Snappy Answers (to Stupid Comments about Translation)

(based on and inspired by Danilo Nogueira’s 2004 post to the Translator Client Review List, “Pithy Comments on Translation”; amendments and additions by Wendell Ricketts)

“We need this back within three days. We’re really pressed here.”
“No problem.”
“How much will that be?”
“Isn’t that an awful lot for a three-day job?”
“I can do it in a week if it’ll make you feel better”.

“What is your best rate?”
“USD X.”
“That much for a piece of paper?”
“No, no. I don’t charge for the paper. That comes free with the translation. The price is for putting words on the paper.”

“We have a quote that is lower than yours by a good 20 percent.”
“Hello! I said we have a quote that is lower than yours by a good 20 percent.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was busy deleting 20 percent of the words from the text you sent.”

“I’m afraid that’s as high as we can go. We’re already taking a loss on this project.”
“When you learn out how to negotiate better contracts with your end clients, please feel free to call me back.”

“Right now we can’t do any better than X. But we’ll definitely make it up on the next job.”
“That’s fine. As soon as you get back to me about that next job, I’ll send you the second half of this translation.”

“We pay on the basis of 1500-character pages, but we don’t count spaces. You don’t have to translate the spaces, so we don’t pay for them.”
“I don’t have to translate commas or periods, either.”
“OK. Then I’ll remove all the spaces and punctuation, and you can go ahead and put them back in yourselves later.”

“I asked four of my friends, all of them very well educated, and they disagree with the way you translated this sentence.”
“Ah, my mistake. I thought you wanted a translation. If all you wanted was an opinion, I would have given you mine for free, too.”

“You’re making more money on this deal than I am!”
“You ought to consider becoming a translator, then.”

“I know someone who charges less than you.”
“I know a lot of people who charge less than me.”

“I know someone who is very good and charges less.”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“What do you mean?”
“I assume he must have passed away or you wouldn’t have called me.”

“You are raving mad!”
“Yes, I’m aware of that and my shrink charges a fortune. That’s why my rates are so high.”

“Sorry, we cannot pay more than that. It is a very large project. We are bidding for 25 languages.”
“I’m just bidding for one.”

“There will be more work in the future.”
“Then you’d better get used to my rates.”

“I hope you don’t think my criticism of your work was meant to insult your professionalism in any way.”
“Oh, of course not. Translating your text was insulting enough.”

“I don’t even really understand why we needed to hire a translator. I could have translated this myself.”
“Judging from the look of your teeth, I gather you do your own dentistry as well.”

37 Responses to Snappy Answers (to Stupid Comments about Translation)

  1. Hakuna matata…

    Our company pays to 30, 60 and 90 days. Okay, no problem. I will send you the first translation part at the end of the first month, the second in two months and the third at the end of the third month…

  2. Old jokes never die, isn’t it? Thanks for quoting and crediting. Also, thanks to Wendell Ricketts for making the text funnier than it originally was.

    • Ciao Danilo! I’m so glad you found us. Thanks to you. I originally found the post on a Proz forum, it seems to me, and tracked it down the Translator Client Review List. Please feel free to use and re-use any of the “amendments.”

  3. Jessica says:

    These are fabulous! I wish I can use them some day!!! *grin*

    Regards from a wet Milan, Italy

  4. Valeria says:

    These are really funny!!! The one of the dentristy is great!. Nice page, congrats!

    Valeria, Argentina

  5. María says:

    This is really discouraging for a Translation freshman.
    Is the pay really that bad? Are all employers really so cheap?

    • Hello, María. There are probably as many different experiences as there are translators. If you’re on Facebook, why not visit our page and open a discussion on this topic? In a general way, the answer is no: the pay isn’t always bad and clients/employers aren’t always so cheap. But the profession is almost entirely unregulated, which opens the door to a lot of abuse — both unqualified translators who charge rock-bottom rates for mediocre translations and clients/agencies who don’t respect the translator’s/interpreter’s need to earn a decent living (what we’ve called, for shorthand, a “living wage”). Start networking with colleagues in your area and find out more about your local market. We look forward to hearing more from you.

  6. Samiris says:

    If only this could translate into their financial brains …. What a goldmine!

