciprocal. They overlook that translators are usually qualified and experienced professionals who also deserve respect and gratitude because a large part of human thought has been retransmitted by them for many centuries.
It has been said that the phrase “Translator, traitor” is part of a comment about a translation of Dante’s work into French. However, it is also probable that its author was incapable of reading the complete production of world literature in its original language. Maybe it would have been more elegant to say: “Thank you, translator, for your anonymous and poorly recognized efforts.”
 Cf. “Translation Tips: Best Practice,” September 10 2011.
[Image: Giovanni Bellini: St. Jerome (patron saint of translators and interpreters) Reading in the Countryside, 1505, oil on canvas.]
January 11, 2014
We are starting this year with some innovations in Spanish Hacienda’s (Internal Revenue Service) formalities, since it has announced changes in the presentation of some of its tax declarations.
Freelancers are affected by two: our yearly value-added tax declaration and our trimester value-added tax declaration, which are to be presented electronically online.
But there are no changes in value-added and income taxes, which both remain 21%, or in the tariffs, which are still among the lowest in the ten most developed countries.
[Image: Paul Vos, The Tax Collector, 1543, oil on canvas.]
January 4, 2014
Things have not changed much in these past twelve months. We still have to think about new ways to reduce costs. We still carry the same tax burden, and prices continue to go up in electricity, water, transportation, etc. The cost of living rises while translation tariffs remain the same. Therefore, this year’s resolutions are quite similar to 2013’s. 
However, I must add one important item: patience. Patience, so we can endure administrative red tape. Patience, so we can get around the obstacles raised before freelancers. Patience, so we can choose worthwhile jobs. Patience, so we can put up with difficult clients.
Yes, we’ll need a lot of patience this year.
 Cf. “New Year’s Resolutions,” January 5 2013.
[Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio: St Jerome in his Study, fresco, 184 × 119 cm (1480).
December 28, 2013
Besides the records that, for fiscal reasons, I must keep of my work, I usually control the different subjects in the contents of the jobs we get from our clients. This helps me to evaluate their main interests.
In 2013, we have translated or edited the following subjects: travel, cooking, art, management, grammar, computing, children’s literature, obstetrics, physics, teaching, critical editing, biography, publisher’s catalogs, school administration and organization, origami, pharmacology, advertising, alphabetical indexing, and biographical sketch writing.
[Image: Daniel Maclise: Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to Prince Edward IV at Almonry, Westminster, 683 mm × 1,038 mm, paper, mixed media, circa 1858.]