Interpreter navel-gazing

Count Smorltalk gets omphaloskeptical

Earlier this year I was sitting on a plane next to an Asian girl, who, rather to my surprise, started to take a series of posed photos of herself on her iPad. She would grin or gurn and snap herself on the iPad, checking on the screen to see whether the resulting image was any good. That is not something I have ever tried or even thought of doing. But that only goes to show how out of touch I am. She was taking selfies of course. I am, as usual, out of step with the modern world, a world in which the word “selfie” mushroomed by seventeen thousand percent last year, apparently. If people are taking selfies as frequently as they are talking about them, that’s a hell of a lot of self-portraits.

And it seems that as fast as selfies are being snapped, new words are being improvised around the selfie theme.  Take a “helfie” of your hair, or a “welfie” at the gym (workout selfie), or even a “drelfie” when you’re three sheets to the wind (drunken selfie). Presumably, following the same pattern, the famous selfie with Pope Francis would be a “pelfie”.

Words like selfie are a gift to the interpreter. Guess what it is in French. You got it. And in German. You got it again. The only thing is the gender. The word Quickie has been around in German since the seventies, and is masculine: der Quickie. Apparently some Germans thought that der Selfie made sense, but it seems that the majority have gone for das Selfie. In French there’s also some doubt, but un selfie seems to be most popular. From that base you can build “se selfiser”. Well you can until the French Ministry of Culture and Communication gets its claws into selfie and consigns it to the same place as email (courriel by decree since 20/6/03).

Many words have already been spilled about how also this photographic navel-gazing reflects the narcissism of our society so I’ll not go there. Rather, I’m actually going to suggest that we interpreters get better at this whole selfie thing. Fortunately we have no professional need to monitor our outward appearance, and therefore no professional need for photo selfies. But what about audio selfies? What shall we call them? Hmm, “aelfie” is unpronounceable, and “aselfies” is a bit close to ass-selfie and I wouldn’t want anyone to think we interpreters were getting into sexting. Or donkeys. Or both! Let’s call them Alfies.

It is so easy to take an Alfie at work. Switch your iPhone to Airplane Mode, place it on the desk in front of you, press record, and you’re away. We have the technology, and as long as we have some spare MBs on the chip we can do as many Alfies as we like. If you’re lucky enough to work for some of the bigger international institutions you get an Alfie thrown in for free. There is, for example, an organization I work for where my Alfies (and everyone else’s too) often end up on the BBC website for all to hear and admire. How comforting.

The truth is that whether it’s a selfie or an Alfie it can be a shock to the system if you’re not used to it. So I think we had better get used to it, frankly. Find out if you’re an “euh”-merchant or an “er”-peddlar? Perhaps you more of an ummer than en errer. Perhaps you’re a warbler or a grunter. Perhaps you’re a mumbler and it all gets lost in your beard or perhaps you’re a bawler or a screamer or a shouter and you’re driving everyone deaf!!!! Perhaps your pregnant pauses are                                                nine months in gestation. Or may-be everythingyousayiselidedintoonebigblock. Or may-be you’re a little Miss Perfect.

I understand that research has revealed that most people rate themselves six or seven or eight out of ten for physical attractiveness. And yet the average ought to be five. But who wants to be rated five out of ten? Me? Average? No way. I reckon that if you asked interpreters to rate their own interpreting there would be a lot of sixes and sevens and eights. And that’s where the Alfie comes in. Make an Alfie and listen to it and get real. I have. And I can tell you one thing: Count Smorltalk is real all right.


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Photo credits: Pap_aH / Flickr

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Count Smorltalk

is an English booth interpreter. He wishes to remain anonymous.

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