GIGO stands for “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by George Fuechsel, an IBM technician/instructor in New York (but see also Michael Quinion’s version, at World Wide Words).

Interestingly (well, it’s interesting if you’re a translator), Wikipedia’s definition of GIGO used to include the following:

Non-computer-related use of the term

The term can be used in any field in which it is difficult to create a good result when given bad input. For example, in translation, it is difficult to convert a source text that is confused, illogical or missing pertinent information into a quality translation. A translator may use the phrase “Garbage in, garbage out” to explain the importance of good source text to a client. As another example, in quality implications, the quality of the materials a manufacturer procures directly affects the quality of the finished product.

Poor quality source material certainly isn’t an excuse for translators to produce garbage translations (that would just make us garbage translators). I’m not talking here about mistakes in source material, by the way — I’ll discuss that in future posts. But poorly written source text certainly makes our job harder.

Sticking with the translation example, you could rephrase Wikipedia’s last sentence above as: “…the quality of the translations an organisation procures directly affects the quality of their international image, reputation and credibility”. Organisations commissioning translations on a lowest-price basis are, frankly, asking for QIGO: Quality In, Garbage Out.

The ideal outcome is QIQO: Quality In, Quality Out. But how to attain it? I’ll be writing more posts on this topic, so keep tuned. And in the meantime, your comments are welcome, as always!

By Marian Dougan


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