True Story…

UPDATE (5:45 am, local time):

BLAM! BLAM BLAM BLAM! Die, you zombie project! Die! BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM. BLAM.


There, I think it’s dead. Off to bed.


True story: the paraphrased correspondence between one freelancer and his so-called editor (as patiently translated, or at least paraphrased, by his collaborator):

(A few months ago.)

Editor: This passage, about the chess game. We like it, but… can someone really win a chess game in five moves?

Freelancer: Yup. Apparently you can win in just two moves.  I Googled it. I’m a pro, okay? Here’s a link.

Editor: (Without responding, goes off into a paroxysm of horror about how much she has to do one some other project for which the absolute beheading loss-of-job deadline is tomorrow.)


Editor: Um, like, so are you like totally sure that someone can win a chess game in like only five moves? I have to do layout tomorrow so I’m doing every *&@^&#! last thing at the last *@&#^! moment as usual and I’m in the frantic panic in which I end every project in my whole life, but  which I’ve never thought about perhaps avoiding in the future by managing time and deadlines better.

Freelancer: Oh, for &@^##%!’s sakes, has you ever heard of the  mother^&@^#%$ing Internet? It’s really handy for looking up &##^@& *@^$$^# like this! Oh, hell, here’s a link. (Again, I may add.) Now please stop asking this same question again and again; do it once more and I will kill you to death.

Yes, kill you to death. Think about that.

Editor: (Goes off into a paroxysm of horror about some other random thing that was confirmed weeks or months ago, becausethe absolute beheading loss-of-job deadline for The Freelance Project That Refused to &#^@%! Die is tomorrow.)

(It’s much worse when the repeated inquiries are whether this or that grammatical structure is actually, really, truly correct. After the third repeat, you start thinking of colorful ways to say, “If you know something I don’t, write the book yourself.”)

Oh yes, friends, this is of course from the annals of The Freelance Project That Refused to &#^@%! Die — which is actuall;y about to die, insofar as I’m concerned, tonight. Or, at least, of this I have been assured.Sartre’s line about hell being other people? I was on the verge of reworking it into “hell is other people’s parents” though that’s slightly mean and unfair —  “hell is other people’s parents’ hangups” is bit fairer, if less funny (and I can’t find either on Google, so I tentatively claim coinage, whee!) — but now I think I can safely say that hell is freelancing for certain Korean educational publishing company textbook editors.

(Who, yes, actually highlight accidentally repeated words and email the file back with, “This is a repeated word, perhaps unless it is grammatically necessary for some reason we should cut it?” written in blue-colored flowery Korean phrases too difficult to read on sight, instead of just editing the word out like they ought to. And the fact they include smilies with every vague, “This question isn’t good, please put another,” without the slightest hint of why the question isn’t good, that makes me, well, can one use the word feral to connote a desire to tear open throats with one’s bare teeth?)

I should note that this freelancer is actually getting off easy. Someone he knows worked for three years on a textbook, with some bigwigs, and after 3 years, the bigwigs were still nattering on for whole 8+ hour sessions every day for the last week, scrambling to get everything just exactly right. Because 3 years wasn’t quite long enough to finish a few hundred pages of content. Sometimes I wonder if people just crave self-torture as a way of convincing themselves they’ve worked hard. Luckily, this project was nothing so insane as that.

Still, there’s more, so much more to rant about — like how it feels to be reduced to making changes that make no sense, because that will shut up the editor and finish the damned thing sooner, or how it feels to be dealing with people who don’t know how to use a track changes function (well, who probably don’t know how to use anything but the worst word processor around, which, if it has a track changes function, certainly doesn’t have one compatible with anything the majority of Planet Earth uses) — but I’d rather go finish these last three chunks and be done with this blasted thing forever!

Next time someone suggests a freelance textboook gig to you? Run. Don’t walk — run in the opposite direction.

5 thoughts on “True Story…

  1. Yeah. Maybe some (rare) publishers are different, but in my experience, this approach to editing dominates. Partly because nobody seems qualified, partly because companies load individuals down with what is properly a team’s work, and partly because of a persistent, and not very constructive, way of doing things.

    Can that persistence, and its negative economic costs, be explained simply by the observation that there’s no apparentt loss since everyone seems to do it that way? If someone started publishing superior textbook translations, do you think it’d make much difference?

  2. One of the best translated textbooks I know is N Gregory Mankiw’s “Principle of Economics.” I know the people (one of them quite well) who translated it into English. They are both Koreans, but studied and taught in the US. They told me that they virtually rewrote the book from scratch; making sure that the meaning of the sentences got through.

    On the other hand, on too many textbooks, (perhaps because the editor knows little about Economics, but is an English major) it seems the translators had to be grammatically correct, so that the sentences would sound unnatural and convoluted in Korean. I heard of a case where there were four people translating a textbook, and they got into fistfights over how to translate. (On the translation of the next edition of that textbook, only three of them were now listed as translators).

    Then, one hears rumors of translations where the only thing the (so-called) translator did was to pick his favorite grad students, and cashed the check…

  3. Oops.
    For Mankiw’s book, it’s not trsnslated into English, but rather, translated *from* English (into Korean).

    Chalk it up to increasing senility or Parkinson’s.. :)

  4. Ha, I figured the Mankiw was written in English first. No worries.

    I’m told similar problems plague even the translation of fiction at times: the sentences being rendered literally and in a way that grammatically corresponds closely to the non-Korean original, the text is painful to read. It’s saddening.

    As for teams of translators or textbook authors getting into fistfights: hahaha, yes. I happened to be on the sidelines of a textbook project that melted down when two of the professors involved (not from our school) simply stopped contributing content, but continued demanding to be paid and receive author credits… not just for the book they’d shirked their duties on, but for the whole series! (The missing chapters were written by the editors, who didn’t really have enough English skill, so you can guess that some native speaker on the sidelines ended up, well, let’s just say the line between proofreading and authorship is sometimes all too thin.)

    As for profs cashing the check while grad students do the grunt work: I thought that was how it worked everywhere? My (Western) scientist friends have spoken quite about author credits on papers that they wrote, but which profs too first author credit for. (Though I’m not sure how widespread or relentless that is in any given place.)

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