Posted by: patenttranslator | April 16, 2013

Are There Examples of “Fuzzy and Full Matches” in Other Professions?

The concept of work and compensation for the product of this work has evolved over time.

Only two short centuries ago, most people did not have a job that they would have to commute to in order to make money. That is a relatively recent invention. Not so long ago, when most people were working as farmers, people called serfs had to work for free a certain part of the year for their feudal lords, while the rest of the year they were allowed to work for themselves so that they would not die of hunger.

The trading of work measured in working hours for money was gradually invented because industrial revolution needed urgently new workers, which turned former serfs into laborers to be exploited, perhaps slightly less ruthlessly, by people with the means to build a factory and to pay for the labor of workers providing the necessary work.

This model, later further perfected to include a punch clock with time cards, has been in place for so long now that most people assume that the traditional type of 9-to-5 employment is something that is natural and desirable.

But this natural and desirable model of employment has very deep cracks in it now, only about two short centuries after it has been invented. The 9-to-5 employment model would still be quite desirable if it were the same model that existed in this and other countries only a few decades ago.

But it is not the same model, not any more. Although as an entry level employee, I had a relatively low salary 30 years ago, the salary was automatically increased every year and the job came with a number of substantial benefits, including medical, dental, and vision benefits, life insurance, vacation, sick days, and a pension as a reward for loyalty. Most of these benefits have been eliminated now for most employees with the exception of top level managers whose perks are now much better than 30 years ago.


The concept of a craftsman, a person who has a specialized trade, predates the concept of a 9-to-5 job. A few centuries ago, when butchers were cutting meat, bakers were baking bread and candlestick makers were making candlesticks, nobody cared about how many hours they spent on the job. They were simply paid for the products that they were creating – if they could sell them.

Which is exactly how most freelance workers are being paid now. Website designers may base their cost on the number of hours they will need to create a website, and freelance translators may charge for their translations based on the number of words or pages to be translated, but the number of words or pages is only used as a rather simplistic quantifier, as convenient as the number of loaves of bread or candlesticks.

But these days it seems that only some translators can be considered craftsmen. Those who agree to discounts that they must give for what is called in the industry “full and fuzzy matches” agree to have the worst of both worlds: on the one hand, they are being paid on a piecemeal basis, namely based on the number of words, which means that in theory it does not matter how much time they would need to translate for example 500 words.

But at the same time, if the text contains similar or identical passages, the time factor is then used to reduce the translator’s earning potential by some translation agencies. If it is easier for you, translator, to translate 500 words per a certain number of minutes or hours, then you shall be paid less for those words, and the basic, non-discounted per-word rate will be applicable only to the parts of the translation that are more difficult to translate because they are completely new and thus take significantly longer than the easier passages.


I can’t think of a single example of another profession that would agree to such a rule, with the possible exception of serfs in good old feudalism.

I have been with my tax accountant for 26 years. Every year I send him the same information and he probably spends about 20 minutes, quite possibly less than that, to prepare my taxes.

Then he sends me a bill for several hundred dollars, which means that he probably makes about a thousand dollars an hour on clients like me. But as long as he does not charge too much, why should I care how much he makes by the hour? If he can do it faster than anybody else without making a single mistake, good for him, and good for me.

If you compared my tax returns over the years, something like 90% of the information that I send to my accountant would quite justifiably qualify as “fuzzy and full matches”. After all, the same fields are filled in on a computer screen every year, and the information I supply to my accountant is very similar every year, the differences are mostly in the numbers because some years are good and some not so good.

But I don’t pay my accountant based on the number of minutes spent on my tax return or the number of words produced. I pay him because I myself don’t want to keep track of all the changes in the tax code, which is hundreds of thousands pages thick and getting thicker every year. I pay him for his expertise, which is something that cannot be easily quantified in terms of minutes or words.

If I asked him for a discount based on the full and fuzzy matches contained in the highly repetitive information that he is processing for me, he would think I’m crazy. And rightly so.

But it is not crazy when some translation agencies demand deep discounts for what is called by some operators in the industry full and fuzzy matches from translators.

