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Glossary of translation and typesetting jargon

WorldAccent believes in helping you through the translation and multilingual typesetting process. As with any specialism, some jargon is widely used. Below is our guide to help you with some common terms and abbreviations.

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In typography, the part of a lower-case character that extends above the x-height of the typeface.

Background information

Guidance provided to a translator along with the source text. This can improve the resulting translation by providing context or details of terminology.

Back translation

A re-translation of a translated document back into the original language, usually by an independent translator to assess any shift in meaning.


In typography, the imaginary line on which characters of Roman type sit. Letters with “tails” or descenders extend below this line. The concept of a baseline does not always apply in other scripts.


In printing, extending the printed area just beyond where the sheet will be cut when trimmed to the final size. This ensures any elements intended to run to the edge of sheet do so even if the final trim is slightly misaligned.


A darker and heavier weight of a typeface.

Cap height

In typography, the height of capital letters in a typeface. Specifically it is the distance from the baseline to the top of flat capital letters such as H or I.


“Central and Eastern Europe” – roughly, the European countries east of Germany from the Baltic states to the Balkans. Some of these countries use scripts very similar to those in western Europe but containing additional characters. Not all fonts contain these additional characters, sometimes requiring the use of what are known as CEE fonts. By 2010, twelve CEE countries were also members of the EU: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.


Translation checking looks at all aspects of a translation, including spelling, grammar, accuracy against the source text and appropriateness for the intended audience. (cf proofreading)

Chinese – Simplified

One of the two scripts used for writing Chinese. It was introduced in mainland China in the 1950s to improve literacy rates, and uses substantially fewer characters than Traditional script, many of which are written in a more simplified form. Different varieties of spoken Chinese can be written in this script, the most common being Mandarin. The script is used mainly in the People’s Republic of China. More on Chinese translation.

Chinese – Traditional

One of the two scripts used for writing Chinese. Used mainly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Uses thousands more characters than Simplified. More on Chinese translation.


Abbreviation for “Chinese, Japanese and Korean”. The term is used mainly in software and communications. Because the fonts for these languages contain thousands of characters, they require special coding and software. Basic CJK fonts may be included with some computers, but its’ best to use specialised software when producing layouts to ensure correct character spacing and positioning.


A colour model representing the four inks involved in full colour process printing: CMY standing for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and the K for Key (ie black). Printing a combination of these four colours can create the appearance of a wide range of colours.

Computer-aided translation (CAT)

Translation by a human translator, facilitated by computer software providing support such as spell checkers, glossaries or translation memory. Not to be confused with machine translation.


A version of a typeface drawn with a narrower than normal width. Well-made condensed characters are completely re-drawn rather than simply being horizontally squashed versions of the normal width.


Writing text to promote or advertise a business, person or idea. Copywriting in a foreign language takes into account different cultural contexts, figures of speech and advertising cultures.

Crop marks

Small lines usually at the corners of a sheet which indicate where the document should be trimmed once printed.


A family of alphabets used by Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian and several other languages in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


The "tail" of a letter such as p or q, which descends below the baseline.


An addition to a basic letter form such as an acute accent. Diacritics have a wide range of uses across scripts including changing letter sounds, tone or indicating vowels.

Dots per inch (DPI)

A measure often used to describe the resolution of raster images, DPI relates to the “fineness” of the dots as it is literally the number of dots used along a straight line of one inch.

Drop cap

The initial letter of a paragraph which is larger than the rest of the text. A drop cap aligns on the left with the rest of the paragraph but is the vertical depth of more than one line.


Desktop publishing – creating page layouts on a computer, using software such as Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign. The phrase is attributed to the founder of the Aldus Corporation, which made the first DTP software for the Mac in 1985.

Em dash

A dash which is approximately the width of an M. In American typesetting, em dashes are often used in English as parentheses or similarly to commas; in Britain, en-dashes are more often used.

En dash

A dash which is approximately the width of an n, being wider than a hyphen but narrower than an Em dash. In English, the en dash is used between numbers in ranges. It is also commonly used with spaces either side as a form of parenthesis and an alternative to the em dash in American typography. Appropriate usage varies from language to language.


A version of a typeface drawn with a wider than normal width. Well-made extended characters are completely re-drawn rather than simply being horizontally stretched versions of the normal width.


This refers to how well a translation preserves the meaning of the original.


French Italian German Spanish”. Often used in west European localisation to describe this common set of target languages.

Free translation

A translation which moves away from the source wording while trying to convey the overall meaning. This can allow the use of more natural wording in the target language.


The range of colours available to a certain device or process. RGB has a different and larger (but overlapping) gamut to CMYK, which is why colour shifts can seen on conversion.


A terminology reference. Using a translation glossary helps ensure consistency and can speed up subsequent translation projects.


An element of writing such as a particular letter or ligature.

Greek alphabet

An alphabet used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th century BC. It is the oldest alphabet in the strict sense of noting each vowel and consonant with a separate symbol


A typeface re-drawn in slanting cursive style. Although often used interchangeably, italic differs from oblique as the actual shape of each glyph varies from the upright font rather than simply being a slanted version.


In typography, a paragraph of text that aligns along both the left and right hand edges. In many scripts, this is typically achieved using character and word spacing. In Arabic, kashidas can be used.


A method of justification by elongating characters at certain chosen points used in some cursive scripts, notably Arabic.


The appropriate horizontal spacing between a pair of letters. Can be determined manually or automatically.


