Posted by: patenttranslator | April 11, 2013

There Is Really Nothing Fuzzy About the Logic Or the Concept of Fuzzy Matches

Fuzzy logic is a term that has been used for decades now to describe a branch of logic designed to allow degrees of imprecision in reasoning and knowledge, typified by terms such as `very’, `quite possibly’, and `unlikely’, to be represented in such a way that the information can be processed by computer.

It is a very useful method because it allows computers to make a decision when the information presented to them is not quite clear (i.e. not a simple choice between two alternatives). Most humans have the ability to make such decision quite easily, but since machines can only respond to a clear command, they have to be instructed what to do in case of uncertainty.

Fuzzy logic thus makes it possible to prevent or reduce occurrences of the status known as “freezing”, which is what happens when a computer does not know what to do.

The term “fuzzy matches” is much younger. I came across this term for the first time when a translation agency sent me a “Confidentiality Agreement” that specified the pitiful, fractional payments for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” about five years ago. Because I had no idea what “fuzzy” and “full matches” meant, I called the company. “Oh, it’s for people who use Trados or other CATs”, was the response. Since I did not then and do not  now use any computer memory tools, I was told not worry about it.

We are always told not to worry about the fuzziness of the one-way communication between the very important people who run everything and the rest of us who have to do the real work, such as the fuzziness of methods used to calculate statistical data.

For instance, unemployment statistics do not count as unemployed people who work part-time because there is no full-time work for them, or who no longer bother to contact the unemployment office because they have not been able to find employment for a long time, and inflation statistics do not include prices of food, medicine, and fuel (because they are “too volatile”!), etc. Actually, they are not volatile at all. Volatile means that they may frequently go up or down, but these price go over time basically only in one direction. Or have you noticed that the price of any of items such as milk, bread, meat, rice or potatoes at your store, or the price of gas at your gas pump, has gone down over the years? I have noticed the opposite.

The real reason why these prices are excluded from statistics is to prevent people from knowing what the real inflation numbers are.

But let’s get back to the interesting subject of fuzzy matches.

I received an e-mail this morning which said:

Dear Steve:

This is XYZ, a project manager at ABC Company, a US-based LSP.  I am currently putting a team together for our client. The project consists of translating a manual for [insert the name of the gizmo]. We have some Trados translation memory matching – there are 5,868 new words, 8,232 100% matches, 573 repetitions, and 2534 fuzzy matches.

I’m afraid I was quite rude in my response to this project manager, although not nearly as rude as the project manager was to me, without even realizing it, by assuming that my price per word is only a springboard to fabulous discounts that I would be glad to give to this agency (excuse me, I meant LSP) for the privilege of finally having some work.

Based on what I discovered mostly by reading comments on my blog and blogs of other translators, I am hardly the only translator who does not use Trados or any other computer memory tool. At least 40% of translators and probably more do not use these tools, because although they may be very suitable for example for translating repetitive updates of software or computer manuals, they would be mostly or completely useless in other translation fields, namely fields that require creativity, experience and good writing skills, while other translators will probably not acknowledge that they do use them even if they do … because they don’t want to be forced to give discounts.


 It so happens that a few days ago I translated two very similar long patents, each about 13 thousand words. One described a device or an apparatus to manufacture a product, while the other one described the method used with this apparatus to manufacture said product.

I don’t use computer memory tools because I don’t need them. As long as I remember what it is that I am translating, I can always find repetitive passages in my translation of the first patent quite easily, cut and paste them into my second translation, and then carefully proofread everything to make sure that I did not miss anything.

And I did give the client, not a translation agency, but a scientist working for the manufacturer, my standard discount of 10% because the cutting and pasting technique does save time. I have been giving discounts like this to my clients for years if not decades before the first computer memory tools appeared on the market.

