Terminology Management 101: Yes, you need a term base!

A splash image with a green background, a screenshot of a term list, and large text that reads:
You need to make a term list. Every project. Every show. Every game. No exceptions.

Let’s talk terms.

Anime, manga, game, and light novel translators, we need to talk.
Y’see, there’s something very, very important a lot of ya’ll aren’t in the habit of doing.
Sit down and let’s talk… about terminology management.

What is terminology management?

Simply put, it’s writing down frequently used words and phrases that need to be translated the same way every time. 

You might’ve heard it called a glossary, dictionary, term list, term base, cheat sheet, etc.

Why is terminology management so important? Well…

  • It saves you time searching for words later.
  • if you leave the project or get hit by a bus, the next TL on the project will love you.
  • If they decide to make a second season ten years down the line, you won’t have to dig through old shit to find stuff.
  • It makes you look hella professional.
A man in a hospital bed is comforted by a nurse standing at his side. Text is placed above the image.
Nurse: Sir, you've been in a coma for ten years.
Translator: Oh man, I hope the person who covered for me kept my term list updated while I was out.

Through the lens of translation theory, maintaining consistent terminology is important to creating equivalent experience. Using inconsistent translations creates more work on the part of the reader.

Imagine if a game used three different words to refer to the same skill. You’d be distracted, annoyed, frustrated, or confused. It’s the same concept!

“But Katrina”, you say, “I’ve already got a term list!”

What you’ve got is a great start! But I’m willing to bet a few things:

  • You haven’t written down every single one.
  • You don’t always jot down all the info for every term.
  • Your term list isn’t easy to search.

It’s not your fault — very few companies require us to provide full term lists, and those that do don’t really check to make sure we’ve done a really thorough job. And unless you took classes on translation in school, you’ve never been taught how to organize terminology.

So today, I’m gonna show you how to:

  • identify which words or phrases are terms
  • pick which information to write down
  • organize your terms to make them easy to reference later
  • look extremely professional and boost your worth
A comparison meme showing drug addicts' before and after images. On the left is a woman who has been negatively affected by alcohol use. On the right is a man who has been positively affected by terminology management.

Let’s start off with the most important question: how can you tell what’s a term? What needs to get written down, and what can you ignore?

I’ll keep things simple here, but this answer can get mega complicated. Some linguists have PhDs in Terminology, and there are careers in terminology management!

What is a term?

If a source word, phrase, or idea must be translated with the same target word, phrase, or idea every time it appears in the target text, then it is a term.

Let’s go down the list of categories from most to least obvious. I’ll add my tips for what to add.

Proper Nouns

Her comes our most obvious category: Proper Nouns.

If it’s capitalized in the English translation, then it probably belongs on your term list. 

Screenshot from Etrian Odyssey Nexus. Mueller says "Welcome to the Maginian Explorers Guild. I trust your presence means you're hoping to reach Yggdrasil?"
Can you guess Which Words here are terms?

🧑Character Names👧

Every single name that appears in the translation, from main characters to the rando that’s named exactly once. Why?

  • Weird kanji readings
  • You have to give a name to every balloon/line in your deliverable
  • Named rando could be important one day
A screenshot of the Kageki Shojo termbase showing only names with the type Character. Comment text reads: Out of 140 terms, 90 are character names. Some have only shown up once as part of a list of actresses in a production, but you never know when they will pop up again.

✏ Biggest tip on character terms:

Put a few words about their description in the definition. My go-to is hairstyle and one identifying mark, like a scar, hair accessory, speech quirk, etc. 

Screenshot from the Super HXEROS manga. Three generic anime girls are walking and talking in Japanese. An overlaid screenshot shows how two characters' names and descriptions were added to the term list: "Kirara's friend. Mid-length dark hair in a bob, girly. Dating a girl." "Kirara's friend. Short dark hair. Sporty."