The inescapable conclusion is that unlike accountants, translators are simply not professionals. They are basically low level data entry operators who don’t really have any expertise.

So get over it already you greedy translators! Fuzzy and full matches are here to stay!

Be glad that you have any work at all, and that you can still eke out a living after the steep discounts …. before you are completely replaced by software and machine translation.


  1. I am on various Facebook translator groups and translators are complaining about the lack of respect they are being treated with and about being payed late if not at all. Yesterday, a savvy experienced translator posted about being approached by a very nice agency that payed only a fraction of the price she was asking for recurrent ”breezy light editing” (of which there is no guarantee of consistency in my opinion). The agency very nicely offered to go up a tiny bit (they may have already accounted for that into the intonation) and since this was a foreign agency, the translator was posting to find out how much cheaper the cost of living was in the agency’s country. This translator’s post made no sense to me.
    A while ago, I remember checking a similar frugal agency’s record on Proz and noticed translators saying how prompt they were on paying (isn’t paying promptly the norm everywhere?) but how nice they were to work for. I realized that if you were smart and exhibited kindness and prompt payments you could probably get seasoned university-trained translators to work very cheaply for you and make you easily breezily rich.

    Paranoid in Canada


  2. I did not voice my opinion on the thread because I realized that it was useless. I had written earlier that translators should unite into a professional guild to protect their interest and the industry but met a negative response from the site owner because it would be expensive. This person already subscribe to various translators’ associations that I am sure are not free. Sure, hosting a translation discussion group got him work offers but how well can one fare well in the medium .and long term perspective when one is forever competing against other translators? Yet he too complains bitterly about cheap rates lack of respect not realising that his attitude is part of the problem.
    I also said that machine translation would eventually wean out translators, all the more if they were not united, and a translator responded that machine translation would not replace translators in this century. This, in my opinion, shows a profound misconception of how quickly progress are being made right this minute!
    I have a university degree in translation and I can’t grasp how other translators think. In a capitalist system, if you do not unite, you are not a professional, you become a commodity. Plumbers, electricians and many more have professional guilds that both protect the quality of their work and their trade but translators are against it. Meanwhile,the demand for translation is growing world-wide but the the profits do not trickle down to the translators themselves.
    That is why I don’t get translators and I think that translation agencies owners will continue to do well until the bottom falls out, with all the lovely translators with their learned heads profoundly wedged into the sand holes.

    Paranoid in Canada


    • Translators will never unite and create an organization protecting their interests.

      They already have organizations such as translators associations, but those organization protect mostly the interests of agencies.

      It is up to each of us to protect ourselves from greedy operators.


  3. The translation industry is a free-for-all: there are too many translators and translation agencies all pushing their wares, it is impossible to create standards of quality for services provided in order to make reliable comparisons and therefore a coherent, transparent pricing structure, clients are on the whole not knowledgeable enough to make educated choices, shark technology firms are marketing and imposing costly software with continual updates… it’s a jungle. Something has to give. What will it be?


    • I think that two classes of translators are slowly emerging as a result of new technology (MT and CATs): those who meekly accept every new requirement aimed at cutting their compensation and forcing translators to wait 2 months or longer to get paid, and those those who refuse these conditions and only work for direct clients or agencies that do not use such questionable practices.


  4. I enjoyed reading you post. Although I am well aware of the situation in the translation industry, actively engage in the efforts of translation associations to raise prices, etc. I do firmly believe that many translators themselves are to blame for the vicious circles they find themselves in. Many translation agencies might like to think they have the upper hand and they’ll happily act like that if you let them and the more you let them, the worse the situation gets. When I am contacted by an agency, I set the rules: my prices, no discounts for matches of any kind. Of course, I don’t end up working for many of them but then I wasn’t looking for them and I didn’t need them in the first place – they contacted me. And of course they will always find someone else. It’s what bullies do (not that it can really be called bullying when there are so many gulliable translators out there). But anyway, what I wanted to say is that instead of complaining about the competition and translation agency practices, I spend any downtime carving out my niche (investing in continuing professional development) and seeking out direct clients who appreciate my work, who are more than happy to pay my high rates and who have never heard of the concept of a”fuzzy match”. My clients aren’t looking to increase their margin, they are looking to invest in a reliable service offered by someone confident in their skills and their specialist areas. And there are plenty of clients like that out there.

