Carrie Doolittle

A very amusing title for today's King of Queens-episode: It 's an allusion to the classic My Fair Lady, where Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle, who is educated by Professor Higgins, a language teacher. He takes a bet that he will succeed in turning 'commoner' Eliza, a flower girl, into a distinguished upper class lady.

Key to this 'metamorphosis' according to Prof. Higgins is a refined way of socializing and communicating. This main theme is gently modified in today's KoQ's episode: Since Carrie prepares herself for a promotion, her supervisor recommends she work on her pronunciation in order to leave a better impression on the board members. In that very camera take her supervisor informs Carrie of her less than brilliant choice of words, in fact critizing her strong language and frequent use of swear words. Later on this is somehow being mixed up with pronunciation or rather a matter of accent.

In brief, this episode transports and modifies the classic's original idea that both register as well as the absence of an accent are markers for social status. This would be an interesting thesis in its own right, however, as we're mainly concerned with language issues here, I particularly liked the way how this was translated to German. With regard to strong language, this was a fairly easy task to accomplish, as most English words found their way into German as well (and won't get translated).

The bigger challenge was on the accent side of things and here, synch editors and translators found interesting solutions. E.g. they had Doug's Mom Janet pronounce "Kaffee" as something like "'Ka-ffä", attempting to make her speak carelessly with sloppy pronunciation. I was itching to hear the original version at this point, for it would have been interesting to know, whether they had speak Carrie with an Italo-American accent, where 'coffee' becomes 'cawffie' with a long vowel sound in the middle, even more so since we know that Carrie's character is performed by Leah Remini, who is indeed of Italo-American descent (half Italian, half Russian according to imdb.com.) Later into the episode, virtually every main character of the TV show is giving proof of their poor use of language.

On the other hand, a British accent is always considered a sign of good education and this part must have gone to character Spence this time, as he teaches Carrie proper pronunciation. Again, German synchronization transported this nicely by overdoing articulation to a silly degree.

Those guys - in contrast to many of our below examples - really know their jobs!


Deppenapostroph continued

Deppenapostroph continued

An unexpected sequel to Deppenleerzeichen:

This noon, I was lining up at the traffic light and came to halt behind another MINI Cooper. I let my eyes wander over its rear, checking out, which model it was, trying to determine, whether steered by a lady or a male person. Suddenly a little bumper sticker caught my attention: "Mini's dürfen das!" Dürfen was? What are they allowed to do? Be driven around with a silly sticker on their backs diminishing their natural charm by a stupid driver?


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In Her Shoes

Another example of a movie title as unaptly translated as possible: "In den Schuhen meiner Schwester", originally 'In Her Shoes'. What's THAT supposed to say?

The original meaning reads "sich in jmds. Lage versetzen". And I'd have to add that this makes perfect sense to me with regard to the plot. Translators could have come up with something at least remotely related to the idea of someone putting themselves into s.o. else's - well - shoes. We have expressions in German that would have - in my view - captured that idea nicely. How about "in jemandes Haut stecken" or "nicht aus seiner Haut können". Even the idea of dressing in someone else's clothes would have been closer to the original idea.

Aaaaarrrghh! I'm afraid, translation looked up the dictionary and - again - simply chose a literal conversion without keeping the story in mind. OK, I have to admit it on the other hand: It's not too well paid a job, so they may have wanted to take things as easy as possible.


Celebrity or 'VIP'?

05/11/06: Boinx company meeting. We're trying to figure out criteria for defining a key account customer. The boss goes 'any VIP, of course'. A VIP then? And carefully, but tenaciously asking back soon reveals, he's actually talking about 'celebrities': Persons, who - through their careers - have acquired an amount of recognition that you might call 'fame' with some businesses. Famous directors, for example, or actors, who may have taken an interest in creating their own little movies. So any single person, whose name or face has become public domain.

So, where's the difference? I remember some actors being referred to as 'VIP'. However, could it be that 'VIP' depends on the context it's used in? Such like a charity party, social events, donation parties, parties in general. It appears to me you can't generally refer to a person or a group of persons as 'VIPs'. You call them that when you intend to distinguish them from any other, apparently less significant group of people. Agreed? For example, I don't think you could say 'Michael Jackson is a VIP' as a general statement. You'd rather call him a 'celebrity', wouldn't you? By contrast, you could actually call him that when being mentioned along with the event he appears at: 'Michael Jackson is one of our VIPs tonight'.

What's your take on this?

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Comment blocker removed


since this blog - thanks to Schockwellenreiter and Philipps support - seems to be picking up some traffic, I decided to remove the comment blocking for now. Let's hope, the Spammers won't take over...


Weighing your Options

Here's a real life, hands on example: Over at Boinx Software , where I work, we're currently in the process of localizing some application. I am lucky to have the opportunity of giving engineering a hand with translation from English to German.