But in this case it is up to me, not up to a translation agency, to decide whether I will in fact provide a discount, and how much of a discount it will be. Had I decided not to offer a discount, it would still be OK because the agreement between myself and my client is based on the actual number of words in my translation, not on a fuzzy concept of “full, partial, and fuzzy matches” that some translation agencies are trying to wield like a mighty sword beating down any hopes that translators might be able to make a decent living if they accept the Shylockian logic of this concept.

According to this logic, if you just spent half an hour researching on the Internet a very complicated term that may be crucial for your translation, you get paid whatever few cents you were supposed to get paid for that one word once you know beyond any doubt the author of the text did not make a mistake and that you indeed have the right term.

But you would get those few cents only for the first occurrence of this word.

After that, “Trados translation memory matching” would reduce your remuneration based on “5,868 new words, 8,232 100% matches, 573 repetitions, and 2534 fuzzy matches” to …. a fraction of what it would be based on normal human logic.

As I said in the introduction, fuzzy matches have nothing to do with fuzzy logic, these are two completely different things.

Instead, the logic of “fuzzy matches” is really the logic of getting something for nothing, a very old concept also known as stealing.


Note how protective of “fuzzy matches” are most of the translators in the Proz discussion group linked in the comments. They no longer seem to understand the concept of a world in which a translator is a well paid professional who is translating complicated texts for direct clients, and who would simply never agree to be controlled by CATs counting “fuzzy matches” or “full matches” to generate automatic discounts, even though these complicated text may have many repetitions in them.

To me, this is very similar to what is known as Stockholm syndrome.

Hostages under the influence of Stockholm syndrome also no longer understand the concept of not cooperating with their captors.


  1. Steve, have you ever go up to the website Wolfram Alpha? Go up there and try to find answers for all your possible questions. You will find something interesting about the ideas behind it.

    For some people, human languages can be just a matter of computation, using fuzzy logic. With some simple rules, you can reach reach the complexity of something like human languages. Well, the problem is to find those simple rules. Those people believe that the solution shall be in stochastics, as a mathetician, whom I met once on flight from Lima to LA, tried to explain and convince me in a way like Stephen Wolfram does at

    No more than one month ago, a client bought me a license for Trados. Let’s see what will the fuzzy matches reduce my income. I hope the impact sets in 2 decades later when I am on my way to my rebirth.


  2. He is so modest!

    The first words he says are:”I want to start with an idea. Actually, I think it is an idea that will emerge as the most important idea of the last 50 years. It’s the idea of computation.”

    A carpenter thinks that every problem can be solved with a hammer.

    A general thinks that every problem can be solved with a gun, sometime a lot of guns.

    And a mathematician knows that thinking and speaking can be expressed with (reduced to) a series of equations.


    • Well, he is modest. Stephen Wolfram is a somebody. His business or profession is helping technology companies solving their problems.

      Try the talk by his brother Conrad Wolfram here:

      Both of them are really good professionals, like us professional or career translators.

      Isaac Asimov described Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky. One has to be really good in one’s profession to be recognise by really good ones in the profession.

      So, we may fake a lot of languages, but we need some good guys to recognise us as good translators. You know, there are really really few good translators, as the agency owners used to say. (But I am glad that my clients take me for good enough for their purposes and that they don’t offer me peanuts.)


    • “As I said in the introduction, fuzzy matches have nothing to do with fuzzy logic, these are two completely different things. Instead, the logic of ‘fuzzy matches’ is really the logic of getting something for nothing, a very old concept also known as stealing.”

      I’d say, fuzzy logic is much much more profound than the logic of “fuzzy matches.” The latter can be easily dismissed as groundless. The former has to be explored further.

      For practical use, we shall analyse how fuzzy the matches are and at which rates they shall be paid. Granting a discount is somehow fuzzy as well. But it is at our will and that makes us feel good.

      The real problem with fuzzy matches does not lie in the fuzziness, but in the power balance of business partners.