    I love this blog for making a huge effort to get through to translators, to make them value themselves and their skills.


  5. I think that many translators are doing what you just described. I am certainly one of them, and I can confirm that over time, it works.

    I also think that two classes of translators are created in this process: those who accept having their wings cut off by shady operators, and those who don’t, see my response to Paranoid Diane in Canada.

    There is no reason to accept these new conditions being imposed on translators now. The world is full of customers, we just have to find them.

    And if we do accept these conditions, we have only ourselves to blame for our situation.


  6. Even if you are smart and strong enough to fend off all the shady operators, Pattenttranslator, you are still competing against those who have their wings clipped, and you will be forever.
    Also, where did you hear ”That translators will never unite and create an organisation protecting their interest” and those of the translation field and why do you believe it with religious fervour?

    Call me Just Willing to Challenge a Few Assertions in Canada


  7. Oh, well, I don’t know how to respond to you, other than by saying that if you want people to talk to you, you should try to be a little bit more polite and coherent.


  8. Fuzzy matches – a parable…

    1 – I go to the tailor… and I ask him to make be a fully bespoke, made-to-measure, suit from whole cloth…

    2 – A year later, I return to the tailor with my bespoke suit, and ask him to make some adjustments (to accommodate my growing beer belly)

    3 – Later, when less in cash (drunk it all, old suit pawned by now) I go to the tailor with an off-the-peg suit I got in a sale on the high street, and ask if he can trim the sides and take in bits here and there. to improve the fit.. etc.

    Each suit has the same dimensions (it covers my body – more or less) and is made of the same materials…

    Should orders 1,2 and 3 all have the same price?

    Should the tailor refuse order 3?
    Should the tailor refuse order 2?
    Should, when accepting order 1, the tailor outsource all the gruntwork such as the cutting of the cloth and the making of the basic seams to a Vietnamese sweatshop he contacted over Etsy? Or use a 3D-printer or whatever?

    Is it our business to tell the tailor which orders to refuse or accept?

    (is the tailor rich, is the tailor poor?)

    (is the suit any good?)

    Discuss….. 😉


  9. No, of course not.

    That would be unfair to you if you had to pay the same price for what to my untrained eye appears to be much less work.

    So instead of asking him how much he would charge for something like that and let him set his own price which you would be free to accept or reject, you should tell your tailor that you have software that calculates exactly how much you will pay him based on the full and fuzzy matches of the old and new dimensions of your suit and your unfortunate beer belly.

    I’m sure he would agree with you and your software and gladly accept the result of your calculations.


  10. Dismissing people that do not agree with you by insulting their character is not a logical nor ethical argumentation.
    Here, I will leave leave you with the privilege of erasing my comments and me from your list.


  11. The software just gives analysis. The values to be given to that analysis come through negotiation. I’ve seen a ‘Crados’ (to use a Mox term) analysis _overvalue_ a job by 175%.

    The problem is, the pricing system is b0rked at the root. If you are willing to accept that the word “it” is (translation value-wise) completely equivalent to the word “equity”, you have already consented to set yourself up for fuzzy discounts.

    The alleged client who deleted all the “the’s” “ands” and “it’s” from his text to lower the wordcount (in a language combo where you can get away with that – (though these things are easily MT-able in more complex combos)) is perhaps not as stupid as he sounds. Just trying to game/make sense of the absurdity of a pay-per-word (what?) pricing scheme….

    If you only sell your clients words, you will never sell your clients anything more than words. Thus you are a data monkey switching the word in the one language for the word in the other language.

    Have a peanut….

    Success in translation is not about educating the customer. It’s about learning about the customer’s business and about where you can add value with your linguistic (and other) skills.

    But you know this (but have occasional DT, perhaps?)


