Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

The pros and cons of copyediting

2 Comments

thumbs up and downA recent editing job presented me with the following line in a medical-supply catalog:

secret antibacterial repellant material

My initial reaction was one of horror. What kind of secret stuff were they trying to sell? And who or what was being repelled? Once I settled down, I wrote the client a nice little note, asking for clarification on what the item in question was and gently suggesting that nothing in the medical industry should be advertised as “secret” as the word implied withholding information and didn’t engender trust.

What I got back made things much more clear, though not a lot less graphic. The product is a material placed on gurneys, stretchers, hospital beds, etc. Its purpose is not to absorb anything, specifically secretions, what in English we politely call “bodily fluids.”

This reminded me of an old client / student in Barcelona who asked me to look over the CV he’d paid to have translated. He was applying for a big job at a UK bank and wanted it “top shop.” (He meant “ship-shape,” a phrase I’d mentioned a few weeks prior.)

Under the heading of Other Responsibilities was “Exclusive personal affairs.” I was surprised. He seemed like he was happily married, so I asked him to explain what, precisely, that was supposed to mean. In the end, along with a lot of other changes, I amended the line to read “In charge of personnel issues.”

Clear something up

The in a word’s pronunciation guide indicates that the stress on the word comes just after the mark. In this manner, we have “su-KREET” and “SEE-cret.” Spelling makes a huge difference in many cases, but not always.

secrete |siˈkrēt| — (of a cell, gland, or organ) produce and discharge (a substance).
secret |ˈsēkrit| — not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others.

ship-shape — in good order; trim and neat.

personal |ˈpərsənəl| — of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.
personnel |ˌpərsəˈnel| — people employed in an organization or engaged in an organized undertaking.

→ In case you were thinking it, today’s post title was inspired by Roger Waters’s “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.”

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Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

2 thoughts on “The pros and cons of copyediting

  1. Oh gosh! Some of these mis-translations are best caught!

  2. What I find most intriguing is that in both cases I’m not sure if the original translator / writer actually knew the correct word, misspelling it accidentally, or if they didn’t know that there are similar word pairs which mean totally different things. It could also be a case of having come across the (correct) words before and not ever heard them pronounced since they’re vastly different in the hearing and less so in the reading. I’ll never know as it’s not the kind of thing professionals will admit to. Pity though, as I’m always curious how some people get soclose…

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