Monkeys, Peanuts and Translators

by Translation Guy on July 12, 2010

“If you’re not a monkey, stop working for peanuts!” say the guys at No Peanuts! for Translators, which provides “support and resources to professional translators and interpreters in demanding and receiving a living wage for their work.”

“No Peanuts! means refusing to believe that translators are powerless. No Peanuts! means rejecting the notion that translators must kowtow to so-called ‘market demand’ as if we had no ability to create our own markets. No Peanuts! means insisting that we need not live in fear or accept exploitation in exchange for the right to earn a living in our chosen field.”

Translators of the world unite!  Standing up against the machines, against the mega-agencies like TransPerfect, who “have helped turn the client-provider relationship inside out.  Many clients have followed their lead and now assume they have the right to dictate rates to translators.”

Ready to throw down your chains, translation workers? Here’s how to do it: Hold the line on your pricing, and tell your clients why. Take back control from the mega-agencies, and don’t bid cheap. Boycott the bad guys, and tell others about them. Don’t be reduced to servitude, and keep the scabs from scabbing. And don’t panic.

Whoops. Too late on that last one, because the whole site just screams “panic” to me. Sorry, guys. The industry salad days have been tossed out with the salad spinner water―at least for now. The great wheel of commerce crushes all in its path.

Technology is catching up to the old model just as we’ve been punched in the gut with the downturn. And it’s the “small people,” the hewers of words and the bearers of text strings, who must carry this burden in a law as old as the pyramids. Too bad, especially when the “No Peanuts!” guys have justice and human dignity on their side.  Meanwhile, someone else is banging away on the iron triangle of service, beating out “better, faster, cheaper; better, faster, cheaper.”

A few months ago, a translator friend sent me a transcript of a thread between a TransPerfect project manager and a translator arguing about an $11 penalty for some mistakes made during a rush job. It read like a checklist of “No Peanuts” grievances. I was going to run it, but it was just too depressing to be mistaken for amusing.

Nevertheless, in an empty gesture of solidarity with all you translators who want to make as much money as you used to, I’ll share the best part of that sad little story. That same shit-rate job was offered to 260 translators. That’s what we call the pool―all the little translators in the koi pond ready to strike at whatever crumb is tossed their way.

Blame it on the rise of the machines. Not the machine translations, not the swarms of amateurs who will do the same work for nothing more than a virtual pat on the back, not them alone, but the TENTS and the CATS and all the other software that LSP buyers use to create a bigger pool to find the cheapest translators right away, and to punish the same more effectively when they fail.

Organize! Sing “Joe Hill.” And just as King Canute commands the sea, so ye shall drive back the bottom feeders from the shores of the industry. Just watch out for that scab translator #260 under that rock over there because she is figuring out how to climb aboard the great commercial juggernaut on terms that pay for her, if not for you. And if she passes on that one, translator #22666 on PRoZ will take it, and the translation provided, for good or ill, might just fit the bill.

It’s not all glum news, though. Here’s a hilarious video from the site, “How Not to Discuss Rates with a Translator,” which will strike a chord with anyone who shares the frustration of the No Peanuts! cadres.

“All right then you! Enough of your talk!”  Oh no. It’s Bull from MegaTrans, and he’s got an axe handle. “Back to your keyboards now, you lollygaggers, or you’ll be sorry!  For it’s work all day for sugar in your tay, down beyond the dictionary…” Where’s Joe Hill when you need him?!


  1. Matt Train says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, and a lot to think about. I’m a qualified translator who took a project management path with a view to freelancing later, but now find myself working in operations for a medium size agency. The way you present the pressures of either side is very accurate according to my experience, and now in an agency it’s definitely a balance to be struck between satisfying management needs and the needs of freelancers. As long as everything is presented transparently that would help?

    Who knows! Great article.

  2. Patricia says:

    Well, teh damaging side of paying peanuts for translations is beginning to be registered by official bodies. The 2009 EU report on the translation industry address the issue of the link betweeen price and quality in it’s points and .
    Translators and translation companies alike should unite their effort to draw the translation’s consumer attention to this report, or at least to the point mentioned here

  3. Cheryl Leach says:

    Different countries, different laws. I think all one could do over here would be to withhold a bonus offered for “good prose” of a translation, but the time spent on the translation would have to be paid in full, at worst this payment could be withheld for the specific lines that were mistranslated, not for the entire translation.

  4. No serious problem if the robot-based production is higher than the
    human-based demand and the distribution of the produced goods is
    at least remotely fair (welcome to a universe like that of Star Trek),
    a serious problem if production does not meet demand or distribu-
    tion is severely unfair, but probably – as almost always in history –
    somewhere in between the extremes, not bad enough to cause a
    revolt, but not good enough to really enjoy it.

  5. i dont want to buy a cheapy one, because i believe that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. at the same time i dont want to just throw my money the the first device i see.

  6. That was a great video! Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Jewish have an unfortunate reputation of being penny-pinchers. Think about Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
    And yes, that’s way too cheapskate a salary to be offering! Monkeys won’t even work for peanuts!

  8. If I could I would rate at zero stars. Its not bad value, the problem is that if something goes wrong, there is no reliable way of contacting Parcel Monkey. They dont answer the phones EVER.