      As Seith Godin says, beggars can’t be choosers. If one has to beg for jobs or has to streetwalk at translation portals, accepting fuzzy matches at some disadvantageous rates is almost inevitable.

      Once a translator starts to choose his clients with what he has in stock, he maintains the power balance and both parties will be happy doing business with each other.

      In fact, there are also fuzzy matches between translators and clients (either agencies or end clients). A translator gains some time and lose some other time. With the time, there sets in the power balance when the translator knows when to fire a client.


  3. I recently received cold-contact inquiries from two agencies: one included a table of fuzzies, wanting to know which percentage I apply. I replied that I don’t apply any since legal documents rarely have any of substance and what there are have to be typed anyway. I also explained that I use WordFast, not Trados (they hadn’t specified but that was obvious), and lastly, I surmised my rates would be higher than what they pay so I doubted we’d be a good match. The other agency wanted to know if I would do ‘some short’ translation tests, requested my cv, and said they will send the link for the tests if I am interested. I replied that I don’t mind taking a test but that perhaps we should discuss rates first, and I asked what their best rate is for texts like the test they use. I don’t expect to hear from either of them.


  4. @Steven: Right on the money, as usual.
    @Elizabeth: From one Wordfast user to another, good for you! I only use it for my internal gratification, as it were :), the text segmentation feature helps me tremendously in not jumping lines or even paragraphs, and it increases my productivity. But I have never, ever delivered nor accepted a TM. How could I grant discounts for fuzzy matches when sometimes, from one translation to the next, I don’t even agree with my own 100% matches! I have over the years stumbled over a few cases such as you mentioned, and reacted in the same way. Moreover, and after a couple of disagreeable experiences, I have promised myself not to ever again do a “test” translation free of charge.


  5. […] Fuzzy logic is a term that has been used for decades now to describe a branch of logic designed to allow degrees of imprecision in reasoning and knowledge…  […]


  6. @Elisabeth @ Nelida

    The best way to subjugate people is to let them subjugate themselves, through free tests, fuzzy matches, incredibly overreaching “confidentiality agreements” and other dehumanizing tools so popular among certain agency operators.


    • Steve, as I used to say, it is a matter of power balance.

      It is not always the bad, bad agencies against the good, good translators.

      Mutual respect means mutual and the respect has to be earned by each of both parties.

      Good ones find their good business partners while not so good ones find their not so good business partners. And the bad, bad ones crash definitely into their bad, bad business partners. As the Chinese say, a palm produces no clap (一個巴掌打不響). There are always two palms slapping each other.

      You operate an agency, too. I know that you won’t apply such dehumanizing tools on translation colleagues of your choice. The same happens to me, too. I function from time to time as an external PM for my agency clients and I don’t do nasty things to those translation colleagues who work with me on such projects that I need support in different langages.

      Fuzzy matches do not have anything to do with fuzzy logic, but they do provide some ease during the translation process. They have their values that vary with individual perceptions. I must know their values, because I have been translating manuals and newsletters for quite a long while.

      The real problem in translation business lies in the power balance, i.e., the asymetrie of information flow. However, you must know the second law of thermodynamics. You can explain with it the reason why some businesses flourishes for a while and declines in another while. Thank God, that our translation business is not an isolated system. There are always factors from outside to decrease the entropy, so that the business goes on and on with or without an individual translator.

      The most important for a translator in business is to find his/her best clients, with whom he/she can maintain the power balance. It’s like a marriage. You are not always happy in it, but it’s kind of convenient or you just get divorced. People talk about “successful translators.” I’d rather be a happy translator and don’t care if I am regarded as a successful translator.

      I’ve found some clients, with whom I’ve been keeping the power balance. I keep good relations even to those ones who got fired. I cannot keep all clients of all levels of rates and degrees of mutual respect, anyway. Only the ones with the best power balance stay. And I am happy with the result of the application of my selection criteria since 2007. In the past 5 years, it becomes easier and easier for me to make a decision on accepting or declining an offer with or without discounts on fuzzy matches.

