Beware industry jagon


Huta Szkła, Dąbrowa Górnicza. Is it a ‚works’ or a ‚foundry’?

One of the problems faced by Polish to English translators is when the customer decides to try to ‚improve’ your English. Your ancestors have lived in Poland since the days of Mieszko I, you have spoken the language of Shakespeare and Dickens all your life, and now some youngster from Bielsko Biala tries to tell you that Poland is divided up into ‚voidvodships’ administered by ‚marshals’. You tell him firmly but kindly that Poland is no longer under martial law and that today’s Polish provinces differ greatly from the voivodeships [note the different spelling in this case] that comprised the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth.

But before you launch your offensive, pause and consider whether the ‚correction’ being supplied by the client might not, in fact, be correct. There are many pitfalls in translating technical terms that are specific to a particular industry. In the late 1970s I pointed out during a job interview with a USA computer company that the items that they referred to as ‚documentation’ are more commonly called ‚handbooks’ and ‚manuals’ in the UK. Sadly my Canute-like stand failed to get me the job and failed to stop the flood of computer ‚documentation’.

On another occasion I proofread a translation and replaced dozens of references to ‚wellness’ with ‚health and fitness’ only to discover that ‚wellness’ had crept in like ‚cellulite’ [ugh!] and was now an part of the vocabulary of the ‚leisure industry’! So beware when trying to translate industry jargon, the client that disagrees with you might in fact be right! The following discussion between Kret and Szczurek illustrates the pitfalls to be avoided!

Kret. I once had a client who objected to my translation of Huta Szkła as glass foundry. He told me that it should have been glassworks.

Szczurek. Your client was right! A huta szkła is a glassworks and a huta by itself is a steelworks.

Kret. I fairly frequently translate them for what they are, generally as foundries. I claim that anything that involves the melting at high temperature of ores is generally a foundry.

Szczurek. A foundry is an odlewnia. Glass can be cast, but it isn’t cast very often. Melting, floating, blowing – typical glass processes are not foundry work.

Kret. What you just mention is is in fact a casting process it does not necessarily involve the creation of iron are indeed glass.

Szczurek. I think you have smelting and casting all mixed up. Casting is what goes on in a foundry.

Kret. One may melt glass, but first one has to have it.

Szczurek. Smelting iron or glass is not foundry work.

Kret. All following processes are subsidiary to the foundry, unless somebody has found a way of creating iron or glass without first turning the basic materials into a molten mass I have not yet heard of it.

Szczurek. The Steelworks of South Wales created iron and then steel, but they were not foundries. Processes like rolling, forging and casting are downstream of the smelting furnace and with the exception of rolling are not usually performed at the same location as the smelter.

Kret. Then I take it that they created steel out of cold suitably shaped preformed lumps.

Szczurek. Steel is made from cold lumps! The raw material is either pig iron which is fed to a basic oxygen furnace (similar to the Bessemer converter you might remember from your Chemistry lessons at school) or scrap steel which is fed to an electric arc furnace. Such a place is NOT a foundry. The temperature is nothing to do with whether it is a foundry or not.

Kret. The temperature has everything to do with it because it is crucial to convert iron ore with the use of other materials generally coal in blast furnaces in to so-called pig iron.

Szczurek. Yes, we seem to agree on how pig iron is made. But the blast furnace is part of a smelter not part of a foundry.

Kret. I and number of others were shown round a furnace complex in Sheffield a long time ago and was carefully explained that the foundry is crucial to the process and no amount of repair afterwards will correct or alleviate any mistake made at the foundry stage.

Szczurek. Well, I don’t disagree. If the foundry casts a square locomotive wheel, no amount of rework will make it round. The wheel is cast in a foundry, but that is a separate stage downstream of the actual production of the iron or steel.

Kret. A foundry may indeed melt existing metal in the instance of the creation of steel from iron hand it is an example of the repetitive use of the foundry process.

Szczurek. No, that’s wrong. Foundry work and steel making are separate operations and can be done in separate plants. Steel is not made in a foundry, but in a special furnace which is part of a steelworks. In a foundry the cold metal: iron, aluminium, brass is melted again and cast into precise shapes.

