Having recently worked on several documents for clients in the industry, and in light of the new charges brought against M. Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, I would like to talk about two issued related to translation: being true to the original and making the translation sound good.

The slick petroleum tycoon

Mikhail Khodorkovsky does not seem to need anyone to speak for him or write his presentations.  Having already served six years in a labor camp, he can still present his case clearly, with just the right measure of humor.  Yet, it seems some journalists and/or translators wish to impose their own style on his court statements.  In one case, he is quoted as saying “To give you a crude analogy, your honor, the smoking gun in this case would have been incapable of firing.”  Yes, in quote marks.

Sure, a point for the “crude” play on words, but having read the original source (in Russian) on the web page maintained by Mr. Khodorkovsky’s supporters, I have not found any statement remotely resembling the quoted text.   I have no way of knowing whether it was the translator or the journalist, but in either case, I have a suggestion.  Make it sound good without claiming it was a direct quote.  Hey, it sounds good, take the credit yourself!

Sweet and Sour  Sludge

I was fortunate to come across one of Mr. Khodorkovsky’s diagrams while editing the translation of an instructional manual concerned with petroleum refining.  The presentation he offered in his defence, rebuking the charges leveled against him, also contained some useful vocabulary.  Based on color, viscosity and density, I would now be able to distinguish crude oil from both borehole fluid and drilling mud.  What is still more important for my line of work, I can now translate all of those terms into Russian.

As translators, we not only have to make sure that a car running on gasoline will not get diesel poured into its fuel  tank, but that we do not presume to be smarter than the author of the original document.

If you would like to obtain a translation that is accurate and true to the original in both meaning and style, please contact Trusted Translations.

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