METM23 Chronicles: Ruth Simpson

Beautiful language: unmasking the world of cosmetics translation

Ruth Simpson took to the mic at the METM17 general assembly in Brescia to plead for more commercial content. The then MET Chair Anne Murray welcomed the idea and – politely and respectfully – told Ruth to bring it. And bringing it Ruth has been ever since, especially with her fascinating wine workshops.

At METM23, Ruth turned her attention to her other specialism: beauty. She began by charting her path from language consultant at a luxury cosmetics brand to niche translator, via a few chance encounters and a spot of am-dram.

Before diving into language matters, Ruth served us some industry insight, with data on sales, advertising spending and branding. After all, translation is a business, so there must be a viable market – and translators must be market insiders. For the non-specialists in the room, finding out where brands fit in the mass-market–luxury hierarchy was quite the eye-opener.

Ruth then moved on to terminology. Beauty, like fashion, craves the new and the now, and language changes in the blink of an exquisitely made-up eye. In one of the many interactive moments, few in the audience could define specialist terms like “strobing”, “cut crease” or “squareletto”, expressions which may now be passé – best ask Ruth.

Much of the terminology originates in English. Discussion in the room quickly turned to the challenges out-of-English translators face. Who is coining non-English terms? And how? Are they borrowing terms, using calques, creating neologisms? How do they keep up in such a fast-paced, English-dominated industry? The bones of a fascinating presentation are there. Fingers crossed someone picks up the mantle.

But how does Ruth herself stay up to speed? By knowing the market, reading voraciously, networking and always questioning the context. She gave a fascinating, context-blind example of AI and MT gone wrong. Somehow, a French guide to waxing your bikini line was translated into English as fabric-care instructions for swimming costumes. There’s clearly still a need for expert human translators.

In another example, which prompted a chorus of giggles, Ruth described her attempts to save a brand from a reputation-damaging slip-up. The client wanted an enticing description for a body cream but had their heart set on the lubricantesque “love cream”. Ruth used her business nous, industry knowledge and diplomacy skills to steer them in a more SFW direction …

Ending on a practical note, Ruth gave her tips for getting into beauty translation: where to make connections; where to find resources; how to give yourself a professional glow-up, if you will. This was an excellent introductory session that, I’m sure, left many hoping for a follow-up, if not a workshop.

Ruth is a polished performer: she’s the METM choir director and an amateur jazz musician. But even she confessed to feeling a little nervous in a large auditorium. You wouldn’t have known: her presentation was as flawless as you’d wish your base to be.

This METM23 presentation was chronicled by Helen Oclee-Brown.

Featured photo by METM23 photographer Leonardo Rizzato.

3 thoughts on “METM23 Chronicles: Ruth Simpson

  1. Thanks Helen for this glowing review! A talk on how to cope with out-of-English translations in the cosmetics field would be fabulous, and I’d encourage anyone with a glimmer of an idea to go right ahead!

  2. Bravo Ruth! Sad to have missed it but it was great to get the mini-version as your mentee a few years back now already. Good fun and you’re a great mentor! (P.s. I’m finally a MET member!)

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