      It isn’t the money that makes a translator successful. Bills must be paid, for sure. But it is often the work relation, the power balance, that makes a translator happy.


  7. 1.

    I don’t really operate an agency. At least it was never my intention.

    I just never say no to a customer.

    If a customer wants me to translate something that I can’t translate myself, I find the person or put together a team of people who can do it provided that there is enough profit in it for all of us. And as I have several customers who have been sending me these kinds of projects for years now, to some translators I am indeed a kind of an agency.

    But that is, I think, quite different from how most agencies operate.

    OTOH, it is quite likely that eventually I will be doing more translating through other people than by myself. At this point about 30% of my income is from work done by other other people, 70% from my own work.


    “As the Chinese say, a palm produces no clap (一個巴掌打不響). There are always two palms slapping each other.”

    I wonder whether this Chinese saying is in any way related to the famous Koan (by Hakuin):

    “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”


    • 1. Many people started an agency as a translator. It would be a pity to let go an opportunity of making some money from the work done by someone else. It is not a shame at all. Yet, there are people who would try to make you ashamed of doing a business this way. I never mind those people. I know the necessity of the existence of agencies, especially those run by translation colleagues. And I accept jobs from translation colleagues from time to time. Surely, they are translation colleagues of my choice.

      2. You make me laugh. That Koan is not easy for people without 慧根. Well, this term is almost impossible to translate. Will you try it?

      You know what 慧 as in the expression 智慧 (wisdom) is and what 根 is. Buddhists used to describe people who are likely to be enlightened as having 慧根. People who have difficulty reaching the enlightenment are usually described as having no 慧根.

      However, Buddha was merciful. He pointed out that there are tens of thousands ways to reach the enlightenment. He talked about this in a way like what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7.


  8. “He pointed out that there are tens of thousands ways to reach the enlightenment.”


    Wein, Weib, und Gesang, which translates into English as sex, drugs, and rock & roll.


    • Great that you find your Buddha nature that way!

      There’s an entry in Wikipedia about the one clapping hand quoting Victor Hori’s comment to the kōan: “…in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan… When one realizes (“makes real”) this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.”

      Doesn’t it sound pretty much the same as the permanent query into knowing oneself?

      Believe me, Steve, fuzzy matches are not of fuzzy logic, but they are not always getting something for nothing. One of my regular clients pays 25% of my rate for repetitions or 100% matches, 75% for 95% and above matches. Everything less than 95% matches is paid with 100% of my rate. I’d say, it’s more than fair when you are translating or updating manuals.


    • Re sex, drugs, and rock & roll!
      Here’s my very favourite exponent.
      No longer with us, alas :(.
      Ian Dury and the Blockheads!


  9. Shouldn’t “drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll” be the arbitrating xl8tion? Balancing between the familiar and the alien, the target and the source (as T.S. Eliot wrote 😉

    Seriously, a good CAT (MMQ or DV or whatever) can be crucial to certain kinds of workflow (think of the litigation document that gets updated 20 times as it was translated back and forth between lawyer teams on 2 continents 5 times over – (and imagine doing that without tech.))

    The pricing scheme can be an issue. I tend to gauge by sight: “updating this 12000 word document’ll take you the equivalent of about 7k of straightforward translating work” – my translators usually agree. Recently, for fall-back, I also performed a statistical ‘fuzzy’ analysis using CAT analysis tools against TM and a graduated scale for fuzzy matches. The difference between my sight estimate and calculating by the book (albeit with a generous scale including paid 100% matches) was about 200 words (on a 10k document). Either way, my translator agreed that it had been 1.5 days work, not 2 (as the raw numbers suggested) and that I was being fair (to him and to my client).

    In short – I require my translators to use tech, and then offer to pay them fairly for the work they’ve done. The crudeness of the algorithm always takes second place to the estimate of a man skilled in the art. It is this mysterious “word”, with its standard “price” that I’ve never been able to find….

