Posted by: patenttranslator | July 23, 2014

Do You Charge Also for Translating Words Like “a”, “the” or “and”?


A potential customer inquired a few days ago whether my cost estimate for translating a patent application from French to English would include also charging for words such as “and”, “a”, and “the”. I always feel like responding by saying “only if you want me to include these words in my translation”, but I never actually do that. It is not a good idea to antagonize potential customers.

So let’s consider his question. If the translation cost is based on the word count, is it reasonable to charge the same amount also for simple words like conjunctions and articles?

The word count (or character count, or line count or page count) is a handy quantifier because it can be easily verified. That is why most translators base their cost on one of these quantifiers. But even when they charge by the word, translators are not really charging for the translated words – they are basically charging for their time. If I know how long it will take me to translate 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 words, I also know how much I will be making per hour.

Some people say that it would be more fair if we could charge by the hour. I would not mind doing that, but I basically have to charge by the word because most translators charge by the word, or by the project – most translators also have a minimum charge for short translations, and some will simply ask for a flat fee for a given project.

What our clients may not realize is that the handy per word quantifier hides a lot of freebies that most translators generally offer to their customers, i.e. a lot of additional work for which we do not charge extra fees.

I just finished translating a fairly long chemical patent from Japanese to English. It was mostly straightforward work for me because I must have translated thousands of patents like this one. Although I charged my lower, non-rush rate, which is reserved for customers who give me enough time to work on their project, I was still making about 600 hundred dollars a day without working too hard.

So I am not complaining. But translating is not just about words. It is about making sense of things. Words are the most visible ingredients of what goes into every translation, but there are many other ingredients in every translation.

Here are few examples of some of these other ingredients that I simply threw in for free in that particular patent translation.

1. Long chemical terms count as 1 word

How many words is “2-(meth)acrylamido-propyltrimethoxysilane, 3-(meth)acrylamido-butyltrimethoxysilane, 4-(meth) acrylamido-hexyltrimethoxysilane”? It looks like about 20 words, but Microsoft Word counts it as 4 words. Who am I to argue with the wise and almighty Microsoft Word? I just accept the MS Word count, which would be in this case the same as the count of these 4 words:”the, “a”, “and”, and “not”.

2. Chemical patents have a lot of formulas which may throw off formatting

These formulas must be scanned and pasted into the text. It generally does not take a long time to do that, but it does take time. And when there several formulas on the same page, it may throw off the formatting, and once something goes wrong with the formatting, I may have to waste a lot of time trying to fix it. This is a problem especially with Japanese which takes up less space on a page because 2 Japanese characters on average correspond to 1 English word.

Because most people don’t charge an additional fee for scanning and formatting of chemical formulas, I don’t dare to add an additional charge either.

3. Chemical patents often include very long and very complicated tables

It is much easier to fit a few Japanese characters into the rows and columns of a table in Japanese than to fit the corresponding English words in a table in English. For example, “重合度” (jūgōdo) means “degree of polymerization” in English. The word “polymerization” alone is about 1.5 times the size of all the three Japanese characters in this chemical term. Recreating a complicated table that was originally in Japanese in English can be a nightmare, especially since MS Word always for some reason sadistically messes up the final formatting of complicated tables.

This particular chemical patent had one complicated, full-page Japanese table in “landscape” orientation in which the words ended up being nonsensically truncated in English by MS Word. After 3 unsuccessful attempts to recreate the table in MS Word, I created it in WordPerfect, which did a much better job, but because I had a file in MS Word, I printed it out and scanned and pasted it into the text as a graphic file.

The table was very important as it was the main proof of the claims of the patent, so I had to keep the same format in English. Because I inserted a graphic file to make sure that everything in the table will be instantly understandable, I did not charge anything for several hundred words contained in that table. Plus, of course, I could not charge anything for the three unsuccessful attempts to create the table in landscape format in MS Word either before WordPerfect saved my life once again.

