For the last 18 months I have been employed â casually â as a sub editor, mostly for the magazines Modern Fishing and Modern Boating. The question Iâm most frequently asked â and often I pre-empt it with the answer â is âwhat does a sub editor do?â
âMy job is to put the apostrophes back in â and more frequently nowadays, take some of them out. Fact-checking, re-writing contributorsâ terrible writingâ¦â
I never realised, in all the years I was submitting comedian profiles to the street press and then reviews to FilmInk, that what made my more-often-than-not late submissions acceptable to beleaguered sub editors (or editors, where subs were not affordable) was that I mostly took the trouble to at least try to stick to word limit, and fact check myself that peopleâs names and films and television shows were all spelled correctly. I wasnât always perfect, but I certainly put in a massive effort. Most of the errors that went to print were typos that tired editors, kept waiting until the last moment, had as much trouble spotting as the author, similarly tired, writing at the last minute: there/their/theyâre, its/itâs. The usual stuff. Plus the words we never had to learn to spell because there was always going to be a (more often than not, American English) spell checker on the word processing program that weâd be using.
Given all of that backstory, you can understand my supreme amusement at the news item currently doing the rounds (itâll probably be tonightâs âswimming pigâ story after the weather, but I got it from the BBC) about the bilingual sign in Swansea, Wales, that the ignorant council employee got wrong. The ignorant council employee who speaks English, and depends on a translator to provide the Welsh. The ignorant council employee who works for a council too tight to bother paying for someone to proofread everything in what I can only guess they consider to be âthe other languageâ.
In English, the sign above clearly states, âNo entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site onlyâ. (Note the second full stop is missing. Thatâs the sort of thing Iâm paid to notice as a sub editor.)
That this message was clearly e-mailed to the councilâs official translator is evident in the translation. The Welsh phrase beneath reads âNid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith iâw gyfieithu.â
It translates as, âI am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.â
Whatâs awesome to consider is that the council either is so efficient that the information was dispatched and the sign manufactured and put up in whirlwind time (highly unlikely). Or the translator actually did what the e-mail claimed would be done â when back in the office, the sentences were translated and sent through. So what happened when the cacatintas (âone who shits inkâ) actually received the reply e-mail with the translation? Did he bother to check it against the initial reply? There would have been time to correct the error, surely.
And what of the translator? Wouldnât make sense, if two languages are spoken and the service is to translate either of them into the other, to include e-mail signatures and âout of officeâ replies in both? Especially when your clients include governmental cacatintas who arenât paid to be precise and meticulous.
(To be fair, technically, I too am a professional cacatintas. Thought I should add that just in case youâre some public servant reading this when you should be financing single mothersâ flat screen TVs, sniffing colleaguesâ chairs or helping increase public transport infrastructure where it isnât needed while withholding it from regions where it most obviously is. Feel free to comment with any typos youâve spotted in my work, Iâll happily correct them.)