  7. Here’s another snappy answer regarding an issue that is raised quite often:

    “We require a small test translation”.
    “That’s fine with me, if you can forward me a test payment.”

    • Susanne says:

      Yes, I’m really tired of, being an accredited translator with 30 years’ experience, being asked to do highly-technical “test translations” which leave me looking bad because I don’t specialize in those areas! Guess it’s time to start saying “no, thanks.”

  8. Gray says:

    and once, somewhere, we pinned a net-based-translation-tool version of a piece we were working on (English-German) on the wall, because the German was utterly incomprehensible, and as luck would have it a Swiss delegate wandered through the press/translation centre where we were working and looked at the piece on the wall and then down at me in disbelief, and I said to him, “Computer stuff; now you know why you pay us to do the job properly”.

  9. Secil says:

    “We require a small test translation”.
    “That’s fine with me, if you can forward me a test payment.” it is the most wonderful way to explain the nonsense of test translation. I think it somehow an insulte for a translator.

  10. Marek Arawn Redburn says:

    Oy! These quips are fantastic!
    They could also apply to Interpretation!

  11. Hello to every one: Very funny jokes. I will post it in my facebook wall. So funny bud sadly true.

  12. Thanks for the good list. It makes me think that I am not the only one talking straight to clients. Last time I have to told off someone, I told them that their salary had gone up in the past 6 years by, at least, 5 % (inflation), whereas mine had gone down, so, if they wanted, I would just apply this inflation to the rate previously given. They never replied back.

  13. Ha, ha, ha! This made me laugh! Some clients do deserve being treated like that.

  14. Great list! So often we encounter these comments from clients, in my case the most common being: “There will be more work in the future.” As if that’d be a reason to offer a discount…

  15. Iz says:

    The one thing that still gets me about being a freelance translator is how in every other industry, the service provider stipulates the price. You need dentistry? The dentist will tell you how much it costs. You have a broken pipe? The plumber will give you a quote. Your car needs a service? The mechanic tells you what needs replacing. You need a translation? You decide how much you are willing to pay.

    I recently had to increase my rates and the response I received from my client was that they are looking to provide me large volumes of work. When I replied that despite them providing large volumes of work, I can only translate x number of words per hour (unless sacrificing my quality) and therefore I would now need to work more hours to keep up with inflation, rising cost of living etc., I didn’t even hear back from them.

    If I didn’t like the actual work so much, I’d retrain as a mechanic

  16. glup0 says:

    HAHHAHAA!!! i really enjoyed it, it’s so true and some of the answer are hilarious!

  17. Wonderful answers! I hope I’ll never need to use any of them…..

  18. Jaime Sotomayor says:

    This is one more thing that I learned from Star Trek:
    According to Mr. Scott (Chief Engineer on the Starship Enterprise), always tell people that a job will take twice as long as you know that it will. Then, when you deliver it in half the time that you quoted, you look like a GENIUS, the client will be absolutely amazed and they will keep calling you back!

  19. Lisa Gayle Turner says:

    I love these comments, it means that even though the profession of translator or interpretor is often (nearly always) ignored or envisaged as invisible, we (professionals) still have sense of humour and at least someone realises our work counts and is needed (accuracely-wise). I would like to raise my glass to all my clients and all those who know how to treat this profession as it should.

  20. NikiMat says:

    One should commit these answers to memory, in order to have them at the tip of your tongue when the stupid comments are thrown your way…Stupendously witty replies! I had read Danilo’s original post, and again enjoyed this no end! Will tweet it forthwith!

  21. Petro says:

    @Jaime, I’ll remember that one! Actually I’ve enjoyed all of the comments. Thanks for bringing laughter back to our low-paying job!

  22. Denise Tarud says:

    And don’t you just love it when they ask “How much would you charge me for reviewing a translation? It’s just a couple of typos, it was already translated”, and then they turn up a Google translation?

  23. Tony Marsden says:

    When people offer me a job and ask for a cheap rate on the basis of a promise of future work, I agree to give them a retrospective discount once the high-volume future work has materialized. I.e. they give me a job now worth €100 at my standard rate, I will deduct an amount equal to x % × that once the amount of work they have given me has exceeded Y thousand words.