  12. I think the problem is that since I don’t use Trados, I don’t really understand what you are saying, nor can I really ascertain whether what you are saying is true.

    But the thing is, none of my direct clients (mostly patent law firms) ever asked me about Trados or Crados or anything like that.

    They probably don’t know what it is, and if they did, I think that they would probably prefer if I did not use it, because what they need is a real translation done by a human translator rather that software output that is ultimately checked by a translator.

    So I don’t need to worry about CATs, except maybe to write what I think about them once in a while on my silly blog.


  13. Yr blog is far from silly… but I hate to see smart Xl8tors dismiss technological opportunities on the basis of their (justified) perceptions of how they are used in zombie-farms. If zombie farm + tech can be marketable business, Real Translator + tech can be SuperTranslator. (Looks for phonebox to remove specs and rip open shirt).

    Don’t wait for what your clients ask, look for what your clients (are going to) need. The most valuable component will always be well-educated and well-experienced wetware…

    Do you really need to translate the word “February” (more than once)?

    Use the time saved to research an obscure engineering kanjii… 😉


  14. Zombie farms is a great term.

    I hope you don’t mind if I use it in a post one of these days.


    • Great idea to name such agencies “zombie farms.” I am looking forward to your post on those farms.

      I got an e-mail from a translator whom I asked to back translate a piece of Chinese translation back to English, which was not done by me, to validate the translation in Chinese. The translator asks me to allow her to refer me at a zombie farm. I feel sorry for her, because I won’t reply such a request. I am allergic aginst zombie farms and I don’t like seeing anyone in my acquaintance raking peanuts at such farms.

      However, the matter with fuzzy matches is not that simple as you are talking about.

      As to a united translator community, I am of the same opinion of yours. Just think about the Third Servile War (73–71 BC), we know that slaves stay slaves even if they try to rebel or even if they are led by a strong personality to rebel. They fail because they are not strong enough to support a strong personality or even to sustain themselves. That’s why we will have serfs to fiefdoms all the time. There has never been “we” among translators and there won’t be in the future, either. Translators are too proud to be united. Ernie Bierman or Miguel Llorens would agree with you and me.


  15. Of course, you do not pay an agency to source an accountant for you (your accountant would not be interested in working for an agency).
    Agencies have only two basic objectives: (1) increase revenue and (2) decrease costs (mainly payments to translators).
    Get rid of all the agencies, and translators will be living the life of Riley :-).

    To be fair, there are plenty of bookkeeping agencies who operate in a similar manner. However, they do not engage free-lance accountants, but free-lance bookkeepers instead.

    We therefore need to differentiate between professional and para-professional translators. The latter will primarily rely on agencies for work, and the former must start acting (and charging) like professionals!


  16. “We therefore need to differentiate between professional and para-professional translators.”


    I call them zombie translators.

    There was a suggestion on this blog that translation agencies that use these inexperienced not-quite-translators (because zombies charge next to nothing) should be called zombie farms.

    I think it is a fitting name.


    • Ha, Steve, don’t you agree with my theory of the balance of power?

      Professional translators can be managed by real agencies while para-professional (zombie) translators are collected and cattle-called by zombie farms or they just cyberstreetwalk somewhere in those more notorious than famous portals.


  17. @Wenjer

    I agree 125 percent with you.

    And because I realized what you are saying a long time ago, I am not a slave, I am not a zombie, and I do not work for zombie farms, even though sometime it takes a lot of self control if no other work seems to be on the horizon.


  18. I think that quite a few good translators have in fact joined zombies working at zombie farms instead of trying to find clients who will treat them like professionals.

    So ist das Leben.


  19. I wonder how many people would accept (and pay for?) so-called “fuzzy matches” in sex.


    • Enough to support a multi-billion porn & sex toy industry… (in analogy to what the MT people say: “machine translation is always better than no translation”) – and hey, people get lonely…


      • Ah, that’s why zombies never die out.


  20. […] The concept of work and compensation for the product of this work has evolved over time. Only two short centuries ago, most people did not have a job that they would have to commute to in order to …  […]


  21. […] See on […]


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