🏫 Place Names 🏢

If a place has a name, it goes in the

  • Towns, Cities, Countries, Kingdoms
  • Schools & Companies
  • Government Offices or HQs
A screenshot of a Japanese school website. Overlaid text states: "Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts. Term list kept me from translating it as "of Music and Theater" a few times. The anime committee made a whole fake school website!"
⚔ Groups, Monsters, Items, and Oddities 📐
  • Club vs. Team for 部
  • Councils, Committees, administrative groups (Dueling Committee)
  • Monster names or races
  • Items, minerals, chemicals, magic, you name it!

📚Lore, Nicknames, Catchphrases💭

  • Anything specific to the lore that needs to be translated consistently.
  • Catchphrases
  • Nicknames: Super easy to forget.
    • Example below is from Grimoire from Zero. This guy gets a nickname in 103, then shows back up in 108. Glad I wrote it down!
A screenshot from Grimoire of Zero. The subtitle reads "I talked things out with Dog-face". A screenshot of the term list entry is placed below.

🧙‍♂️Spells, Skills, and Mechanics🦸‍♀️

  • Spells – single-word and full phrase
  • Skills – same thing
  • Game mechanics (chihayafuru, long-shot card)
A screenshot from Chihayafuru Season 1. The subtitle reads "Now Mashima, you got the six-syllable cards, the long-shot cards." A screenshot from the term list for the entry "long-shot cards" is below.

Borrowed Source Words

If you’re not translating a word from the source and borrowing it into the translation, then add it to the translation. It needs to be translated consistently, after all!
A screenshot from Kageki Shojo. The subtitle reads "Winter Troupe, Top Otoko-yaku: Sei Satomi". Below the text is a screenshot of the entries for "otoko-yaku" and "musume-yaku" from the term list.

👑Titles, Honorifics, and Forms of Address🙇‍♂️

  • Military titles and ranks
  • Translations for honorifics (先生, 殿, etc), especially when specific to certain characters (Professor, Doctor, Lord, Sir etc.)
  • What one character calls another consistently (Master, Milord, Ser, etc.)
A screenshot from Vermeil in Gold. The subtitle reads "Most likely because you are failing all nine subjects, Young Master." Young Master is highlighted, and a screenshot of the term entry is placed below.

💁‍♂️Frequently Used Phrases🎮

  • The stat blocks you see used in isekai anime – they’re all formatted consistently!
  • Canned phrases, transformation calls, quotes.
    • One famous example you may know: “In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you!”
  • Scenes referenced often
    • Some shows really like to keep going back to a certain scene or quote. Instead of having to look it up every goddamn time, you can place the whole thing in a term!
A screenshot from Chihayafuru Season 2. The subtitle reads "Back when you and I played karuta in that old apartment..." The quote from the scene referenced is shown in a screenshot of the term list tab "Flashback Lines", with the comment text "The quote from that old apartment shows up every few episodes."

These categories cover a lot of what should be on your term list, but you may encounter terms that don’t quite fit!

Remember the golden rule: if this word or phrase should be translated with the same words every single time, PUT IT ON THE TERM LIST!

A screenshot from Chihayafuru. The subtitle reads "I'm playing Taichi in an official match." Below, a screenshot from the term list reads: "A karuta match takes place during a karuta competition." The words 'match' and 'competition' are capitalized.

That golden rule crosses off a lot of things that shouldn’t be on your term list.

Japanese words you just can’t seem to remember? Write a note elsewhere.

Accents or tones of voice for a character belong in a Style Guide. Alternatively, put them in the note/description for the character.

That’s a great segue into my next segment…

What information do you need
for each term?

Simple answer is: whatever will help you look up the term in the future!

You can get very complex with this — modern translation tools have all sorts of options. Here’s what memoQ’s term base editor looks like.

A screenshot of memoQ's term base editor screen.

First, the basics: the source term and the target term. Duh.

  • Don’t include articles (a, the)
  • Singular, unless plural is the only form (例: The Killers).
  • If a term has multiple translations, separate with a semicolon.
Screenshot of a term list. The term "stats" and "statistics" is separated by a semicolon.
From Reincarnated as a Sword.

