Translation Corner: For One’s own Good.

Posted on: 21. Juli 2009

Hey Folks!

Fips recently asked me this:

Here’s another one I was thinking of the other day, though this time from English. The phrase is “for someone’s own good”, or “zu jmds. Besten” as I’ve been reliably informed. But in English it can also be used in a negative context, such as “He’s too tall for his own good”. How would you tackle that expression?

The phrase „for someone’s own good“ is just that, a fixed phrase with two meanings. The corresponding translation Fips provided is correct for the positive meaning, but one has to know that the phrase is not as firmly established in German – you could say „Es ist zu seinem Besten“ in quite a few different ways. For instance „Es ist in seinem Interesse“ or „Ihm zugute“.

The ’negative‘ meaning has it’s own translation in German – you could try to put a sarcastic undertone to the German positive translation, but then you’d either sound like a villian, or only people that know where you got the phrase from would get it.

To go with the original example, a passable translation for „he’s too tall for his own good“ would be anything that expresses the initial statement (-> „He’s too tall“) with an addendum that implies that he is almost too tall – we can do that in quite a few ways, for instance we can put a humorous spin on it (which in English would be done with the intonation due to the fixed phrase) – „Er ist so groß, er könnte aus der Dachrinne saufen“ (literally: „He’s so tall he could drink from the gutter“). Humorous similes like that are common in German, and sometimes even the joking undertone is removed to really state the fact.

Other than that, we can only use the actual statement, „He’s almost too tall“, to convey the meaning without losing anything – there are other phrases you can alter to have an approximate phrase, but it does not fit the English original a 100 percent. Therefore, my ideal translation would be „Er ist schon fast zu groß.“


P.S.: if you have more interesting translations, from English to German, from German to English, or from French into any of the other two, just ask!


2 Antworten to "Translation Corner: For One’s own Good."

Hey Moritz,

This isn’t so much a translation request as a query, but I’m hoping you’ll be able to assist me all the same!

Many years ago when I was learning Deutsch in high school, my teacher, Frau Schwarz, was very picky about one particular thing- the translation of names.

When my peers and I called her Mrs Black on several occasions, she became quite agitated, and repeatedly insisted: ‚That’s not my name! I’m Frau Schwarz!‘ (This proved to be an unwise decision on her part- we exploited her weakness and called her Mrs Black for the better part of two years.)

Was her reaction just an idiosynchrasy, or is the translation of names (ie. don’t) widespread between German and English, and indeed between other languages?

I’d be interested to know.


Dearest Moritz, and World of Text associates;

I find myself in a terrible conundrum.

Not knowing German myself, the meaning of these phrases are unfortunately out of my grasp. I’m currently reading a thesis with many German references, and I find I lose track of what the author is talking about.

One phrase is as follows:
„Das Leben ist wie ein Kinderhemd–kurz und beschissen.“

And there is also the ambiguity of a second phrase that befuddles me:
„ein Tropfen auf den heissen Stein“

What do they mean?
What are their origins?

Help me Moritz one Kenobe, you’re my only hope.

Thanks in advance,

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