A couple of days ago I read an article listing the entries that were added to the Oxford English Dictionary this year. I find news like this fascinating as they show very well how the English language changes from year to year, following certain trends. (For example, this year has seen the addition of clickbait, a new word that describes a modern online phenomenon.)
There were some surprising new words, like Oompa Loompa, ‘Merica and YOLO.
I shared this linguistic news in the office, listing some of the entries. When I got to YOLO, one of my colleagues just looked at me with a blank face. Another, younger colleague quickly volunteered to explain what it means and how trendy youngsters use it in a sentence: YOLO stands for “you only live once” and it’s often used as an interjection. It’s something like a modern day, hip “carpe diem”.
My first colleague’s reaction to YOLO illustrates how certain acronyms and abbreviations can be obvious to some, while others will not recognise them at all. This is particularly true of the abbreviations that are used only within one organisation or of those that may stand for more than one thing.
When a translator meets an acronym or abbreviation they are not familiar with, they will try and find out what it means, so that they can decide if it needs translation, an explanation or if it can be left as it is. They will do their best, however, as I mentioned, in some cases abbreviations can have many different meanings and the translator may not be able to choose the right one.
To save time and more importantly to make sure that the right translation is used for abbreviations, we advise that a list of abbreviations with their meaning is provided to us before a project starts. This way it’s ensured that the translator fully understands the abbreviations they meet in the text and so they can choose the correct equivalents in their own language.