Editor Vs. Translator: When Is It OK to Eliminate a Word or Phrase?

Syllabus Translation Montreal English FrenchThe unspoken expectation behind every translation contract is that the author will find their words—all of them—in the translated text. But as a translator, have you ever run into words you felt were so obvious that they could be left out? I certainly have.

Take, for instance, the phrase “Nous profitons de l’occasion,” which translates as “We’d like to take this opportunity.” It’s wordy, it’s worn out and, at bottom, it wastes the reader’s time because it says nothing.

The editor in me wants to wipe it out, eradicate it from the text, and get to the meat of the story. And yet, the translator in me wants to faithfully replicate the original text—down to every last turn of phrase. What to do?

I can think of several ways to handle the situation.

Play it safe: The client didn’t hire you to edit; they hired you to translate. Put your ego aside. The risk: cranking out average translations. The reward: not rocking the boat.

Trust your gut: If it’s not adding anything, get rid of it. If the client doesn’t like it, they’ll let you know. The risk: losing a client. The reward: creating a better translation.

Take a gamble: Flip a coin. Ask a coworker. Call your mother. The risk: not making a solid decision. The reward: getting on with your work.

Query your client: This option lets you solve your issue without fear. The risk: over-querying can drive your clients mad—so do it sparingly! The reward: getting a better idea about your clients in general. Are they open to changes that enhance the text or are they looking to see each word reproduced?

What would you do?

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