4. Foreign words transliterated into Japanese may be very difficult to ascertain

There are several reasons for this. When foreign words are transliterated into Japanese, they often become unrecognizable unless you know precisely what they mean. For example, “sexual harassment” becomes “seku hara“, “power harassment” becomes “pawah hara“, etc. Well, the meaning of “seku hara” and “pawah hara” is obvious enough, but the meaning of technical terms adopted from foreign languages and then butchered beyond recognition courtesy of the Japanese language may be less obvious, especially since I don’t necessarily know from which language the term was originally imported. The foreign word could have been in German, or French, or Dutch or another language rather than English.

These foreign words transliterated into one of the Japanese alphabets called katakana can be found relatively easily with a search on the Internet … except when they are misspelled in Japanese. And they are often misspelled in Japanese patents because Japanese chemists and patent agents don’t particularly care about the correct spelling of foreign words in Japanese. For example, I remember a Hitachi patent agent who was consistently misspelling the word “analog”. It should have been written as “anarogu” in Japanese, but the esteemed benrishi was instead writing it as “anaguro“.

Patent agents do this kind of thing all the time. If the foreign word was originally for instance a Dutch or German name, for example of a Dutch or German (or French, or Russian or Polish?) chemist who invented a new method in chemistry, it takes forever to find out what was the original word if it is misspelled in Japanese.

5. Every language and every subject has its own unique challenges

Every translation from every language has its own challenges, and the more different the language is from English or the language into which one translates, the more challenging the translation is likely to be. Overcoming these challenges is also what makes translating so interesting.

Johann Sebastian Bach once famously said:”It is very easy to play any musical instrument. All you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”

The same is true also about translation. It is very easy to translate anything into another language. All you have to do is know which keys to touch on the computer keyboard to formulate the right words in another language, just like J.S. Bach knew exactly which keys to touch on an organ’s keyboard to play one of his fugues.

This knowledge is what translators are being paid for, not the simple or complicated words that they are typing while translating.

I can understand it when a client asks a question such as the one in the title of my post today. But when a translation agency insists on discounts for “fuzzy matches” or “full matches” in repeated words or repetitive passages determined by means of software, that makes me really mad. I would never work for a translation agency that does that.

Although discounts may be in order in case of repetitive documents, for example updates of printer manuals or communication software, these discounts should be determined ahead of time based on an agreement between a translator and the client, not based on software controlled by the agency. The translator must be in control at all times, not some software in the hands of a dishonest broker.

Insisting that the ingenious principle of so called “fuzzy matches” or “full matches” should be applied to all translations is a criminal concept which is known in law as “theft of labor”. This kind of fuzzy thinking is very different from a naive question of a customer who is asking whether a translator should also charge for words such as “and”, “a”, and “the”.




  1. In Italy the standard for calculating rates is per 220 characters (spaces included) which seems fairer to me than basing estimates on numbers of words. Microsoft Word calculates 2-(meth)acrylamido-propyltrimethoxysilane, 3-(meth)acrylamido-butyltrimethoxysilane, 4-(meth) acrylamido-hexyltrimethoxysilane as 4 words, 125 characters (no spaces), and 129 characters (with spaces). Which would earn you more?


    • I don’t know, probably the more precise system.

      But in any case, whichever metric is used, the more important thing is the rate.


  2. What an incredibly substantive piece! If something like this does not put the world in awe of what translators do, nothing can. Thanks, as always, for sharing your fascinating experiences and insights…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you again, Lucille.

    But I’m afraid my post will not really put the world in awe of translators.

    The best I can hope for is that a few people may start seeing what we do in a slightly different context.


