Books

Go look it up in the dictionary

Growing up, this was one of my dad’s go-to phrases.

Perhaps he did not know the answer or perhaps he was tired and desperately needed those few precious seconds of silence while we went to fetch the encyclopaedia (ours was a very full house) but, every time we asked a question or were not sure we were correct, he would tell us to go look it up in the dictionary.

To his credit, he always sat down with my sisters and I and helped us to understand the new information we were learning.

In hindsight, this habit of his was the single most important contribution to our education; as well as the foundation stone for a life-long habit of never leaving a question unanswered.

Because that is exactly what I still do and what we, interpreters, constantly do. We research. We study. We question. We wonder. We look it up… and take note.

Why did the speaker used X word and not another? What did he or she mean by X? What does A have to do with B? How is X idea expressed in X field or under X paradigm or by X school of thought? What are X’s industry jargon and common expressions?

Our brains are always processing. We do this constantly, not only before a job. It is part of our makeup; a curiosity so deeply ingrained that has become second nature.

So much so that I keep a Reminders list in my mobile phone with expressions I heard in conversation, things I realised I do not know yet, things I am not sure I remember correctly, things I would like to know more about… You get the idea.

And I know of many fellow interpreters who do the same.

“Go look it up in the dictionary”, my dad used to say. And, suddenly, we were having a whole new conversation.