Translating in the Silly Season

For many freelance translators there is a time for sowing and a time for reaping. There is also a time for waiting; the doldrums; a lull in work where little happens and offers of work are few and far between. What should translators do in this time of stagnation? If we treat this period as a ‘time for sowing’ rather than a lull in work then we can turn a potentially deadening and depressing time into a productive and industrious period. We can use this ‘window of opportunity’ to search for new clients, new contacts and, of course, new contracts. We can also use this time to brush up on cultural and linguistic areas that have heretofore been neglected by us. The silly season need not necessarily be ‘silly’.

From a translational point of view, silly season is a fascinating phrase. In British English the silly season refers to that time of year characterised by exaggerated (silly) media news stories because of the lack of serious news due to the fact that politicians and celebrities are usually on holiday. In the United Kingdom this is usually late summer. Other European languages have their own equivalent phrases. French uses the term la morte-saison (the dead season), German has two terms: das Sommerloch (the summer hole) and Sauregurkenzeit (pickled gherkin time), the second being a common motif across Europe.

Gherkins and cucumbers seem to be a recurrent theme in many languages. Dutch uses komkommertijd, Norwegian agurktid, Danish agurketid (cucumber time). Norwegian refers to agurknytt (cucumber news). The non Indo-European Hungarian uses uborkaszezon (cucumber season) which is mirrored also in Czech and Polish. These Slavonic languages respectively use: okurková sezóna and sezon ogórkowy (cucumber season). Another term referring to the summer period which occurs in Polish is kanikuła, fascinating from an etymological point of view.

Kanikuła comes from the Latin canicula referring to the time of year between 22 June and 23 August when the sun (used to) rise at the same time as Sirius (the Dog Star, Latin Canicula). It also refers to the hottest days of the year. What makes this Polish phrase fascinating is the fact that etymologically it is equivalent to the English phrase dog days referring to that time of year which is hot or stagnant or when there is a period of inactivity. Therefore, when we refer to this seasonal lull in English we can use silly season or dog days and in Polish sezon ogórkowy or kanikuła.


31 thoughts on “Translating in the Silly Season

  1. And kanikuly in Russian and closely-related languages means ‘school holidays, summer vacation’. 🙂 I’ve never heard any of the gherkin-related expressions mentioned here, though. Could a Polish native speaker confirm the existence of that one, at least?

  2. “Therefore, when we refer to this seasonal lull in English we can use silly season or dog days and in Polish sezon ogórkowy or kanikuła.”

    I agree about ‘silly season’ and would add ‘slow news season’. I might even add ‘cucumber season’ as the common calque of the various European expressions (though it would mystify many native speakers).

    On the other hand, in my variety of (US) English ‘dog days’ doesn’t necessarily fit semantically (though it can). Basically, ‘dog days’ refers to a time of oppressive heat of the kind that saps your will to make any kind of effort. They usually occur in late July through part or most of August. Without that ambition-killing heat, you don’t have dog days (I would say there were no dog days in Poland this summer). I have the idea that this usage (referring to heat rather than the calendar) is common in the US though I don’t know if it’s the majority view or not.

    1. The Latin expression ‘canicula’ (dog days) alludes to the period in August when the constellation Canis Major is visible. When the dog trots across the night sky, the summer heat is at its most oppressive.

  3. Michael,

    Perhaps this sentence was not clear. What was meant was that ‘silly season’ seems to be a possible equivalent of ‘sezon ogórkowy’ whilst ‘dog days’ an equivalent of ‘kanikuła’.

  4. “whilst ‘dog days’ an equivalent of ‘kanikuła’.”

    I understood that, but AFAICT ‘kanikuła’ is roughly a calendar term while ‘dog days’ has undergone a semantic shift so that in popular usage it no longer refers to a specific time but a specific kind of weather that might or might not happen during that time.

    Hopefully some other natives can contribute their understanding of the term (which may or may not coincide with mine).

  5. i like your use of silly season, and your knoeledge of other equivelant ,

    but i could not find this expression in Hindi for the time being.

    i will try to find it in Hindi Language used in India.

    1. “to rain cats and dogs” is attested from 1738 (a variation is “to rain dogs and polecats”, from 1652). The phrase is is probably an extension of “cats and dogs” as proverbial for “strife, enmity” (1579).

  6. In every branch of service there is “silly seson” and we should be aware of this issue. We should be conscious that it is not dependent on us. Therefore, we should not waste this moment, but at least try to spend this time in an active way, even in such as is mentioned in the article. To make sure that when we look back at the words ‘silly season’ we will have smile on our faces instead of tears.

  7. Generally speaking, it is all about positive thinking, which anticipates a successful outcome of every situation and action. People of every nation, race, social and professional status can use positive attitude to cope more easily with the daily affairs of life (including translators).

    Remember to spend your ‘time of stagnation’ in an active way (as it is mentioned above).

    Think positively!

  8. As Magdalena noticed, every branch has its silly season. Sometimes it is just less work, and for some occupations it is simply lack of work.
    For me it is a great opportunity to read all the books I didn’t have time to read, to spend more time with my family and friends, to watch good films, but above all it is time to improve my skills.

    In translating not only the language knowledge is important although it is a good basis 🙂
    In my opinion translators should possess broad general knowledge.

    So, silly season shouldn’t worry anyone… take a book, watch some news, do anything to improve your general knowledge 🙂

  9. I agree with what Agata and Magda noticed. ‘Silly season’ is a phenomenon that exists in every sphere of our life, not only in translation. And as it was also mentioned before, everything depends on how we are going to use this time. Maybe it’s the best and the highest time to improve and fill our weak points / sides or, on the other hand, take a break to recharge our batteries and return with redoubled energy. Everything depends on the person and her character.

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