I’m going to share a secret regret of mine today: when I first started working on very large projects in teams, I used to doubt my word choices a lot. I assumed my teammates were better educated and deferred to them in terminology debates. It generally worked in my favor—I learned new words or phrases, and my translation improved. But there was one time that sticks out in my mind when I should have spoken up.
I was working on a very long set of documents for an antitrust case. In brief, large group of international companies X had conspired against individual businessperson/inventor Y to prevent Y from finding a manufacturer for a new-and-improved product, because Y made better, more cost-effective improvements to a tool than X’s team had (despite 20+ years working on the project).
In translating these documents, the term “anticompetitive practice” (pratique anticoncurrentielle) came up quite a lot. You can see how that English-language term is appropriate: group X conspired to keep inventor Y from marketing a new invention. They did not want competition.
My translation partner (chosen by the agency client, not by me) decided this phrase sounded too clunky, and opted for “unfair trade practices” instead. Here’s where I hang my head in shame and say, “I went along with it.” You see, this other translator had solved another inelegant wording problem far better than myself. So somehow, I assumed that meant the other translator was better all around. Omniscient.
There is a difference between anti-competition and unfair trade. The former deals with conspiring to prevent other businesses from competing in the pre-production or pre-sale stage. Anticompetition affects other businesses. Unfair trade has more to do with bamboozling buyers, infringing on patents already in use, and other practices that affect consumers.
I should have held my ground. I knew I was right, but with the deadline looming and no time to provide solid citations in support of my choice (and with respect for the other translator’s solution of other problems), I let it slide. Luckily for us, there were aspects of unfair trade (as opposed to anticompetition) involved in this case. So while it wasn’t a perfect solution, it was still acceptable. The client and other readers would still understand the legal meaning of the document. It’s just one of those decisions that comes back to haunt me from time to time. You live and you learn!
What rookie mistake did you make once upon a time? How do you deal with terminology debates on team projects?