In printing, the (usually automatic) removal of one of two overlapping colours. For instance, if blue text is printing on a yellow background, the yellow might be knocked out to prevent the text appearing green. The opposite of overprinting.


The vertical spacing between lines of type, measured from one baseline to the next. The word originates from the strips of lead used to physically space type.


A single glyph combining two or more characters.

Literal translation

Literal translation preserves the wording and construction of the source text as far as possible, running the risk of appearing stilted or without nuance.

Localisation (US: localization)

Translating or adapting language for a specific country or region, to take into account differences in vocabulary, spelling, grammar, culture and so on.

Lossy compression

When images are saved with a lossy compression (eg a JPEG) some information is discarded. Non-lossy compression such as that used by some TIFFs reduces file size less but keeps all the data of the original intact.

Lower case

The smaller form of letters used in alphabets such as Roman, Greek and Cyrillic. As opposed to upper case.

Machine translation

Translation by computer software without the input of a human translator. The quality varies and may convey a gist of the text, but it is rarely adequate for publication.

Mother-tongue translator

A translator who translates into his or her native language. WorldAccent only uses mother-tongue translators, as they can convey the text’s nuances in an appropriate style in the target language.

Native language

cf. Mother-tongue

Outlined text

Turning text in a layout into shapes. This means the layout can be printed without requiring any special fonts or software – which is useful when dealing with non-Roman scripts.


Type that slants slightly. Unlike italic type, it does not use different glyph shapes to the roman type, merely angling them.


In printing, not removing either of two overlapping colours, so they print one on top of the other. The opposite of knockout.

Process colour

The use of CMYK inks to create a range of colours, or a "full colour" product.


Reading a translation to correct any grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors. It does not checking the translation against the source text, so cannot determine translation accuracy. (cf Checking)

Quotation marks

Punctuation used to enclose speech, a quotation or a particular phrase. The correct form of the quotation mark varies widely between languages.

Ranged left

In typography, a paragraph of text that aligns along the left hand edge but not the right.

Ranged right

In typography, a paragraph of text that aligns along the right hand edge but not the left.

Raster images

An image made up of a (usually rectangular) grid of pixels or dots, each dot being a particular colour. Raster graphics are resolution dependent and so appear blocky if over enlarged.

Registration marks

Crosshair symbols to allow printers to align a document’s colours accurately. They appear in a colour called “Registration” so they appear on each colour (or separation), and are usually placed outside of the final image area.


The level of detail of an image


Refining a translation and altering any errors, inconsistency or inappropriate style. Usually the level of revision depends on the quality required for end use of the text (eg the translation of an internal memo may not undergo revision whereas a corporate brochure would).


The colour model used by monitors, named Red, Green, Blue

Roman script

Text written in the Latin or Roman alphabet, such as English or French. Roman script is used in western Europe, the Americas and beyond.

Sans Serif

A typeface that does not feature serifs.


The “tail” or “flag” that appears on the extremity of letters within a serif typeface (eg Times or Garamond).

Small caps

Upper case letters set at same height of an equivalent lower case letter. In other words, the letter takes the upper case form but is only as tall as the x-height. Small caps do not exist in all scripts, as some do not distinguish between upper and lower case.

Source text

The original text that needs to be translated to another language.

Spot colour

In printing, the use of a pre-mixed ink to create a particular colour. For instance, a spot purple is printed on press using a tin of purple ink while a process purple would be created by printing a mixture of Cyan and Magenta.


In page layout, two or more horizontally adjacent pages considered as one sheet.

Target language

The language that the source text is translated into. Design tip: bear in mind that languages run to different lengths, and allow space for this in your DTP template. For instance, German runs to about 20% longer than English. We are happy to advise on this at an early stage.

Target readership

The people at whom a text is aimed. The style and vocabulary of a translation will vary according to the target readership.


The overall horizontal spacing applied to a block of characters, effecting its overall density and texture.


The rendering of the meaning of a text in one language (the source) into another language (the target). Translation generally refers to written text only. Interpreting refers to the spoken word.

Translation memory (TM)

A computer database of previously translated source texts and their equivalent target texts. A translation memory can increase consistency and reduce costs and turnaround time.


Writing a word in a different script or alphabet. This differs from translation in that the word does not change, only the writing system. For instance, an English name might be transliterated into a Cyrillic script.


In printing, leaving a slight overlap when one colour is knocked out of another, to avoid a white edge showing if the colours are slightly misaligned (or "misregistered")


Formatting text (typeface, size, colour etc) and positioning it on a page. Typesetting translated text often involves setting it over the source text of an existing DTP document.


A computing standard for text allowing consistent encoding and representation of many of the world’s languages.

Upper case

Also often called capital letters or majuscules. Upper case letters are differentiated in alphabets such as Roman, Greek and Cyrillic. Care should be taken when using upper case for emphasis as this differentiation does not exist in many writing systems (for instance Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese and Georgian).

Vector images

An image defined mathematically using vectors and shapes. In contrast to raster images, vector images scale up perfectly to an infinite degree; the image quality is not dependent on resolution.


The amount of space that a particular translation occupies. Most languages take up more space than English. Some, like Chinese, take up a lot less.


In typography, the distance between the baseline and the mean height of letters without ascenders. Typically this is the same as the height of a lowercase x in that typeface.

Word count

The number of words contained within a document. Often used to price a translation, this count is readily available in Word and most software.


Language code for Simplified Chinese.


Language code for Traditional Chinese.

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