Out to lunch?

For the last 18 months I have been employed – casually – as a sub editor, mostly for the magazines Modern Fishing and Modern Boating. The question I’m most frequently asked – and often I pre-empt it with the answer – is ‘what does a sub editor do?’

“My job is to put the apostrophes back in – and more frequently nowadays, take some of them out. Fact-checking, re-writing contributors’ terrible writing…”

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 people’s names and films and television shows were all spelled correctly. I wasn’t 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/they’re, its/it’s. 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 we’d be using.

Given all of that backstory, you can understand my supreme amusement at the news item currently doing the rounds (it’ll probably be tonight’s ‘swimming pig’ 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 ‘the other language’.


In English, the sign above clearly states, “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only”. (Note the second full stop is missing. That’s the sort of thing I’m paid to notice as a sub editor.)

That this message was clearly e-mailed to the council’s official translator is evident in the translation. The Welsh phrase beneath reads “Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu.”

It translates as, “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.”

What’s 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 – when back in the office, the sentences were translated and sent through. So what happened when the cacatintas (‘one who shits ink’) 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? Wouldn’t 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 ‘out of office’ replies in both? Especially when your clients include governmental cacatintas who aren’t paid to be precise and meticulous.

(To be fair, technically, I too am a professional  cacatintas. Thought I should add that  just in case you’re some public servant reading this when you should be financing single mothers’ flat screen TVs, sniffing colleagues’ chairs or helping increase public transport infrastructure where it isn’t needed while withholding it from regions where it most obviously is. Feel free to comment with any typos you’ve spotted in my work, I’ll happily correct them.)