    So I have developed a ‘carpenter’s eye’: show me the job, and I will tell you the price and effort involved. And like any carpenter, I prefer to have more tools at my disposal than just a hammer…

    And yes, I could do it all tool-less (hey, I can simterp with the best of them and just use brain, lungs and voicebox), but I’d be stupid and cheating my clients if I didn’t to the best of my ability deploy the tech that’s out there – including fuzzy match algorithms…, which can be lifesavers in updating work.

    I love yr blog, Steve – and yes, the industry is filled with crooks and incompetents…. but blaming the tool is often the mark of a bad carpenter…

    I estimate you to be a ‘person skilled in the art’ – do not blame the tools!


  10. @trialand3error and Wenjer

    I don’t hate tools.

    There is nothing wrong with using a computer memory tool or machine translation if it works for you.

    But I believe that translators who allow modern translation operators to use these tools to determine how much they will be paid for their work THEMSELVES BECOME TOOLS in the hands of ruthless operators who are using clever software combined with extremely shortsighted (make that really stupid) translators to increase their own profits by lowering the compensation for translators.

    If a discount is warranted, it is up to me, not up to some software package, whether I will give you a discount and how much it will be.


  11. Really stupid/shortsighted translators are tools by definition. Let them either starve or learn.


  12. True.

    But learning is preferable (so that they don’t bring the rates down for all of us).


  13. Learning is more likely to bring down the rates than starving (supply/demand) 😉


  14. OK.

    Let them drop dead (if that is possible for zombie translators).


  15. No, no.

    I don’t think anyone could bring down the rates of those elite translators, unless they got scared by zombies.


  16. Relax, dude 😉 – “Translation” is still a very broad marketplace. There is place for zombies… and there is place for ‘persons skilled in the art’ (and valid reasons for both to exist). Zombies might be a little more worried about MT though… 😉


  17. That was @steve, not @Wenjer (for thread coherence ;-))


  18. @Wenjer – yes, but it’s still far from rocket science… Non-zombies with a brain might creep in (I know I did)…


    • Does anyone take translation for rocket science?

      Non-zombies can as well easily fall victims of Translator’s Dementia (TD), which symtoms were described by Steve some time ago.

      However, zombies have their place, as you said. So long the ones who keep their brain intact, capable of resisting TD, they don’t need to drop their rates.

      Valerij Tomarenko talked about a possibility: Go forth and diversify! This might be a way to survive for some translators.

      Using foreign TM and fuzzy matches is kind of diversification. If the cleints don’t mind it, the translation will go from TM to MT. Zombies die first, anyway. And I don’t think translators like Valerij Tomarenko, Chris Durban, Kevin Hendzel and many others would go diversifying easily.

      I believe that there are more human translators earning decent money than walking like zombies in cyber streets. But translators are easily afflicted by TD, especially those ones who stay at wrong places where they believe that they can find more jobs and where they create more pressure against each other.

      Anyway, it won’t be my problem, because I am getting old and will disappear from the scene probably soon like some good guys.


  19. ohfckit

    too inebriated to complete this discussion satisfactorily
    – as a final tip: don’t sell words, sell value….

    ohfkit…too inebriated to coclude thid dicussion proprly


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  21. Question: Are Zombie Translators Self Aware? (Do they know they’re zombies)?


    • No, Jeremy, unfortunately, just like regular zombies, zombie translators are unaware of this sad situation.

      I have said so in one of my posts about zombie translators, I don’t remember which one now.

      You must have missed it.




  23. Thank you! A concise and effective explanation regarded fuzzy match. It would be great if some use case scenarios are included.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. […] from the word count translated words that translators are not paid for, as I write for instance in There Is Really Nothing Fuzzy About the Logic Or the Concept of Fuzzy Matches or in Is Trados Co-Responsible for the Falling Rates in the […]


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