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A-Z of Translation – the letter X:

It took a bit of ingenuity to find an entry for X:


XL – Translators will often encounter abbreviations of one kind or another. In the case of sizes and units of measurement, conversion to the sizes/units commonly used in the target language will often be required (ranging from converting yards to metres to trickier issues like switching from fuel consumption in miles per gallon to the number of litres consumed per 100 kilometres).

Some abbreviations may be harder to crack, particularly those which are specific to a certain sector or even to an individual organisation. Checking with the client may be the only way to establish the meaning. And if there is no equivalent in the target language, it might be necessary to write out the abbreviation, which becomes rather clumsy if it occurs multiple times in the source text (or you have to invent a new abbreviation in the target language, which is not ideal).

We won’t consider text speak here, but it’s probably making many translators’ lives more difficult. Things like “CU 2morrow” and “ROFL” are just the tip of a large and growing iceberg.

Abbreviations can thus involve a surprising amount of effort. They also provide further proof that paying for translation by the number of words or characters is only really a least worst approach – it could take an hour of research to get to the bottom of a tricky abbreviation, rather than the couple of seconds needed to translate a common word.

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