  4. A couple of months ago I was in discussions with a translation agency whether to work with them and the concept of fuzzy matches came up. When I asked whether “a” and “an” and “the” would count as fuzzy matches that I would not be paid for, the agency did not even respond. Just as well, presumably. (If nothing else, “a” and “the” belong in quite different places in patents as I am sure you know. They are not interchangeable!) – Jan


  5. What agency was it, can you tell us?


  6. You’ve once again raised a very pertinent issue, Steve. It underlines yet again my strong view that our fee calculations should be ‘commercial and confidential’ (for internal use only). Our charge/quote should be a ‘project fee’.
    Publicly expressing our fees as a rate per ‘word/character/page’ works AGAINST our interests in FOR the interests of ‘traders’ in translation services.

    It commodifies our talent, knowledge and skills, and facilitates the ‘blind auction’ bidding system (playing translators off against each other) to drive down our incomes.
    Looking at it from our perspective, it is quite stupid (my apologies for using a technical term). I know it will take time to change things, but the sooner we start, the sooner we will succeed.


  7. Louis, It wouldn’t work for me because I am often bidding on a project and the potential client wants to know my fee per words, as well as the total cost.

    I’m afraid what you are proposing is simply not realistic.

    It is also not fair to clients.They should be able to compare what I am charging to what other people are charging based on a simple metric, and word count work fine for this purpose.


    • @Steve
      In any commercial transaction, the client always wants to know as much as possible about a supplier’s costs and pricing; it provides an enormous advantage in negotiating the best possible price.
      A delicate balance must be struck between what is necessary to be revealed and what should not. A rate per word (often provided in advance of knowing the material and other relevant issues that may impact the time it takes to complete a project), tells the client/agent all they want to know and does not leave room for negotiation or adjustment for other factors. Whilst well-established and (unfortunately) accepted as common (industry) practice, it is the worst possible scenario for the profession, and in my view largely responsible for the widespread decline of our status and incomes.
      Without the commodification that a simple ‘metric’ of basing everything on a ‘piece rate’ provides, agencies would not be able to dominate the profession as they do.


      • Louis,

        If I were a customer, I would simply refuse to do business with translators who would like to keep me in the dark about how much they charge and only patronize translators who can give me an honest answer to an honest question.


  8. Hilarious. Although I’ve never had this argument with any of my clients, it’s just show that some people regard translators as merely tools. They might as well use machine translation.


  9. This client’s question was that of a lawyer, and a rightful one in a way…

    By the way, freelance translators have always been paid by line (or page) of text, not by word, until the advent of CAT tools….

    This lawyer-customer could also have asked you if you charged for repeated words…

    I.e. he was looking for some sort of rebate.

    I would have answered this to a lawyer-customer:

    “With CAT tools, the only rebates are:

    – for 100% analogies of segments which are internal to the text to be translated
    [a segment being a full sentence all the way to a full stop – and legal sentences are usually very long, thus generating little 100% matches internally – or part of a sentence all the way to a semicolon (same remark: also usually very long, thus reducing the probability to have a 100% internal match]

    – or for 75 to 100% analogies of segments which are external to the source text, i.e. matching previous similar translations saved in one or several TM (translation memory) file(s), using a CAT tool.

    However, in legal texts even a comma can change the meaning of a sentence, so CAT tool rebates on the ground of relative analogies are rarely, if never, used for legal texts.

    However recurring customers who pay on time may obtain a small percentage at the end of the civil year, to be deducted from their next purchase.”

    At least you increase your chances of getting a recurrent customer…

    You might also want to impressing by mentioning that:

    ” “a”, “the” or “and” are indefinite and definite articles or coordinating conjunctions. Same remark as for commas: in legal texts, mistranslating them can cost you losing a case… and an important customer!”.

    Frighten them a little, it always works…


  10. 1. I would not call explaining how things work “frightening them a little”, although I take your point.

    2. A misplaced article or comma can completely change the meaning of any text, not just in legal texts.

    3. Discounts for repeated text cannot be based on a determination via a CAT, especially since these CATs are used generally only by brokers who are not exactly known for their honesty (I have never had a direct client ask me about a CAT). They either have to be agreed upon in advance between the customer and the translator, or offered voluntarily by a translator (even I do that sometime).

