Rule 700

Don’t hang a rough appointment around the neck of your struggling team like a scarlet letter.

There are any number of reasons they are having a hard day. Some are obvious, others are not.

Step up for them today.

Because someday it will be your turn.

Note From Uncle Dale: Checking The Box.

Hi one and all. Uncle Dale once again busily typing with my thumbs.

Interpreter forums on social media (lightning and thunder).


They are the greatest blessing and most terrible curse to the interpreting community.

They are a fantastic way to “crowd source” for information and to get a little guidance.

They are also a good way to find out you are not alone in your frustrations or concerns or joys or confusion.

These forums allow interpreters to access hundreds of years of collective experience, a wellspring of knowledge unparalleled in history, making the library at Alexandria look like the “local attractions” pamphlet display in the lobby of a hotel.

Unfortunately, such forums have downsides as well.

They are fertile with confirmation bias. Bring the most outlandish idea to the circus and you can always find people who believe and support it.

These forums devolve very quickly into text book examples of “group think,” where one idea is held as sacred and unquestionable and any attempt to discuss it is treated as heresy to the point where tradition is defended for its own sake without regard to context or pragmatism.

Left unchecked these forums can be powder kegs for racism, sexism and almost any other “ism” you like.

I’m not trying to be alarmist or even speaking against Interpreters on social media. I’m just asking us all to be careful.

In the end I believe the good interpreter forums do vastly outweighs the danger, so long as you recognize that venturing in to these forums you are constantly sailing between Scilla and Charybdis.

If Uncle Dale can give one bit of advice about these forums it’s this:

There are no absolutes.

Beware the post or response that seeks a yes or no answer that applies to all situations at all times, because in interpreting almost every question is an open question.

That is tough for many of us because we came there looking for “an answer” not a discussion.

This starts a dangerous journey. Many read a question posted on one of these sites and think they know “the answer.” What they actually know is what they think they would or would not do in factually exactly the same situation.

But we never will be in factually the exact same situation. Ever.

Because although we may have been in similar situations and may well be in similar situations again, we have NEVER been in the exact same situation as the interpreter who posted the question, because we work in a world of humans and every human interaction is unique (tangent alert! Every situation is unique. It is NEVER “very unique.”

Unique means “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.

Unique is an absolute, not a a gradient. It either is or it is not. Something can not be “kind of unique” or “somewhat unique.”

It is or it is not.

That is actually important to our discussion).

Over the last couple of days I have either observed or been involved in discussions on a couple of different forums where a question is asked and the responses devolved into “if you don’t believe exactly as I do you are wrong.”

Nope I’m not. I just have a different perspective.

Now, let me set out this caveat-absolutes can exist in the world of interpreting, but they are rare! So very very rare.

They are rare because each interpreting situation is unique. That is an absolute.

Elements of one situation may have striking similarities to another situation, but no two situations are ever exactly the same.

No matter how detailed a post requesting feedback on what an interpreter should or should not do in any situation it can never paint a complete picture. There may be one detail, so insignificant in the mind of the interpreter posting question that it would never occur to them to include it, that would change my perspective and therefore my answer to the query.

This is the biggest danger posed by these social media discussions. We make sweeping pronouncements based on very little information.

The person making the post wants an answer to a question that the post only somewhat defines.

A specific answer.

A direct and specific answer.

A direct, specific and universally applicable answer.

Truth? There isn’t one. Even if the question is clearly defined there is rarely one single shining correct answer.

This is because in the world of humans interacting with other humans only correct answer to any question involving making decisions is, “it depends.”

That is infuriating, I know.


none-the-less it is true.

We want answers that allow us to check a box:

__ yes __ no

__ right __ wrong

__ do __ do not

We will not get these answers. That’s not how interpreting works.

One cannot have “check box absolute” answers for questions about a job constructed entirely of variables.

There is not a “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” answer to most interpreting related questions-only a generally or a generally not, because every situation is unique.

I have seen fantastic discussions where Interpreters explain what they have done is similar situations and why they chose to do it, and others propose a different perspective and why they would choose a different path and both are recognized as valid.

I have also seen these discussions devolve into Interpreters calling each other names, or calling each other to repentance for questioning or proposing a different perspective from their own.

I have seen the CPC wielded as a sword or a club to pummel those who disagree.

Perhaps the worst thing I have seen is discussions collapsing into racism and sexism.

This is not the norm, of course, but it happens often enough to raise concern. We cannot tolerate racism and sexism, but that is a different Note.

The CPC is by its own definition a means of expressing guiding principles. It is not yes or no or check box answers to any questions.

There are as many different interpretations of the CPC as there are situations where interpreting occurs.

Moreover, many Interpreters add their own unwritten or unspoken rules on top of the CPC. This is fine but you cannot enforce your personal rules on other Interpreters.

We have to remember that the job of an interpreter is to accurately and effectively interpret from Deaf Sign Language to Spoken Hearing and Spoken Hearing to Deaf Sign Language using any specialized vocabulary. Anything beyond that is an ethical or other consideration attached to the job, but not the job itself.

The CPC guides professionalism in doing the job described above in the most general sense but cannot anticipate all situations and actually says Interpreters are supposed to apply the CPC using their best judgement (look it up. No I’m not going to tell you where it says it. Read the CPC).

