March 30, 2019

Dictionaries under Generalverdacht

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Some German terms look like they have an official meaning but don’t. Colloquial German tends to use a higher register than colloquial English, which is why translations often sound stilted. Small time business people and bureaucrats love meaningless bridge words like “beziehungsweise,” “dementsprechend” or “im Rahmen von.” Even though all of these have dictionary equivalents, you can usually cut them out without sacrificing accuracy.

More tricky are words like “Generalverdacht.” At first it sounds like a legal term but at closer look it’s a metaphor for legal bias against a group or person. It’s often translated as “under general suspicion” and if a native reader thinks twice they might get the drift. But a translator’s job is not to force readers to think – it’s to break down the info. Colloquial legal terminology is different in every common law country, but an idiomatic way to phrase it would be “xyz are treated as the usual suspects” or “like criminals” or use a wordplay on an existing legal principle like “guilty until proven innocent.” If you want to avoid translating metaphor by metaphor – which is the safer choice – go for an explanatory interpretation like “legal/structural bias.” And always, always make sure you understand whether the word has a literal or figurative meaning.

You can see more about this example and others in my live translation tutorial. I look forward to your comments!

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