Ancient rituals practiced by translators

(This story was inspired by something funny I witnessed the other day.)


Never ask a translator what a certain word means when you’re in a hurry. Just look it up in a dictionary and save yourself a lot of grief. Because a translator will never give you the answer straight away. Oh no.


You see, translation is the second oldest profession known to humanity, so perhaps unsurprisingly some rather elaborate traditions have evolved over the millennia and they are duly followed by translators to this day. If you for example ask your translator what any word means she’s obligated to perform The Barrage, a much-feared and little-understood ancient ritual. What will happen is this.


First, your translator will blurt out an intimidating number of possible meanings and translations in rapid succession & random order. Your heart will start sinking at this point. But it’ll be too late for fears and regrets…


When she finally gathers her composure and stops hyperventilating, she’ll mercilessly interrogate you about the context, the intended audience and whatnot. Without fail. Go ahead and try it if you don’t believe me. If she’s any good she’ll flood you with questions until you’re swimming for your life, vulnerable and unable to gather the strength to resist this already second unexpected assault from the otherwise probably quite gentle, mild-mannered, perhaps even a bit shy creature. Your desperate attempts to provide her with the context she demands might leave you divulging confidential information. Luckily she’s a pro and knows how to handle delicate stuff.


Then she *might* even tell you the translation you need but that won’t stop her from embarking on a lengthy monologue that’ll lovingly explore each possible nuance of every single translation she mentioned in her initial outburst, coming up with many others as she goes on and on and on. She’s sure to explain all those linguistic subtleties only translators are willing to discern or care about. No escape here.


(It’s your fault really. You should have known better than to awake The Translator. You see, translators do know a lot about words. And combinations thereof. If you give them the right cue they’ll surely show you just how much they know.)


Your muttered pleas and objections having to do with you *not actually needing to hear all that right now, your migraine acting up or your ears starting to bleed* will be ignored throughout the ordeal.


In the end you’ll be left standing there, quivering with exhaustion, quietly swearing never to unleash The Translator again and – perhaps for the first time – fully appreciating the true value of a good dictionary.


And then your translator will inevitably ask if there’s anything else you’re curious about. Shake your head quietly, do not make eye contact, walk away slowly. Do not ask anything. Failing to do so will result in The Barrage being performed all over again, this time with cross-references to your previous question.

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