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False friends – what about acronyms?

RACI, also known as ARCI, is an acronym for a business technique for defining roles in which the letters stand – in English for:
Responsible
Accountable
Consulted
Informed

The idea is that in any project each person involved will fall into one of these categories. The A person is at the highest level in the chain of command and signs off on the project. The R person is the one responsible for carrying out the work and accountable for it to A. C and I include all the people who need to be either consulted or informed about progress.

We recently had to translate a French document using this concept. The French used the letters this way:
Responsable
Actif
Consulté
Informé

At first it seemed simple; Responsable = Responsible, Actif = Accountable, etc. But no. In fact, the original French writer had used Responsable for Accountable and Actif for Responsible. In other words, he or she had decided to keep the four original English initials but used them differently. This is not a bad solution, but translating it back into English was a bit of an issue. We had two options:

  1. Keep the original English initials. This would be right for English readers familiar with the RACI concept, but would mean translating Responsable as Accountable and Actif as Reponsible, which would be very confusing for anyone familiar with the French source document.
  2. Keep the French initials from the source document. This would be right for English readers familiar with the French original, and would keep Responsable as Reponsible, which would be very confusing for anyone familiar with the English concepts.

There is no “right” answer to this dilemma and we had to leave the decision to the client (who chose solution 1).

This case raises another common issue in translation. It is fashionable to use both “responsible” and “accountable” in English, but their dictionary meanings are basically synonymous and would normally both be translated as “responsible”. It’s only where there is an explicit contrast between the two, as in RACI, that you would normally distinguish between them.

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