Next up: The reading for the source term, if applicable.

Why do I do this? Because it’s easier to search for readings when:

  • terms have obscure kanji in them
  • terms have uncommon or completely made-up readings
  • you don’t have the script and only heard the audio
  • you only remember part of the term

(It’s also a good learning exercise.)

A screenshot of a term list. Between the Japanese word and English word, a column types out the readings for each word in hiragana.
From Reincarnated as a Sword.

First Appearance (Episode, Volume, Chapter, Page)

This helps out if you ever need to remember when or where something appears for the first time, like characters or important scenes for flashbacks.

I can’t count the number of times this has helped me, and it takes only a few extra seconds.

A screenshot of a term list for a manga series. After Japanese and English columns, there are two columns, one for volume and one for page.
From Kageki Shojo.

Next, a description or comment column. You can keep it simple or get detailed.

Personally, I’ll use it for:

  • quick appearance description
  • puns or references
  • translation notes for my editor
A screenshot of a term list. Next to English terms, a large description column details information about each term, including physical descriptions, explanations of puns, and notes to the English editor.
From Super HXEROS.

Category: Not 100% necessary for smaller lists for one-off TV shows or features, but a must-have for long lists or game titles.

Some sample categories:

  • Character
  • Monster
  • Lore
  • Weapon / Item
  • Spell / Skill
Screenshot of a term list. In order, it lists Japanese word, English word, volume and page, description, then category. The categories shown are School, Drama Term, Character, and Show Lore.
From Kageki Shojo.

Those cover the basics, but you can always add more info columns as need be. I sometimes have:

  • Context: How a word has been used in a sentence or in context
  • Image: Worth a thousand words of description!
  • Reference Link: Useful when you’re always looking something up, or if your editor might appreciate extra information.
A screenshot from Kageki Shojo. The subtitle reads "Maybe I'll save you a primo seat in the SS section". Below, a screenshot of the term list details the Japanese and English term, the volume and page, a description and category, and finally, a link to the Takarazuka wiki's explanation on seat sections.

Conclusion (and grab my template!)

My last tip for term management: do whatever is best for you, your team, and your project. Whether that means adding columns, forgoing categories, using tons of tabs for images, anything — as long as it helps you and your team stay consistent and provide a quality translation.

Oh, and you can grab the basic template that I use right here! Find it on Google Drive at this link.

Screenshot of the Excel template for the term list, linked above with the text "this link".

Happy term managing!

P.S. 1: Term Extraction or How to Find Terms from Legacy Material

For Arifureta and Reincarnated as a Sword, I wasn’t provided with a term list, despite the source material having many volumes published already! I went through the LN and did a full Term Extraction:

  • Read through the original text.
  • If a word looks like it should be a term, write it down.
  • Later, when translating, match JP words to the EN word and fill in the term accordingly.
Screenshot from the light novel for Reincarnated as a Sword. Every proper noun is highlighted, and boy, are there a lot of them.

P.S. 2: Times I was Saved by the Term List

My dedication to keeping good term lists has saved my dumb butt in lots of situations.
Here are a few I remembered while working on this guide:

SELECTION PROJECT: Never remembering how to read 力弥 because he only appeared a handful of times. Every time I had to write his name in as the speaker, I could just search “dad” and boom! There that rascal was.

KAGEKI SHOJO: Completely translating a scene wrong because I got the twins mixed up. Later, some dialogue seemed weird, so I went back to my term list. Surprise! Wrong twin! No wonder that made no sense.

SUPER HXEROS: Forgetting which female friend is which in Hime’s random side stories. Most of the time when they pop up, no one says each other’s name, but I gotta put a name down. I can search “friend” and look at the descriptions to remind me who’s who.

Obligatory Self-Promotion

Need a terminology hero? I’d love to bring my brand of quality localization to your next JA>EN project! Contact me now and we’ll work something out.

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