Always beware the (small and good) masculine ordinal indicator. Why automatic checks matter
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Always beware the (small and good) masculine ordinal indicator. Why automatic checks matter

Always beware the (small and good) masculine ordinal indicator. Why automatic checks matter

Oops!It is not just in Life Sciences that a small error in translation or typography may have dire consequences. Move a decimal point here or there, say from 0.001 to 0.01, and the prescribed dosage may kill the patient (worst case) or make the drug’s usage completely ineffective (possibly, just possibly, a better case).

The same may happen if you mistake micrograms for milligrams, or use the wrong symbol for decimal and thousands separators (“.” as opposed to “,”) in a given target locale. And there are many more potential pitfalls like this, many very well known.

Here is another such a potential pitfall to be aware of, one which may sometimes go rather “under the radar” and be less frequent, but one with no less significant repercussions.

Taking the temperature

If you want to use a symbol for a degree Celsius, which of these would you pick?

and in this case?

Times New Roman

and how about here?


The right answer would be “Always the first choice!” although you might barely see any difference in the first two instances. Why? It’s down to using three different fonts respectively: Arial, Times New Roman and Calibri to highlight the little difference between the two small symbols used – “°” and “º”.

These examples illustrate the issue that some characters might look the same especially in some common fonts such as Arial and Times New Roman but have in fact completely different meanings. You can finally see in the third font – Calibri, where one of the symbols is underlined – that there is more difference between them than meets the eye.

The first option shows the correct degree sign that should precede “C”. That is a small perfect circle. The second option is the masculine ordinal indicator, represented just by a small superscript vowel “o”. Here are the respective character codes:

Character codes

These symbols are gender-specific ordinal indicators used in languages such as Spanish, Portuguese or Italian – the feminine ordinal indicator being “ª” (Alt+0170). So they would be used in ordinal numbers as for instance 2ª or 2º (= 2nd), 3ª or 3º (= 3rd), etc. But as such they are not without some little difficulty either – while some fonts include the underlined versions, most simply don’t.

Confusing these two different characters might not seem such a big problem when you work with Arial and Times fonts. But change the font and this error becomes painfully noticeable.

Automate your checks and balances

All this is just another reason to use automatic checkers that will thoroughly check translated content, compare with the source version, and highlight errors, or potential errors of this kind, so that they then can be verified prior to delivery. While there are some commercial tools that will help you achieve this, at Moravia, we have found the best value in developing our own automatic checker tools that we can easily customize for specific languages, domains and customers.

At any rate, whatever tool you use, in our experience the following should be the minimum set of checks you should always run on your translated files.

  1. Different translations for same source
  2. Identical translations for different source
  3. Different numbers
  4. Missing colon at the end of string
  5. Missing full stop at the end of string
  6. Different case
  7. Untranslated strings
  8. Mistranslation of #include instruction
  9. Multiple spaces only in target
  10. Space before full stop or comma

Not all errors may have the potential to put people’s lives on the line, but the increasing use of tools and various leveraging methods means that less and less translated content may be actually translated or reviewed by living translators. All the more reason to make sure you have your automatic checks – and balances – set up properly.