Kret. Possibly the not essentially. The foundry creates the metal as a liquid it goes through a little hole in the wall in to the casting shop and it is there that the wheel is formed

Szczurek. I agree with you so far!

Kret. A blast furnace is part of the equipment, indeed the principal equipment of a foundry. This dates from the times when all operations were performed under one roof as indeed they still are in some places in Germany. That was certainly the case in Krupps pre-war.

Szczurek. I have seen many foundries. The largest cast the beds of the huge diesel engines which powered the ships built in the Gdansk shipyard, the smallest made the iron castings for narrow gauge railway locomotives. None of them made their own iron, or brass or special alloy. None of them had a blast furnace! A blast furnace makes pig iron. It is the primary stage of the iron or steel production process. These days foundries use arc furnaces for melting the metal. The reduction of a metal from its ores and foundry work are two distinct processes. Foundries produce castings and yes there are even a few ‚glass foundries’ that cast glass. Foundries do not make the raw material.

Kret. Yet the very fact that you have said that you have visited so many foundries rather than steelworks or whatever works suggests the the native speaker of English uses the word foundry rather then than whatever works – my point is proved.

Szczurek. Not at all!  I did not write about the steelworks that I visited but the foundries. The foundry that cast the engine parts was parts of the Gdansk Shipyard, not the ‚Gdansk Foundry’. The small railway foundries were part of various ‚railway works’.

Kret. Unwittingly it does seem that you have conceded my point!

Szczurek. Look I’ll explain it to you in terms that a Polish peasant would understand. The field that grows the seed is like the iron ore quarry that contains the ore. Harvesting the wheat is like digging the ore out of the ground. Milling the seed to make flour is like reducing the ore to the basic metal in a smelter. Adding ingredients to the flour and baking bread is like foundry work. Yes, in times past the baker could have done his own milling, but you’d be hard put to it to find one that does so today.

Steelworks may have blast furnaces, rolling mills, forges and foundries under one roof, but usually the foundry work and forging is done close to where the final product is assembled. Fords of Dagenham and the erstwhile Gdansk Shipyard have / had their own foundries. Their castings are not / were not produced in the steelworks of South Wales or Nowa Huta.

So just as you would not describe a miller as a baker! You should not describe a steelworks (or glassworks) as a ‚foundry’.

Kret. It is generic terminology. Foundry is still better English that steelworks or glassworks. As a brewery is preferable to beer works.

Szczurek. Since forging is at the same level downstream of smelting as casting, you could on the same basis equally well argue that a steelworks should be called a ‚forgery’!


2 Responses to “Beware industry jagon”

  1. 1 Steve

    I strongly agree with the difficulties of client corrections. I am a Londoner with some Polish, but am quite able to translate from Polish to English using Kompas electronic translator (clearly glassworks). I did some translation, which was put to a Polish person who ‚knew English’ and I was given comments: none of them right. We then had a three way Polish author, myself and Polish English speaker co-operation to check the entire work: maybe ten hours or so. (It was for a friend and it is a lovely book, so I didn’t mind the idea.) However, the only errors turned out to be in the Polish original and long discussions about such things as whether the literal translation „beautifully painted pictures” or my version of „beautiful paintings” were better. Errors actually arose from this session because of trying to make the author happy and finish everything for her at the end of it: „beautifully picture”.

    Anyway, to me, Poland has Voivodeships (the Ministry of the Interior official spelling replacing Voivodships that I originally used) and Marshals. The only controversial element is my calling the Marshals ‚Regional Prime Ministers’, which I like and is objectively correct. I hate the word ‚Provinces’, although it is so commonly used that I would never correct it. However, I would suggest that it might be a good idea to add a single bracketed reference to Voivodeship early in the text if there might need to be some cross referencing to serious documentation.

    Translation is often a matter of personal preference, but I sympathise with you on ‚wellness’. Although I know that this is used, I would have had to have checked on the internet to see if it was appropriate for the text. English text provided by Polish translators can be very weird.

    • 2 szczurekikret

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I tend to be much tougher with my clients and don’t encourage extensive debate.

      I think we should return to the subject of provinces and Voivodships at a later date!



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