There are rare occasions where an interpreter on one of these forums may need to be corrected for something that is obviously counter to the CPC. The problem is it is not a rare occasion that it happens.

We as Interpreters need to learn the difference between “wrong” and “different than I would do.”

Because those two concepts are very, very different.

We are all in this together. Let’s take time to learn from each other and spend less time worrying about our way being the right way.

Rule 698

If I ever start to complain about being too busy and having to run from appointment to appointment, I remind myself that the alternative is bored and broke.

Random Thoughts From Aunt SuperTam: If You Are Asked To Interpret “A Christmas Carol” Last Minute!

Aunt SuperTam, who doesn’t sign, offers this advice…

How hard could it be?

Here, let me help. It just goes:

Grumpy Scrooge

Marley in Chains




Redemption with a big turkey

God bless us everyone!

Jazz hands.

There. That should do it.

They can Venmo me the payment.

Rule 697

If the night shift at the Emergency Room knows you by name you are either a hypochondriac, a drug addict or an interpreter.

Note from Uncle Dale: The Main Idea Is Not The Point.

See how quickly you can find the Main Idea of this Note. Not the Point of the Note, the Main Idea.

Here’s the thing, about this time each semester I start reviewing for finals with my classes. My worst fear each time is that I will ask a review question and be met with nothing but blank stares.

This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

Truth be told, I prefer the the blank stares to the alternative, namely, more than half of my students tumbling headlong into the abyss when they try to answer the question on the final.

I have a Rule (no pun intended) about such things. If one or two students fall flat on their faces when attempting to answer a question that is there own damn problem. Pay attention in class. Take better notes next time.

If, however, IF more than a handful of students stumble off into the brambles when attempting to answer a question on the final, I need to take a moment to review how I phrased the question; did I write it in a way that is somehow unclear or misleading?

And IF half or more of the students give an answer that is, lets describe it as “untethered” from the lesson or off the topic, well, that’s on me (though it can be fun, in my class on applied medical interpreting the students are to watch videos of doctors explaining, for example, how the heart develops or what the kidney does-which is freakishly interesting by the way- or how the lung inflates. I always ask a question on some fascinating point near the end of the video to make sure they have watched the whole thing.

At midterm I asked “how is a buffalo’s chest cavity different from a human?” The answer is human lungs are housed in two separate vacuum sealed cavities in the chest, but a Buffalo’s lungs are both are contained in the same undivided space-so if you shoot an arrow into its chest it dies. One of my students answered “the Buffalo had a larger heart than a human.”


Nothing we had ever discussed…

But true.

So I had to give her full credit for the answer, and change the question for next time. That wording was on me).

What was I saying? Oh yeah!

If more than half of the students miss a question then I was somehow less than effective in my presentation of that principle in class. I have to take the hit on that one, not my students. I toss the question.

What’s my point? Grin.

This week I got the blank stares on a concept I mentioned during the review for the final.

I remember teaching this principle. It was way back at the beginning of the semester. I remember teaching it well in fact. However, I must acknowledge that blank stares are like hips; traditionally truthful.

I asked my students to identify the Main Idea of a text, and they gave me The Point. They all gave me The Point.

The Main Idea and the Point are two very different things.

Never mistake The Main Idea for The Point.

As an interpreter The Main Idea is very useful and The Point is, well, the Point. You have to get there but it will not help your journey.

Don’t get me wrong, The Point is tremendously important to the story, it’s just not all that useful to the process of interpreting the story.

Why is The Main Idea so vital to the process? The Main Idea is the glue that holds the whole story together for an interpreter. It’s a path the interpreter can follow in order not to get lost in the ambiguity of signs with multiple possible interpretations.

The Main Idea can usually be determined very early in the process. Pay attention to key words or phrases that the presenter repeats.

The Main Idea can usually be stated in a genre or grouping, usually requiring only a word or two but becoming more defined as the interpretation progresses.

“It’s a school story, it’s a dorm school story, it’s a dorm school practical joke story…”

“It’s a sales pitch, it’s a software sales pitch, it’s a database indexing software sales pitch…”

The Main Idea becomes your first line of back-checking your interpretation. If you run into an idea that has two possible meanings, one that lives under The Main Idea and one that does not, you have a clear path to follow.

I hear some of you out there yelling, “Wait! What if the speaker wanders out from under The Main Idea? What if the speaker goes on some kind of tangent?”

Oh. If only the world were a perfect place, yet it is not. Sure that happens. But the chances that The Main Idea will steer you in the right direction are greater than the chances the speaker is off on a lark.

Finding The Main Idea helps in myriad ways both working from spoken English to ASL and ASL to spoken English.

It gives you guidance when trying to figure out what the Client is fingerspelling by limiting the possibilities to those that make sense under The Main Idea.

The Main Idea helps you figure out if that thing the speaker keeps saying is the word they mean or jargon with a completely different meaning.


What’s The Point?

The Point is the point.

The Point usually comes at the end. It’s the moral or the story.

The Point says, “and so you should buy this software program from my company…”

Sometimes. Only sometimes. The Point never shows up at all.

But this time is did.

Find The Main Idea and it will get you to The Point.