Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


someone who changes written or spoken words into another language, especially as their job

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun translator comes from French and Latin words meaning ‘person who translates’. It was first used in the 14th century.


Tomorrow is International Translation Day, but since we looked at ‘translation’ last year, this year it’s the turn of the person who does the translation, the translator. Translators generally deal with the written word while interpreters translate speech, although translator is often used as the overall term for anyone who translates speech or writing from one language into another. Translators, even more than their interpreting colleagues, are often invisible and largely ignored, although a few have become renowned outside the circle of their peers. The second meaning in the Macmillan Dictionary entry for translator is ‘a piece of equipment or a computer program that changes one language into another’. This process is known as machine translation.


Translation is at best an echo.
(George Borrow)

Translator traitor.
(Italian saying)

Related words

interpreter, multilingualism, polyglot, translatologist

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • As a professional translator myself I find your choice of quotes rather depressing and much prefer one of the following:
    “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” Günter Grass
    “Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” Anthony Burgess
    “Translation is another name for the human condition.” David Bellos
    “Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.” George Steiner
    “Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature.” José Saramago
    “Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.” Paul Auster
    Happy International Translation Day!

  • Thanks Catherine, I’m a translator too and the quotes were not in any way intended to disparage the profession or its practitioners! There’s a lot of time pressure writing the blog, which means I don’t always have time to hunt around for good quotes. And the Italian one is famous, of course. Your quotes are lovely and I’m glad you’ve sent them. I particularly like the Auster one. I was going to mention in the post that some translators are credited with improving on the originals, but see above on time pressure. Thanks again for taking the time to add these (and for reading the post). Liz

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