    Whether a translator is or is not using a certain computer tool is no more relevant than whether the same translator is using a certain kind of computer or dictionary, or what kind of chair he is sitting in, and whether he has a dog, or a cat, or is allergic to both dogs and cats.


  11. Truly excellent, Steve. Very well-structured – it puts together all of the main issues in one place, while reminding me of many more.

    My combination, German to English, is a lot less complicated than Japanese to English, but some of the issues are similar. For example, Germans are often not all that great at German, especially when the German text is not for publication (but the English translation is). I’ve written about some such issues before. But generally, trying to figure out what the writer actually meant to say, in proper German, is a tiring task – much like your weird transliterations in Japanese.

    I think the formatting, clarifications and consulting are the major issue. Plus some clients expect free revisions, sometimes dressing this up as ‘client feedback’ or even a ‘complaint’ – I have only had the former, but have heard of the latter happening all too often.

    Essentially, though, I don’t mind factoring these services into my rate. I know the client won’t understand that this all takes time and costs money, so when I quote, I will add something to cover anything that looks like it will take more time to do. You are right, though, in that they are STILL paying for our time. This is just a decent way of working it out. In my case, I always quote a fixed fee to clients, which is based on my line rate for that job plus any additional services involved. Quoting straight line or word rates to client, or always charging the same rate, is just a way of commodifying your services, so I avoid it wherever I can.

    By the way, I’ve had the exact same question asked before. I responded something polite about averages. Also, for German, line rates go a long way in countering those issues with long, compound words or chemical names. Further, since you usually just have to identify them once, but they can be many characters long, you can actually sort of welcome those 27-character words which you already added into your term base. That’s half a line right there…

    Thanks again for the helpful post. I’ll share it.


    • Thank you Rose, I am glad to see that I am not a ‘lone voice in the wilderness’.


  12. Thanks for your comment, Rose.

    “But generally, trying to figure out what the writer actually meant to say, in proper German, is a tiring task – much like your weird transliterations in Japanese.”

    I know, I translate German too, about as much as Japanese these days. I prefer to translate for instance legal opinion from Japanese because the sentences seem to make more sense in that language.

    There are so many similarities between the German and Japanese language and both cultures that I am in fact convinced that Japanese people are a lost German tribe that ended up Japan during the Völkerwanderung period in Eruope (great wandering of tribes in Europe) as I write in this blog post:


  13. Exactly! Word count is just a convention, an easy way to calculate your professional fee and give a comprehensible estimate to the client.
    I am old enough to remember when translations were typed on paper, double spaced, and charged by the page. (This is around 28 years ago). With computers, you could offer the added value of handing in translations in a more convenient format. So the calculations started going from how many characters in a page, to how many words. Even today I have to explain to clients how many words more or less in a page.
    So, yes, short words, articles and prepositions “cost the same” as long formulas, complicated terms and words with 5 syllables. Because I am not charging actually per word, but for the complete process of delivering a text, in a different language, that reads as though it had been originally written in this translated language.


    • I’m afraid it is more than ‘just a convention’, Heidi. It is a technique favoured by buyers of translation services, particularly agencies, to reinforce the perception that translation is just changing (a certain number of) words from one language into the appropriate words of another language (anyone with a dictionary (internet connection) can do it :-).
      It also gives them a potent tool to control and manipulate our profession and our therefore our careers and incomes. I know that commercial skills are not typically part of a translator’s skill set, but it should be plain to even the most naive among us, that translators are manipulated and exploited by corporate agencies world-wide.
      To stop, or at least limit this exploitation, so eloquently described by Steve and others, we must look to our own interests and how we can protect and advance them.
      Accepting the status quo and current conventions, is not a strategy that is likely to bear any fruit, indeed, it will more than likely exacerbate the ‘race to the bottom’. I am not suggesting an overnight reversal of course or a fight with agencies, but a gradual strategy of taking back control of our profession.
      In my view, it needs to start with understanding what is wrong and taking small steps towards changing the very conventions that are at the heart of the problem, such as the terminology used, e.g. ‘project fees’ instead of ‘rates per word/line/page’.


