About 10 years ago, one of our translators became enthralled with cigar making, particularly the culture of Cuban cigar making. Tobacco and cigars are to Cuba what wine was (and perhaps still is) to France. They are more than economic activities; they are deeply woven into Cuban culture and national identity. Our translator’s fascination led him to learn about the basic structure of a cigar, but more importantly, about the immense pride felt by Cubans in their tobacco, its cultivation and processing. Before falling victim to this obsession, he didn’t know, for example, that traditionally, Cuban cigar factories employed a person who would read newspapers and literature out loud to the workers, while they rolled the cigars. The thought of workers listening to great works of literature while they earned a living seemed particularly noble.
Fast forward to May 2017. We get a call from a senior executive at Padron Cigars, a premium cigar manufacturer in Miami. The founder of the company, a Cuban gentleman, has decided to write his autobiography, in fulfillment of the life directive that every person should plant a tree, have a child and write a book. The original manuscript is written in Spanish, and our job is to translate the manuscript from Spanish into English. In addition to the usual hallmarks of an autobiography, this manuscript describes in great detail the cultivation, curing and processing of tobacco, and the work and tools necessary for the crafting of a fine cigar. All this detail is chock full of vocabulary that is unique to the world of tobacco.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that all the knowledge gained 10 years prior allowed our translator to effortlessly translate all those terms of art. However, his research gave him a feel for the world of Cuban tobacco and cigar making, and that familiarity made the final product better. For example, it’s easy to translate “cuchillo curvo” into “curved knife”, except that in the world of Cuban cigar manufacturing (and in the autobiography in question), this tool is called a “chaveta”, and our research revealed that rather than calling it a curved knife, it would be more accurate to call it a “Cuban blade” or a “cigar knife.” In other words, readers of the autobiography, who are likely to be tobacco and cigar connoisseurs, will likely know what the terms “Cuban blade” or “cigar knife” mean, whereas “curved knife” can refer to any number of blades.
The fact that our translator came upon the world of cigar-making was accidental. However, assigning this project to him was anything but an accident. We asked several of our Spanish-to-English translators if they had any knowledge of the tobacco world. We believe that subject-matter knowledge will lead to a better translation. The autobiography will be released this month, and we’re proud to have played a small part in telling this inspirational story.
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