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Danglers of impersonal German

German is feared for its impersonal style. But look close and you’ll see the persons meddling in the background, which makes translating from German even sneakier than you thought! There’s two types of nouns: living and dead ones. German likes dropping the human agents, but it doesn’t like inanimate objects taking their place, so it … Continue reading Danglers of impersonal German

Warning on writing rules

As Orwell famously wrote, “break any [writing] rule sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” Barbarous is a cute exaggeration, but what it really means depends on who’s reading. Always keep the audience in mind, whether you write or translate. Say you’re translating a text by Julius Caesar for a Germanic audience – here you might … Continue reading Warning on writing rules

Dictionaries under Generalverdacht

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, … Continue reading Dictionaries under Generalverdacht

Dissecting German compounds

Translate this into English: “Dieses Jahr erhielt die Presse vier Berichte von Leichenfunden.” German writers use compounds as abbreviations for noun + verb combinations. Instead of saying “Dieses Jahr erhielt die Presse vier Berichte von Leichen, die gefunden wurden.” or “…Berichte von gefundenden Leichen” (which both sound like the corpses were the ones reporting), they … Continue reading Dissecting German compounds

Unspeakable translations of touchy terms in German

The German left-wing political discourse often uses English loanwords, although there are more or less fitting German equivalents. When you think about why, it can get scary. Loan words, like other catchy terms, can serve as a way to skip the thought process. 1. Empowerment As in “community empowerment,” which is often used in grant … Continue reading Unspeakable translations of touchy terms in German

Shop for a helper, end up with a second job – the X1 Carbon

Executive summary: Don’t buy Lenovo laptops! Their features are ok, their service is an insult. As an avid user of the old ThinkPad series, I was looking to upgrade my 2008 model for a newer one. As I travel a lot, I need a lightweight model with professional power, so I bought the Lenovo X1 … Continue reading Shop for a helper, end up with a second job – the X1 Carbon

Subject/agent splitting and personification in translation

One special case of the old rule to never use the passive voice is what I call “subject/agent splitting.” German loves not just passive clauses without agents, but also scattering the subject all over a sentence. It’s a bad writing habit few are aware of and occurs in many other languages. While as a rule … Continue reading Subject/agent splitting and personification in translation