      • I’m totally with you on project pricing. At most, line rates. Line rates solve a good number of the problems listed, but even then, that should be an internal thing you use to calculate the rate, since making these fixed is dangerous.

        IMHO, while line rates are an absolutely OBVIOUS choice for those translating out of German, I believe they should be used more in other languages, too. Dutch and Scandinavian languages, too. And yes, even English and Spanish. It neatly avoids a lot of these hyphenation and monster word issues, even the dirty trick of “forgetting” spaces or using hyphens to connect long words without a space (e.g. “I ate a massive sandwich-Saturdays are the best days to eat them” – sandwich-Saturdays is one word here, but a character count would mean you’re only missing out on two empty spaces).

        I think pricing by line is something the Germans need to export to the rest of the world, even more than beer.


  14. […] A potential customer inquired a few days ago whether my cost estimate for translating a patent application from French to English would include also charging for words such as “and”, "a", an…  […]


  15. “I think pricing by line is something the Germans need to export to the rest of the world, even more than beer.”

    I’m with Louis: in an ideal world, pricing by project based on hour of our time would be best. Unfortunately, I don’t it is going to happen for a number of reasons.

    As Heidi commented, the per-line or per-page unit was born in the pre-PC world when translators were using typewriters. It made a lot of sense in that world. The per-word or per-character unit made a lot of sense in the PC world, but due to unstoppable development of technology, it too is now reaching its limits.

    I sent a long translation to a client a few days ago, and as I they did not acknowledge receipt, I e-mailed them again next day to make sure they got it. They did not receive it. My computer said that the file was transmitted successfully, but it must have been rejected by their server due to its size – the file had a large size because it had a number of graphic elements in it and many servers will reject documents over 8 MB.

    So I converted the MS Word file to PDF to reduce the size and the file was received without any problems.

    The fact that the customer was unable to verify the word count was not a problem in this case because it was a law department of a major corporation. If it were a translation agency, it might have been a problem, especially since quite a few agencies have no idea how to covert PDF format back to MS Word, and also because the word count would differ depending on what conversion software is used.

    This has happened to me more than once, and I think that it will be happening more and more in the future because files are becoming larger and larger.


    • I price by project for all direct clients, and a lot of agencies/colleagues, too. But I base MY rate on the source text, always. Per line rates in the target just encourage wordiness, and discriminate against good writers. Just like per word as opposed to per line rates discriminate against good writers (at least in German).

      If pricing based on the source line, I can’t see the problem, as if this was an agency client, they would know the source line count because they have the file at their end. So I wonder if you thought I meant target line. No. I’m against target line pricing for the reasons stated above, just like I’m against per word pricing. If I’m ever offered a job based on per word pricing, I check what it would have been in lines, and if that’s a bit low, I tell them I need to up the word rate to match. Or reject it – a lot (not all) of agency clients offering word rates in Germany are offering lower project prices than those using line rates.

      Anyway. Project pricing is the way to go, and if you MUST price by quantity, price by source line.


      • Oh, and of course – copywriting and transcreation comes into a whole different price bracket, which is more closely linked to the value and the time it takes.


  16. “Anyway. Project pricing is the way to go, and if you MUST price by quantity, price by source line.’

    I do need a verifiable unit like a word, line, or page. The client that I mentioned in my last comment sends me regularly long PTC patents, around 10 thousand word or more. They don’t ask for a cost estimate in advance, so I cannot “base the cost on the project”, but they know what I charge, and they should be able to verify the unit, whatever it is, once they have the translation.

    Otherwise translators could charge their clients simply based on the thickness of the stack of bills they have not paid yet.


