The Oxford English Dictionary lists 464 definitions for the word "set" and an entire book has been written by Paul Dickson, a consulting editor at Merriam-Webster, about the 2 231 synonyms he has found for the word "drunk".

These little pieces of trivia are a perfect example of the difficulties faced by a translator in the course of his job. From the dialogue below, Alice could become an excellent translator, whereas Humpty Dumpty would have to be, well... "dumpted"


"When I use a word," said Humpty Dumpty, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass

With such a side variety a words to choose from, both in extracting meaning and in re-injecting it, your translation service provider will benefit for as much information as possible to use the most appropriate words when working for you.

As a client, your input is invaluable. You are the one who knows most about the original and intended context of the text to translate. Imagine that you work for a multinational that also produces alcohol and that your document is a warning against the dangers of alcohol.

As a client, you are the one who knows who will be reading the material. Will it be for CEOs, mid-management personnel or hourly workers; is it geared for technical staff for technical reference purpose? Will it be distributed among the general public as the targeted audience? Is it intended as educational material for hard core alcoholics? For teenagers discovering the pleasures of binge drinking?

The translator will have to choose his words according to a  clearly defined target audience. By knowing who his reader will be, he will be able to choose whether to use "inebriated", "plastered", "blitzed" or any other word to convey the appropriate nuance to the word "drunk" in your document.

As you work for a multinational, you should also clearly specify to your translation service provider the geographical location of your target audience. Colloquialism vary from Spain to Argentine for example, and knowing where the translation is intended for will help your translation service provider to choose a translator from that area, thus ensuring that the local tone will be respected.

When different types of metric systems are used, a precise knowledge of the target geo-location will enable your translation service provider to use the metric system pertinent for that area. If any currency appears in your document, you will also have to clearly indicate whether it has to be translated into local currency and, if yes, at what rate.

Now that you have clearly defined your target audience, in terms of age, gender, socio-economics and location, the last thing you need to do to ensure a maximal ROI of your translation is that the document you give to your translation service provider has been checked for typos, and errors, proofread, spell checked and grammatically verified by a person and not only a software program. It is always a good idea to have more than one person do the checking.

A professional translation service provider will always have your translation edited by a linguist other than the translator before returning it you. So save yourself time and money by ensuring that your material is ready, and keep in mind that modifying the translation to match modifications in the original text will cost you time and money.

So, if you want Alice to be your translator, save her a lot of trouble by giving her the "eat me" cake and the "drink me" bottle at the onset of her trip. If, however, you want Humpty Dumpty, he is available for free under other names on Google and will provide you with a translation where words mean what they want regardless of what you want them to mean.