Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quality is Dead, Except in My Backyard

"Could it be possible?! This old saint in the forest 
has not yet heard of it, that God is dead!"

A young mommy is reading a book to her little daughter. Children’s books are filled with illustrations and words in big, big fonts. They also use simple, short words. Typos stand out that much more. She comes to a page in which the book depicts a sheep and has the word “sheep” written in big tall letters. Except the word is misspelled: SHEIP. She goes online to a social media site to post a picture of the offending book and, implicitly, comment on how standards have fallen and “what is the world coming to?” etc.

Okay, I’m a forty-year-old man who has no children. At this age, you notice that the lack of children introduces a major wedge between your world view and that of other people who do have children. They have this wary, self-righteous attitude about the world, as if it is full of dangers and bad, bad stuff that is lurking behind every bush to turn their precious little babies’ brains into mush. Moreover, being a first-time mommy for some women becomes such an integral part of their identity that they have to insert the fact in the prologue of every sentence. (By the second or third child, I’ve also noticed, the babies start to begin to be shunted to a spot farther and farther back in their sentences.)

Anyway, the cri de coeur about the mangled sheep led to a discussion about the meaning of typos in general. I said something along the lines of not understanding the fetish about proper spelling and grammar. My view is that, beyond a certain point at which we have to follow its rules, it has a lot to do with a slightly pathetic petit-bourgeois flaunting of cultural capital (I did not actually say it this way, I only implied it tactfully). To me, it sounds like a cheap way of saying: “I went to college, but not to study anything useful like biology or building bridges, but to do angry, post-feminist deconstructions of The Scarlet Letter (conclusion: it is patriarchal) and To the Lighthouse (also patriarchal, albeit in a more indirect way). And after that, I got married and had a gaggle of babies.”

We live in such a relativistic world that there is no way to get a rise out of anyone by saying anything offensive anymore. You can make jokes about the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Sai Baba, or any other religious leader with a funny hat, but not a peep ensues. You can satirize anyone’s political ideology, whether on the left or the right, and no one challenges you.

But beware of the passions you can unleash if you have the temerity--nay, the uncouthness--to express the opinion that proper grammar and spelling are perhaps not the ideal indicators of intelligence!

Snap! Oh, no he didn’t!

This mommy adopted a very “mommy” tone with me (although I am probably ten years older than she is). The tone subliminally meant: “I am a mommy! My job is to make the world safe for my daughter. Irresponsible, childless miscreants like you do not understand this sacred duty.” She suggested that following these rules can be compared to “hygiene” and that they are “the reflection of a beautiful mind.” To which I responded that beauty is more than following rules and that, as far as hygiene goes, there is a difference between washing your hands before supper and compulsively scrubbing your hands 78 times a day every time you think some random crazy thought.

Except I know this woman is also an l10n entrepreneur who is very much in tune with the faddish notions pouring out of Silicon Valley about how Low Quality is the future. Which created a certain cognitive dissonance for me. So I tried to gently steer the conversation in that direction: “I’m curious. What do you think of the theory that quality doesn’t matter and that the ‘TEP model’ in translation is obsolete?”

You could literally see the light bulb going on inside her head: “Ohhhh! Right!” (Facepalm!)

Immediately, her tone changed. In a flash, she went from mommy-ish to very corporate-y and jargony. It was like watching a metamorphosis, from Mommie Dearest ranting about wire hangers to the lady from the friendly folks at Omnitouch. She wrote: “I like it. It is a model conceived to make many expensive copies from an initial model. When that is the case, it is the best.”

Which means… uhhhh? (My brain hurts!) I must have missed that l10n seminar. I was probably dawdling with the croissants and free coffee, or reading a printed book, or doing some other unproductive idiocy.

The thing is that, by this point, I was already mentally writing this blog post. I was all in.

She continued: “However, if you give priority to agility (software, tweets) over other things, you make different conclusions. I’m not dogmatic.”

Boom! Gotcha. So I went in for the kill. I turned the conversation around 360 degrees back to the exact point where it began, with the bloody, mangled sheip-sheep: “But maybe the editor of your daughter’s book isn’t dogmatic either and just has different criteria about which texts require quality control.”

Check and mate.

Again: Boom! Which I’m sort of proud of, because, like George Costanza, the perfect witty riposte usually only comes to me hours after I need it.

I wish I could relate the rest of the conversation, but here it abruptly ended. My interlocutor declined to continue this fascinating philosophical exchange.

So her silence opens the door for me to complete the dialogue in my head. In there, the silence says: “Quality is dead, oh future post-editor, but if you dare show my child a misspelled sheep or a machine-translated children’s book, I will tear out your eyeballs like a lioness defending her cub!”

Which sounds to me a lot like some Tea Party nutcase saying: “Take your government hands off my Medicare! Not in my backyard! NIMBY! NIMBY!”

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. You can also join his LinkedIn network by visiting the profile or follow him on Twitter.

1 comment:

Gueibor said...

In my book, the only ideal indicator of intelligence is humor, and the ability to sense it.
Grammar Nazism is a particularly grating form of self importance, and self importance may as well be the most telling sign of an impaired sense of humor.

Not to mention the double standard at play here, oh my.