I'm very pleased to announce that we will once again have a dictionary exchange at the ATA conference in Los Angeles in October. Many of you know that this has been my favorite ATA event of the last few years because it allows us to be ridiculously generous with our own dictionary treasures while making our spouses or partners happy with reclaimed bookshelf space. It's also amazing to see a table full of dictionaries in rather unexpected language combinations (Czech <> Albanian, anyone?) and the flushed cheeks of translators who have just grabbed one or two or even more of those gems. All the recipients have to do in return is . . . oh, that's right: nothing!

I'll talk more in the next couple of newsletters about specifics (like how to send your old dictionaries if you can't make it yourself, or an exciting new feature of the exchange this year), but for now you can rest assured that your old dictionary loves will likely find a new home come October.

But then I also got to thinking: Could dictionaries -- or an over-simplified understanding of what dictionaries are and how translators use them -- be blamed for one of the major misconceptions of what translators are and do?

I'm sure not a single one of you has escaped the dreaded question of what this or that word is in whatever language because, after all, you're an interpreter or a translator. We've all been confronted with oversimplified views of translation, from translation being essentially a word-exchange to the consternation of non-translators as to why machine translation isn't as easy as using a calculator.

The advantage of these misconceptions is that it forces us to think about what we do and how words actually relate to translation activity. I realized at some point that -- depending on the text in question -- words are really almost of secondary relevance. Instead, concepts are most important, and it's often a number of concepts that overlay each other or are even in conflict with each other as I'm working on a text to translate. Only once the concepts have been arranged in my mind do the words become relevant, and while some might still have to be searched for, most are automatically "provided." I guess that's how language works in the first place. Maybe that also needs to be the "hook" when we explain what we do: "Are you talking or writing or thinking with words or something more conceptual? That's what we do in translation, only in a super-powered (😉) manner."