Skip to main content

Guten tag, Eierköpfe!

Over the years I have had many of my old business books translated into foreign languages from Turkish to Portuguese, not to mention Chinese, Japanese and Thai. (Though strangely, never French. They don't seem to like me, the French. Could it be because the name of my business creativity website is rude in French?)

The original for comparison
It has taken a while, but now, at last a number of my science books are getting translations, notably into German. The first has arrived on the doorstep, so I can proudly present Physik für Eierköpfe, the possibly worryingly literal translation of the Instant Egghead Guide to Physics. There are quite a few more to follow, but translation is a mysterious business.

It starts with something of an exciting bang. The publisher lets you know that they have achieved a translation. This is really good news as it involves an advance payment (except in the case of this particular book, which for complicated reasons I won't get paid anything for). These vary hugely from the pathetically small (I think I have had one as low as £50) to bigger than the original advance for the book in English. Then things go quiet, usually for a very long time. Egghead has only been a year, but often it is two or more years before, out of the blue, a couple of copies of the foreign translation drop through the post.

This is really good fun, as, unless you speak the language (I have a little German, but certainly no Thai, say), you have in your hands a book with your name on but which you can't understand a word of. It could say anything, quite possible something rude.

In principle this isn't an end to it. Just like the original version of the book, the idea is that sales of the book make royalties and these gradually pay off the advance, and then start to accrue for the author. In practice this hardly ever seems to happen with translations. The nice view is that they are generous with their advances. The less nice is that they don't bother to do the sums, because you can't really check. Either way, being translated is wonderful as you (usually) get money for doing nothing extra, plus there is the delight of having that non-English version in your hands. Which is certainly fun.

Just for amusement, here is my current shelf of publications. (The fuzzed out bit isn't my obscene publications, they just aren't my books.) Each is a unique book, either a different English edition (e.g. hardback/paperback) or a translation. More than half are translations:


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's 2010 gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some exp

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why backgammon is a better game than chess

I freely admit that chess, for those who enjoy it, is a wonderful game, but I honestly believe that as a game , backgammon is better (and this isn't just because I'm a lot better at playing backgammon than chess). Having relatively recently written a book on game theory, I have given quite a lot of thought to the nature of games, and from that I'd say that chess has two significant weaknesses compared with backgammon. One is the lack of randomness. Because backgammon includes the roll of the dice, it introduces a random factor into the play. Of course, a game that is totally random provides very little enjoyment. Tossing a coin isn't at all entertaining. But the clever thing about backgammon is that the randomness is contributory without dominating - there is still plenty of room for skill (apart from very flukey dice throws, I can always be beaten by a really good backgammon player), but the introduction of a random factor makes it more life-like, with more of a sense