If You Give An Interpreter a Word

giveaninterpreteraword[My riff on the popular children’s books, for my scientist husband, and for anyone who loves an interpreter.]

If you give an interpreter a word, one that sounds interesting, that catches her attention, it will bounce around in her mind for a while, doing cartwheels and backflips. You’ll hear her repeat it to herself aloud (sometimes really aloud), sing-songy, with no context, probably in multiple languages, in languages she may not really speak, probably while she’s fixing dinner or curling her hair or pouring wine or wandering around the house while she should be doing something “productive”.

After a while, it may try your patience.

If you give an interpreter a word, she may play around with it, take it like putty and mold it into something else.

What’s that you say? You study the microbiome? Microbiome! Microbioma! Micro! MiCRO! Micro-biome! She will tweak it, adjust it, make a different word that doesn’t actually make sense or exist. It’s part of her experiment.

“Microbio-DOME!”, she will tell you in a strange accent that is not hers. You can tell her that microbiodome is not a word, that it’s not actually a thing, but she won’t listen. Put on a pot of coffee. Pour a drink. Settle in. It’s going to be a while. Maybe a lifetime.

Tell an interpreter a story with a word she doesn’t understand, and she will interrupt you. This is not like talking to a normal person. What was that word? That thing? She will ask you to act it out, to diagram it on your napkin while you’re trying to enjoy a drink, to use the 15 remote controls you’ve got lying around as models to explain bacterial genetics. And it will not be in vain. Because she will listen to you, understand that word, that idea, that thing, and then ask you for more.

After a while, it may try your patience.

Or you may start to like it.

If you give an interpreter an acronym, well…On second thought, just don’t.

If you give an interpreter an idea, the idea that maybe there’s something very big that she does not know, something that she cannot do, then she will figure out how to do it, and figure out how to know it. If you give an interpreter an idea, she will want to know where it came from, and who’s talking about it, and why, and contextcontextcontext, and it will never be enough and it will lead her down a path of weirdness, of little-known battles and countries and their leaders, of all the people who ever won the Nobel Prize in physics, and food policy, and The Big Mac Index, and bible verses, and mining, and street art, and Shakespeare quotes, and quantitative easing, and the nuances of medical and legal terminology, and shipping containers, and Egyptology, and inflation in 1980’s Bolivia.

Give an interpreter the words, “I do”, and you will commit to a lifetime of madness, of mutilingual chatter, of near misses and close calls, of flying by the seat of your pants, of running to catch connecting flights, of oh, oh, I know this is one, listening to her guess the structure of what the speakers will say any time you attend an event, of dissecting rhetorical devices. It’s not like being married to a normal person. She will ask you to overlook her strange habits, her nightowl-ism, her constant making up of words (she knows you’ll somehow understand them), her nostalgic listening to old Youtube videos of Josh Earnest’s press briefings, and by the way you’ll have to forever hear about that one time in grad school when a classmate told her that her voice was like “fine linen”.

If you give an interpreter an idea, it might seem at first like she’s not doing anything. Interpreters love to talk, and they are trained to speak in a way that is pleasant to you. But first, they listen.

If you give an interpreter a word, a phrase, an idea, she’s going to latch on to it, untangle it, pass it through all her filters, analyze it within the context of the person who said it, and how, and when, and why, and then package it up to give to someone else in a different language. And she does it all? In an instant.

If you give an interpreter a word, if you pay close attention, you will realize that a word is not just a word, for an interpreter.

It may start to try your patience. Or you might start to like it.

20 thoughts on “If You Give An Interpreter a Word”

  1. This is very good prose, almost poetry. Shades of Dr. Seuss and a bunch of other writers. Two thumbs up!

    1. Glad to hear I’m in good company, Daniele!! Thanks for your comment, I’m happy you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. I call those words “Champagne words”: words that you swirl in your mouth and they feel good and taste sweet , with a tiny bit of bubbly in your nose kind of feel.


    I can read it over and over again and still find my smiles waiting for me in different points of this very entertaining and reality-like piece.

    Love it!

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