  9. I know it as “dar duros a cuatro pesetas”, you get what you pay for: “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, etc.
    P :-)

  10. Hey there. I generally really enjoy your posts, but this time I have to disagree pretty strongly. I am not from No Peanuts!, although I am a proud endorser, and if you indulge me I’d like to point out a few issues, here.

    First of all, you talk about panic. What panic? The website simply promotes better practices, which are beneficial for clients AND translators. It exposes practices that are self-destructive for our industry. Of course, you run an agency, so maybe it makes sense that you completely ignored the main point – agencies are middle men and cutting them out can often be beneficial for both the translator and the client. (See here: Dismissing a whole movement based on solid arguments with a vague and patronising reference to “panic” is not really credible. You can do better.

    The “better, faster, cheaper” mantra is purely a sales pitch. It’s pretty much a fact that it’s either better OR faster and cheaper. And not just in translation, but think clothing, food, cars, medical treatments, and pretty much anything that can be bought. But here we get to the bottom line. The No Peanuts! movement is about quality. Quality of service, and quality of life. You do not mention quality ONCE in your post, which is puzzling, really.

    As for the “if you refuse it someone else is going to do it” argument, I find it trite and, again, oblivious of concepts like professionalism and quality. It would be like saying to a gourmet burger restaurant “Hey, you shouldn’t sell your fancy burgers for $12, ’cause McDonald’s sells burgers for $4 and you’re going to go bankrupt if you don’t lower your prices too. It’s the wheel of commerce!” Guess what? There are people who care about QUALITY. Some people will buy an Armani suit over a cheaper one because despite the fact that the main goal is not to walk around naked, the Armani will just look better and last longer. And, if you use it for work, it makes YOU look better. I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to our sector.

    So, in the end, is it really about translators wanting to “make as much money as they used to do” (which was never a lot, really) or rather about agencies getting worried that they might not make as much as they do now once their clients work it out? 😉

    • Ken says:

      Right on the money, Guiseppi, you nailed me. And thanks to all you posters with the courage to stir the pot.

  11. My main reaction to this is: whatever. But I invite your readers to consider this (“Beware the Prophets of Doom: The Translation Borg”). You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

  12. Tim says:

    Thanks for the link to the video. It was great. It’s nice to see some levity among all the serious stuff in this blog

  13. I read here that you refused to post answers from the authors of the blog “No peanuts for translators”.
    What a vile and myopic demeanor for a blogger. Shame on you.

    • Ken says:

      Guiseppe, I’m not sure why your comments are not appearing on the site, so I’ve asked my web guy to look it over. We should have them up shortly.

      On the bright side, you haven’t seen my replies either.

      While vile, myopic and hypocritical (as noted by other posters) are generally accurate, in this case I think technologically incompetent is better suited. But didn’t your Mom ever teach you not to make fun of kids with glasses?

  14. Hi,

    We’re not a group of fanatic luddites. No Peanuts is a grassroots movement aiming at having clients acknowledge professional respect for translators, which includes being willing to pay fair and honest fees in exchange for a service that’s strongly oriented toward quality rather than quantity.

    If you go to a wine cellar and buy a bottle of Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, would you start bargaining on the price? Or feel outraged for paying 150 or 200 bucks for it? If you do think the price is too high, you simply go for wine that fits your budget. Which is the case, if you think that “cheaper, faster” is your mantra. “Better” is missing from the triangle, you’d be lying to yourself if thought you could get it all; it’s either-or, not and-and. Not only in translation, but in all aspects of our society: business, healthcare, knowledge, etc. In fact, it’s more of a flat line than a triangle.
    The cannibalistic capitalistic approach outlined in your post has done its time, and has caused serious damage worldwide. Capitalism can and needs to change to become more humane, to be focused on people and their well-being rather than quick and easy financial profit for its own sake.

    Giuseppe Manuel Brescia left a comment on your blog that has not yet been approved. The same will probably happen to mine. Feeling a bit panicky maybe?

    Marco Spinello

    • Ken says:

      What’s got me panicked, Marco, is that you’ll order a bottle of that Sassicaia stuff when I take you out for a drink next time you are in NYC.

  15. I also wear glasses, and they help me seeing beyond and around myself. You should try and change them with a new pair maybe… 😉

  16. Hi Ken,

    Thank you for posting my comment and for your reply. The Sassicaia is totally worth its price, but if we meet in NYC I’ll be happy to have a drink with you and enjoy some beer from the excellent Brooklyn Brewery :-)

    Kindest regards,

  17. Hi Ken.

    I’m very pleased that the discussion finally appeared in the comments, and glad to see that you see my point, and that even though we obviously act in our own interest, there are many ways to do that.

    Marco Spinello’s and Patricia’s comments clarify my thought, as does my post ( to which I added an update giving you credit for publishing the comments, in the end.



    • Ken says:

      Thanks Giuseppe. Reminds me of a line my fencing teacher used to use after a couple of bottles of sake.

      “There are many different ways to hold your chopsticks, Ken-san, but there is only one best way.” This statement followed by an enthusiastic chopstick strike, scattering empty bottles like 10-pins. Men!

  18. Mel says:

    seems that even EU official bodies are thinking that paying translators decent fees might be good for business

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