Author Archives: Oliver Lawrence

Honing your craft with a literary maestro

‘If I began to think about these things, I was stopped, because so much came back to me, so many desires, so many old affronts’ – OK, let’s look at that first sentence. ‘If I began to think’? The original says ‘Se mi mettevo a pensare’: that’s not exactly began to think, is it? It’s more like ‘If I got to thinking’, or something along those lines. Look, the register is clearly informal in the original, so desires and affronts aren’t right. And I was stopped is supposed to be a translation of ‘non la finivo più’, which means the opposite, so God knows what the translator was doing there. Right! Who wants to tell me how can we improve this – Oliver? …”

Continue reading

A matter of taste

I had a rude awakening the other week. (No, not the neighbour’s daughter’s Sunday morning trombone practice again, or at least I hope that’s what that noise is.)

After my first half-dozen marketing translations for a new client won a warm reception, the seventh came back with an irate-sounding note. “Wrong tone of voice”. My attempt at elegant and sophisticated – we’re talking luxury yachts, by the way – should have been more edgy and “aggressive”. One of the brands in the portfolio had a different tone, but that hadn’t come across to me when the job was placed. Armed with full ToV guidelines, I was then able to amend the text to their satisfaction and my relief. Continue reading

A tale of two slams

What’s in a name?

Would a translation “slam” by any other name sound as puerile and pseudo-confrontational? A tad harsh, perhaps, but I’m not a great fan of the “duel” rhetoric. Or maybe I was just hoping for a gentle ride, as I girded my verbal loins for my debut slam. My opposite number and I were trying to cultivate a collaborative approach to probe the text, to find the best renderings we could, to explore the various ways to skin a linguistic cat – rather than seeking a rumbustious, rambunctious tussle from which the vanquished slinks away, tail between shanks, their wounds to lick. “Superness”, not “supremacy”, was our aim. Continue reading

Nailing it

When is it done?

I’ve wondered out loud more than once in recent months about when we consider our work fit to ship. My broad conclusion, on reflection, is that a translation is done when it meets an acceptable standard. But what does that mean, exactly? The whole notion of “acceptable quality” is highly subjective. Continue reading

When is a translation done? (ITI Day 2018)

[This is the text of a 5-minute talk with a difference that I presented at the ITI One Day in … event on 16 June 2018 at Gray’s Inn in London. The presentation took the form of a “recital” of a pre-recorded text using my smartphone, but the experiment wasn’t a complete success, partly because the quality of the sound system at the venue, despite my sound check beforehand, wasn’t up to it, and apparently most of the audience struggled to hear any of it, annoyingly. The presentation was preceded by a warm and generous introduction by star organiser Anne de Freyman.]

It’s wonderful to be with you all this afternoon – isn’t it Oliver …?

… Indeed it is.

Hello folks.

Don’t be alarmed, but in a packed programme this afternoon, I shall be breaking from protocol in not one but two ways. I think you’ve grasped what the first one is going to be: in a tribute to the fabulous Lost Voice Guy – you know him? The comedian who was once in a disabled Steps tribute band called … Ramps – I shall be experimenting with some technology in what is something of a walk on the wild side for me. And second, I shan’t be speaking about what Anne thinks I’ll be speaking about, as I had a better idea a couple of days ago while waiting in Ciampino departure lounge.

So. I shall be asking the question:

When is it done?

Continue reading

Writing – when it simply has to be right

What’s the most important thing you’ve ever written?

A couple of weeks ago, I had to craft what for me is probably the most momentous collection of words since I started, at my mother’s knee, to put crayon, pencil or pen to paper. Or loops and whorls to keyboard, now.

In recent months, I’ve been banging on about incisive, zestful writing and how to choose your words to better effect – as ITI Bulletin readers, BP17 conference-goers, and the lovely attendees of my own wee clear-writing course may recall.

It was time to put my freshly flexed penman’s muscles to the test. Continue reading

The serial comma – all you need to know

Ah, the serial comma. If there’s one topic that can be relied upon to polarise opinion among language lovers, that’s it. Yet for most people, its niceties are something of a mystery. Also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma, it’s that little flick of the pen or keyboard that some use between the last two items in a list:

Tom, Dick, and Harry

as opposed to

Tom, Dick and Harry.

Some insist that you should always use it; others, that you should never. But, if you look closely (and dispassionately), you can see that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Here’s why. Continue reading

How to crack those tough translation nuts

You know those expressions that are a pain to translate to/from Italian? Awkward words that don’t behave, that stubbornly resist your best attempts, that never seem to come out nicely first time. Or second time. Those.

Ever wondered if your lovely colleagues have found a quick and elegant way to crack some of them? Well now there’s a chance to find out. The upcoming ITI conference in Cardiff will feature a session for Italianists and Italophiles on the Saturday morning (20 May 2017), where you can compare notes and tap into the collective wisdom of your compagni di viaggio. Over a cup of proper coffee. What could be finer?

So till then, make a note of any of your “favourite” troublesome words or phrases, and pass them on to me at, ideally as example sentences with a bit of context. I’ll collate, add a couple of my own, and we can all pit our wits against them in Cardiff.

Sign up now:

Illuminiamoci d’immenso!

Instagurus and faking it up

So. I hear you’re diversifying?

Sure am. It’s the way to go these days, you know. Everyone’s got an online course, a membership programme, a coaching scheme or some sideline or other. It’s about time I got in on the act. I mean, how hard can it be? Sounds like a nice little earner.

You’re becoming an instaguru, then?

A what now? Don’t think so; social media isn’t really my thing, although I do have 37 followers on Twitter, you know.

Not Instagram, you lummox. Instaguru. An “instant guru”. A shiny expert with all the answers* available for a great-value price (hurry while stocks last!).

* The actual experience and expertise underpinning these answers may vary from that implied.

Hang on a sec –

– Because if you are, you might find yourself persona non grata.

Continue reading