    The honest once accept the gamble (though so far, I have never yet been called upon to implement this discount!) — the other ones just beat a hasty retreat!

    I seem to have bucked the generally downward trend in rates: over the last 5 years, while rates generally have fallen by 50%, I have increased mine by 43%. And far from finding myslef short of work as a result, I find my diray increasingly full to bursting, even with clients ‘auctioning’ with each other for my services!

    So as made clear most amusingly above: don’t lie down and let them trample over you!

    • Gordon Adam says:

      Excellent trick – exactly what I do! In Spanish it is called “rappel”. I discovered it when working in aviation. The airlines at the time (maybe still do) gave a rebate/loyalty discount to customers who regularly sent cargo on charter flights after they had reached a certain tonnage. I make this offer to all those who try to get me to start off at low rates. I very rarely get a reply.

  24. Loved it! Thank you…
    It’s always nice to laugh about it, for it is so infuriating when it happens…

  25. mehdiadlany says:

    Tonight I turned down an insulting offer, I did the same. You know what? I felt truly good that I refused to work for peanuts. This is part of the email I sent :

    “The rate you are proposing is the rate offered to those who pretend to be translators. If you expect quality for the rate you are proposing, you are wrong, sir. I can assure you that anyone who claim to do this job properly for such rate is a liar, unless you are satisfied with poor quality, many Indian outsourcers do that because they care about money not quality. You can send me a 200-word sample from some other translator, I can show you the abudance of mistranslations they are likely to produce. The choice is yours, if you care about quality, I am ready to work for you. Otherwise, I wish you good luck.”

    I did not give in to his insuting offer, and I will never do. Self-esteem before anything else!

  26. Hahaha Loved it! So true! 😀

  27. John Burridge says:

    I have four rates:
    D-rate: Cheap: Slow, poor quality
    C-rate: Pretty cheap: Your choice of (1) Fast but poor quality, or (2) Slow but good quality
    B-rate: Pretty expensive: Fast, good quality
    A-rate: Can you afford me? Fast, superb quality, double checked, overtime and weekends no problem

  28. Chaya says:

    Recently, I got an offer for translating 5,000 words in 24 hours at the weekend, at an insulting rate, I replied: “I can do this under your conditions using Google Translate – if you want a human translation, I can have it ready by Tuesday night for x per word. They didn’t reply.

  29. Great list! I would add only one snappy answer here. When a client claims “I know someone who is as good as you are yet charges way less,” I usually respond: “Great! Please feel free to give him my contact information. I would love to hire him.” That comment usually stops the ridiculousness 🙂
    Greetings from Chicago.

  30. Cecilia Gutierrez, Tucson, Arizona says:

    I am wondering why we tend to use X when we talk about our rates per word. Does anybody know what X should be in this equation? -1/P=X(I) “P” (No Peanuts) equals “X” times what? what’s the value of “I” (income)? I am afraid we are so paranoid about revealing our rates that we are likely quoting low rates to be safe getting to base in this suicidal guessing game. I find it detrimental in so many levels. What are we afraid of? Being incompetent to win the race? Why don’t we agree on a minimum charge “X ” per word/time. That way we rely on the time it takes one person to translate, edit and proofread, which should be based on each translator’s experience or ability for both — FAST (more money per hour of work) and WELL DONE (by a qualified human.)

    • Cecilia: “Snappy Answers,” first of all, is a satire, so let’s not over-analyze why we used “X” to stand in for whatever would make sense to the reader who reads the joke. More importantly, you appear to be forgetting that there is no single world economy and that the cost of living (and of providing services) varies hugely from country to country. Are you really proposing one standard rate for all translators in every geographical location everywhere on the planet? And what would that be? What translators earn in Dhaka? Buenos Aires? London? Beijing? Would a standard rate work even within in the U.S., where the differences in cost of living / wages between San Francisco or New York and Middletown, Ohio, are enormous? No Peanuts! has always said that translators and interpreters should earn a fair and honest living from their work, but we obviously understand that fair and livable depends a great deal upon local conditions WHERE THEY LIVE.

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