It’s one of the things I have to deal with on a regular basis in working with my in-house translators: how to improve on people’s bad translation choices. The word “bad” here is not meant as an absolute: it simply refers to a term that we as a group prefer not to use and that we invariably correct if we come across it. In most cases it’s just a turn of phrase that is not as universally common as one would like to think, or a typographic convention that has not been thoroughly understood and absorbed. Yet very often not even a clear explanation is enough to eradicate these choices, including when a request to create a personal checklist with one’s own special little flaws is made.
I guess we all fall into the rut of using the same phrases, adjectives, adverbs and idiomatic expressions we have become accustomed to. To be honest, many of these are like a buoy in the ocean, useful little helpers that can come to our aid when nothing better or more appropriate comes to mind.
But if we are not conscious of this, if we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that habits in translation can turn your words to putty, then it is also possible that making a change would not really work and that we would be unable to appreciate the better (or sometimes just different) choice that is imposed upon us.
In Italian, for instance, words like the verb “consentire” have become staples of our linguistic production because they are neutral and flexible. So much so, in fact, that when someone start using other, less orthodox terms, we are immediately alerted to the change and run for cover.
In an ideal world we would have created a common, flexible, accurate set of language choices that we all share and that make our work (mine, like that of my translators) similar in that it stems from the same set of choices.
But these are the things that take planning and time, and very often we refrain from engaging in these types of undertakings because we “just don’t have the time”. And all the time we know that it would only save time to do it!