Wordcount fairness


Spanish translators used to assure me that anything that didn’t tally at least 40% more words than the English original “wasn’t really” Spanish. No way was I going to let this fantasy bother me. After all, there are goofy ideas backed by the force of law. But goofy ideas absolutely repudiated by ordinary arithmetic or the law of supply and demand can safely be ignored. It is possible, however, to use marketing jiu-jitsu to turn someone else’s superstition into an advantage.

Back during prohibition, the Volstead Act made it illegal to make, transport, buy or sell anything containing as much alcohol as ordinary sauerkraut (0.5%). Prices of beer, wine, spirits, sugar and yeast increased approximately 400% after the night of January 16th, 1920. All seaward horizons visible from These States were promptly dotted with ships selling every kind of intoxicating substance available at the time. Al Capone bought a mansion with a boat slip in Florida from one of the Anheuser Busch magnates and became wealthy providing illegal things. Soon the mischievous entrepreneur and wealthy owners of corn sugar and yeast plants were indicted for income tax evasion.

Irish writer James Joyce wrote Ulysses, a rambling, train-of-consciousness story serialized in an obscure little magazine. But when published in France, the book was banned in the USA, imports, publication, mailing… all verboten, so tourists bought copies in France and England.

O_presidente_negroBrazilian writer Monteiro Lobato worked for the Brazilian Trade Bureau in New York in the 1920s and sought to have his own novel translated and published Stateside. The story centers on the taboo subject of a black man in the White House. One wag suggested he add some sex scenes, get it banned, and sell it through smugglers for several times the price. The jiu-jitsu approach appealed to Lobato, but no translation was ever made or published. This is a pity, because “O Presidente Negro” is an interesting read in our own time.

One of President Warren Harding’s many paramours published the story of her affair with the Senator-turned-President in 1927, and after HL Mencken dared to mention it in print, “The President’s Daughter” broke all records for readers-per-copy printed.  Men with guns did turn up at the printer’s, but released the books and plates after ascertaining that it did not contain whatever it was they were worried about.

Harding’s love letters to a Mrs Phillips were placed under a gag order by a federal judge long after the ole roué’s death. Naturally one wonder’s what the politician wrote to the ladies–especially during their travels in Germany before and after WWI.

Getting back to wordcounts… If your wordcounts in Spanish and English are pretty close to the same, you can offer to settle for the lower of the source or target counts in the bid you send to the client. You are giving up nothing, and reassuring the buyer that there is no hidden trap.

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