Who’d have thought dictionaries could be sexy?

I take it back, not all dictionaries are bad. Without a word of a lie, not half an hour after I posted my last piece about dictionaries and how over-rated they can be, a book (an unsolicited one I might add) landed on my desk which made me wonder whether dictionaries really can be useful after all. I’m a little hesitant to say what this book is about partly because I know I will be swamped by dozens of comment spammers offering me all manner of filth and potions, and partly because I don’t think anyone will believe me. It’s a dictionary of sex terms. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.

Ooh the things I found out in that book!

Ooh, it goes where?!

Respected German publisher of dictionaries Langenscheidt has teamed up with leading “sexperts” Erika Berger and Lilo Wanders to give us its latest novelty dictionary, “Langenscheidt Sex-Deutsch/Deutsch-Sex” – a pocket-sized, 128 page dictionary explaining the various terms and jargon one might encounter. All I can say is that – sweet and innocent soul that I am – it very nearly turned my hair white reading all of those dirty words. Now it’s written in German but if heavy metal is a good reason to learn a new language, then carnal gymnastics might  be too. Without going into too much detail for obvious reasons, it explains things like how the word “English” in Germany is used as a euphemism for S&M and what “Pornflakes” and “Clinton Monogamy” are – I won’t write it for fear of traumatising those of a more sensitive disposition.

In fairness, it’s a tiny little book and it’s probably not enough to corrupt the youth of our nation (no, hold on, it might actually) but – and this is important – it does actually perform a public service. Can you imagine trying to find translations and definitions for various coitus-related concepts for yourself? No matter how legitimate and pure your intentions, typing these words into Google will open up a whole world of nastiness right there on your monitor. Get it wrong and you could end up unemployed, divorced or on some sort of international register of sex offenders.

So yes, dictionaries can be useful but more than that, they can be quite funny too.


Time to throw away your dictionaries?

One of the great myths of technical translation is that it is all about specialised terminology. It isn’t that surprising really because it is one of the first things that strikes most people when they look at a technical text. But is it really such a problem? Peter Newmark once said that terminology accounts for a mere 5-10% of a typical technical text. I recently spoke to a senior translator from the World Intellectual Property Organization who said that their analyses of patent abstracts showed a 50% terminology content but I would say that, given the specialised and highly specific function of these texts, this is probably the exception rather than the rule.

"Damn you to hell bulky over-priced dictionaries. I've got me an Internet!"

A more practical use for dictionaries?

But anyway, assuming that Newmark’s estimate is true and even taking into account the myriad types of texts where the proportion of terminology may vary slightly, you have to ask the question: So what? What’s the big deal with terminology? Continue reading