October 16, 2009

a personal triumph (1982)

In Tokyo in the summer of 1982, I earned some pocket money by editing translators' drafts of an English version of a Japanese encyclopedia. I got paid in envelopes of cash.

The articles were on the flora and fauna of Japan. They had been written in Japanese by Japanese experts on the natural sciences of Japan, then translated into English by Japanese technical translators; my role as a college-educated but non-expert-in-the-field native English speaker, was to make the language less weird. To turn Japlish into English, you might say.

Now, I had drunk deeply of Strunk & White, including "Omit needless words!", a few years before that, and so I eagerly took up my editor's shears to cut cut cut. It is not clear however that my doing so was to the pleasure or perceived short-term benefit of my employer, who was after all trying to fill up an encyclopedia. Cutting things down didn't make the books (there were several volumes) any plumper or more appealing on the shelf. I think, though, that good editing made them better.

My triumph happened when I was reading an article on a mountain goat (perhaps a Japanese relative of the Ja'al or Ibex). I read:

"Very few individuals survive today."

And with a few strokes, I had left only:

"Few survive."

Thereby eliminating a majority of the words in the sentence. I took this feat, then, as a great personal triumph.

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