    • So use a per-line rate. But announce the fee as a fixed sum. The details of how you worked that out are just that – details. Emphasising your line (or word) rate is akin to commodification of what you do.

      I’ve never had a client need to verify the units involved once they have the translation, because that’s not what they’re paying for. They’re paying for a translation (or whatever else is involved) of the source document, which they have full access to. With regards to creative translation and copywriting, they always pay a fixed fee based on the brief, and in many cases, the shorter the copy – the better!

      For my clients, it’s always about the source text, which they can verify for themselves. I can only imagine you’re talking about a very different source language and/or PDF documents. I just can’t see why clients need to verify any quantities in the target, because they aren’t charged based on that anyway.


  17. “I price by project for all direct clients, and a lot of agencies/colleagues, too. But I base MY rate on the source text, always.”

    Yes, the source is always in PDF format and at least half the time it is in Japanese, Chinese or Korean, so the client would not know how to estimate the word count or the like of the original text.

    They only asked me once (in 7 years!) for a cost estimate ahead of time when they had half a dozen Chinese patents for translation. In that case they decided to translate only the summary and the claims because the cost would be too high for full translations, but otherwise they don’t ask for a cost per project since they know my rate.

    So your system may work well for you, but but it would not work for me since I am not always asked to announce the cost ahead of time and the client should be able to verify the unit of measurement.

    Plus the client is often busy traveling – yesterday he was reading my translation, sent to him after a delay of 2 days finally in PDF by his secretary, somewhere in a hotel in Asia, so I have to try to make the logistics as simple as possible, including the file format.


    • Fair enough. My German-speaking clients like to know the cost up front, as do I unless it’s priced per hour.

      I can see why a per line rate for the target text might make more sense in your case.


  18. […] A potential customer inquired a few days ago whether my cost estimate for translating a patent application from French to English would include also charging for words such as “and”, “a”, and “the”. I always feel like …  […]


  19. Steve, there is nothing wrong with quoting/charging a fee per project in principle (for new and occasional clients), and making special, CONFIDENTIAL arrangements (a long term contract) with regular clients based on a rate per word/line/page as well. It is common commercial practice to agree on a formula for a regular client, so that there’s no need for frequent, individual project quotes/contracts/negotiations.

    This works because projects from a regular client will be similar in nature and the client’s requirements are known and understood. It streamlines long-term commercial relationships.

    This would even be a consideration if working for an agency who provides regular work, as opposed to those agencies that will only use you when desperate or when you are the cheapest. IOW, a two-way, commercial arrangement rather than an incidental, exploitative one.

    To do so for incidental quotations (potentially from someone testing the market and your pricing), does not make a lot of sense and has the effect of commodifying what we do, the result of which is a race to the bottom as far as translators’ fees are concerned.

    The evidence for the latter is not only clear, it is overwhelming.


  20. Excellent post Steve! 🙂


    • Thanks, Alchymie.

      Somebody sent me your picture from an article on Translators Without Borders.

      You look distinguished and pensive in that black&white photo.


      • Thanks for the heads-up Steve! My personal history makes it imperative to dedicate some time and effort to supporting others who need help and TWB is a model organisation in that respect. I felt extremely honoured to have been selected for this feature. I haven’t seen it and would be grateful for a link if it’s not too much trouble.That way I’ll also know how you define “distinguished and pensive :).
        All the Best!!


  21. “To do so for incidental quotations (potentially from someone testing the market and your pricing), does not make a lot of sense and has the effect of commodifying what we do, the result of which is a race to the bottom as far as translators’ fees are concerned.”

    So what should I do when I receive an offer to quote a rate?

    I have to tell them something, whether it is an agency or a direct client.

    Should I instead quote a range, or ask to see the material before quoting?


