Translation Corner: Underwhelming Response

Posted on: 23. Juni 2009

Hey folks,

About a week or two ago, I asked you to leave your comments on words you’d like for me to translate in detail, tough ones. Well, quite a bit of time has passed, and whoops, no one has commented. Guess I’ll just have to pick words to I would consider hard to translate.

Germany has a grading system from 1 to 6, where 1 is the best (excellent) and 6 is the worst (fail). However, both grades 5 and 6 are failing grades, and in the English-speaking world, there are no two grades for failure – only one.

One way to go about it is to use the British grading scale from A to F, but what if I want to use AmE? A quick internet check for „mangelhaft“ tells us that both and recommend inadequate, but only denotes it as a the „Zensur 5“. So, do we just use inadequate, risking that people might be confused?

It doesn’t really matter. If you can’t find the exact match for a word, take the next-best match and make the wanted meaning apparent through context. Using our current example, the German grading system is not very difficult or different from other systems, so a simple „inadequate“ with an added „(failing grade)“ will solve the problem.

This solution is applicable to almost any situation – sometimes there is no perfect translation, you will have to make due with what the language gives you.


4 Antworten to "Translation Corner: Underwhelming Response"

I actually have something to add to your article, dear Moritz!
I noticed that some German words are very tough to translate into French, either because they are compounds, or because they refer to a concept unknown to the French. The meaning of the word „Gemütlichkeit“ for instance is very hard to express in French, because it really refers to particular aspect of German culture. And many compounded words just seem awkward when translated literally into French. In such cases, it is sometimes better to translate only approximately.

A hooded figure approached Moritz, removing their pristine white glove and using it to slap him across the face.

Moritz turned, startled. ‚Who are you? What are you doing here?‘

‚What is the meaning of life?‘ The figure countered, as mysterious figures often do. ‚I have a challenge for you, bilingual bud, a challenge not for the faint hearted.‘

They reached inside the cavernous depths of their cloak, removing a pale brown and somewhat battered scrap of parchment.

Moritz scanned it hastily.

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit sind des Glückes Unterpfand
Blüh im Glanze dieses Glückes blühe deutsches Vaterland!

‚I don’t understand…‘ He said, in a puzzled fashion. ‚Why did you give me this?‘

‚In time, you’ll understand‘ The figure said sagely. ‚In time.‘

„But, I-“

‚Good luck, my valiant friend,‘ the mysterious stranger whispered with a twirl of their moustache, swishing their cape and running away into the foggy night. ‚You’ll need it‘

After the figure’s rather mysterious arrival and departure, Moritz sat at his desk, eyes scanning the battered parchment. He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. ‚Wow, I really need to stop coming to work drunk.‘

The last sentence holds alot of truth. But of course, I never did that, notwithholding the champagne we drank yesterday AT work. Thanks for the comment!


Rather late I realise, and apologies for being part of the underwhelming response, but how about the term „Impressum“ as found on many websites (including this one). Sometimes legal disclaimers and/or copyright notices, often contact information, aside from splitting the pages up and giving each an appropriate heading, the term doesn’t in my view suit a particular like-for-like translation. How would you approach it?

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