    • Setting aside projects from a regular client, where you know what is required and you have established a long-term relationship/contract, I suggest that asking to see the material before quoting a fee, is an absolute minimum.
      To do otherwise suggests a lack of professionalism, a sense of desperation, and a willingness to accept whatever the client thinks is ‘fair’. It seems to me that is the exact opposite of what would be the ideal position from our point of view.
      To an outsider, quoting a fixed fee without seeing the material that has to be translated, must seem very odd; yet, our colleagues have accepted it a ‘normal’! We’re a weird mob :-).


  22. Here is the link, Michal.

    The combination of the beer, your bearded persona and the mounted antlers works really well.

    For some reason I thought that it was a black and white picture, but it’s in color.


  23. @Louis

    Of course, I always ask to see the document.

    Except when they say that they have 17 Japanese patents and ask what is my rate.

    In those cases I give two prices, one for the case when I can then do whole shebang, and one for the case when I would have to work with other people because the deadline is too tight.


  24. […] how to make the most of it? Apple looking to expand Siri localization with at least 9 new languages Do You Charge Also for Translating Words Like “a”, “the” or “and&#8221… Content Types and Expectations for Translation Memory Reuse Language quiz: does the world look the […]


  25. Since interjections, conjunctions and even formulas make up a document, I would imagine that they are taken into consideration when calculating a rate. The fact that some translators don’t always charge for them, only shows how much depth and flexibility this profession has. Imagine using MT, how cold would such a conversation be?


  26. I add the hyphen count to MS Word’s word count for texts with many hyphenated chemical names. I explain to clients that MS Word has miscounted hyphenated words since Word 6. One German chemical patent had been manually counted in hardcopy by the agency as 20,000 words. Their client then provided a Word doc, and Word claimed something so much lower (8000 or 9000 words) that they assumed it was a different version. But it was just Word miscounting the 35 pages of chemical names, each one hyphenated but taking up two or three lines. Word 5.1/Mac gave a figure much closer to the manual count since its counting routine properly considers hyphenated words as separate words. I was able to save them money by charging that section by the hour and using copy-paste liberally in the Word doc to prepare the German names for translation, but it would have been disastrous if I had used the MS word count as a billing basis and for setting the deadline.

    I do provide clients with source or target based billing options for my different source languages, based on word counts or character counts (line counts). I just make the source based fees high enough to still match my target based fees after possible expansion in English (my target). I also use the source based fees to calculate advance flat fees for anybody needing them or for individuals/uncertain agencies that I bill in advance. I used Word 5.1 counts for billing for years, reminding clients of it while negotiating and in terms on the invoice, until one infamous not-perfect translation agency tried to stiff me on the bill because their Word showed a different count (the PM actually said I shouldn’t charge for numbers in such sentences as “Add 5 mL of X to 35 g of Y” also… This was for a rush job done from very fuzzy hardcopy.) I had to increase my nominal fee per word by 25% and introduce the hyphen addition policy when changing my counting program from Word 5.1 to Word 98 in order to get my old prices to match prices based on Word’s faulty new word count routine. I actually set up a spread sheet and did the calculations for the different word counts for representative translations. And the not-perfect agency was put on a flat fee basis immediately, no discounts after the fact (as they were also infamous for demanding), signature required before I would start.

    Microsoft is so stupid. They also made Word 98/Mac unusable for two years by denying a fatal problem with tables- if you tried to change a cell containing a non-Western font (such as symbols, graphics like chemical formulas, Cyrillic…), the whole doc would corrupt from that point on and you would have to copy the previous part into a new doc to continue. I was ready to invoice Bill Gates for all the wasted time dealing with this problem when I had to use Word 98, and stayed in Word 5.1 as much as possible until they fixed it with a patch. This was after their decision in Word 6 to not count spaces in their character count. That’s why we still see the “options” with and without spaces in their character count. Who would want to omit spaces if they needed a character count? Nobody, of course. Character counts are needed either to fill a specific space or count keystrokes (and spaces don’t magically appear without hitting the space bar). But Microsoft forgot about that. The temporary fix for translators was to add the word count to the character count to get a closer-to-true character count.


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