Today we collectively racked our brains over some English expressions, the usage of which has become so common in German that we weren't all sure, whether to translate them at all. Take 'Options', for example. Leo lists these meanings. According to these suggested translations it seems perfectly acceptable to translate the English 'Options' into the German "Optionen". However, users might too easily have associated this with the world of finance (e.g. 'dealing in options') and hence see it as a technical term for a totally different area than the one we were dealing with. So we dismissed that. "Auswahlmöglichkeiten" on the other hand would have probably been the closest solution - but was too long to fit in the respective GUI element. No good, either. "Möglichkeiten", "Zusätze", "Einstellungen" all left us with a funny gut feeling. "Voreinstellungen" on the other hand would have been to easy to confuse with what is commonly known as an application's 'preferences' - hence, not suitable.

So we were back to square one: Our 'good' old "Optionen". Hm. Short enough. Capturing the idea of offering the user a collection of choices to select from. So far, so good. But then - doesn't the connotation of 'facultative' ring with this somewhere? Yes, indeed: "Optional" in German refers to an alternative, an additional option that isn't mandatory, but offered on top of something else.

Hm... - scratching heads, sighs, stale looks (not too smart, either...) and - capitulation. We went with "Optionen" hoping on our users' smarts, effectively enabling them to differentiate here.

On a lighter note, Philipp sent me a mail containing his jocular, literal translation of a German ad he spotted somewhere on the web.

Check this out:

Original version:

<<T-Pay ist das kostenfreie und vielseitige Online-Bezahlsystem der
T-Com. Ab jetzt können Sie Ihr T-Online Netzausweis Login
(eMail-Adresse und Passwort) verwenden, um mit T-Pay im Internet über
die Telekom Rechnung zu bezahlen: einfach, schnell und sicher – Sie
können zukünftige Einkäufe im Internet mit wenigen Klicks erledigen,
rund um die Uhr, von jedem Computer aus und ohne zusätzliche Software.
Aktivieren Sie einfach und kostenlos im T-Online Kundencenter Ihr
T-Online Netzausweis Login für die Nutzung von T-Pay.>>

Now his literal translation, attempting to translate every single foreign word:

<<T-Zahlen ist das kostenfreie und vielseitige Leitungsbezahlsystem
der T-Kom. Ab jetzt können Sie Ihre
T-Leitungs-Netzausweis-Einwähldublette (ePost-Adresse und Passwort)
verwenden, um mit T-Zahlen im Internetz über die Telekom-Rechnung zu
bezahlen: einfach, schnell und sicher -- Sie können zufünftige
Einkäufe im Internetz mit wenigen Klicks ereldigen, rund um die Uhr,
von jedem Komputer aus und ohne zusätzliche Programme. Aktivieren Sie
einfach und Kostenlos im T-Leitung-Kundenzentrum Ihre
T-Leitung-Netzausweise-Einwähldublette für die Nutzung von T-Zahlen.>>

Mind you: the French are actually and seriously doing this all the time... ;-)

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Pre and Post

No, I'm not talking about a blog posting in the heading. There's another expression, I want to get to. Actually, it's kind of driving me crazy. What I'm referring to is an expression from the marketing/advertising sphere and it's called 'Aftersales'. With 'After' being a typical false friend according to Wikipedia's comprehensive list of false friends, it already makes me a bit uneasy. But made into a compound word it's almost driving me up the wall. Even more so, since the antagonist phenomenon is being referred to as 'Presales'.

While I think that I perfectly understand the idea of an activity being associated with efforts preceding a potential sale of goods or services, I will never be able to find out why the sum of efforts succeding a sale is not expressed by the contrary, which - at least according to my understanding of language - would have to be the antagonist to the prefix 'pre', hence 'post'. Is 'Postsales' such an inacceptible compound word that someone had to replace it by 'after'? Were there any replicable reasons for confusing 'Postsales' with an activity not suitable here? I'm afraid I can't make out any criteria that justify this - to me silly sounding - word 'Aftersales'.

'Pre' and 'Post' - they make the perfect linguistic antagonism for me. But then, I might just be too late with that proposal...

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False Friends as far as the Eye can see!

Wow! Now that's a pretty comprehensive list my blogger friend and de facto co-blogger Philipp just alerted me to: The Wikipedia List_of_false_friends. Not only does it cover German, but a host of other languages, too, mostly European ones, though. Go check it out and find for yourself, how many spellings seem to indicate semantic equivalence...

Also, don't miss to contribute to Philipp's blog. For a discussion of above link, see his entry.


Rumour has it...

... is the apt title of the equally named movie. You have to give him his due: Rob Reiner knows romantic comedy. But that's beside the point. Our point is the German title "Wo die Liebe hinfällt...". I guess, I will never figure out, why German movie titles are so often a complete miss when it comes to a striking title. Especially in this case. A literal translation would have been "Es wird gemunkelt, (dass)...) " or "Gerüchteweise". If they need the title to be short, easy to remember and capturing the story's basic idea, even the literal translation wouldn't have been all that bad here. With a little creative freedom, you might as well have found "Gerüchteküche" not too far from the original. Or e.g. "Was man sich erzählt" or "Gerüchten zufolge..." and so on.

To me, the final translation doesn't even remotely follow any conceivable criteria. Neither is the title short, nor does it sum up the plot. And as far as translation is concerned, it is a whole different idea than what the English title says.

Other examples of German title for English movies, just as faulty in my opinion:

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind - Vergiß mein nicht
Something's Gotta Give - Was das Herz begehrt
Must Love Dogs - Frau mit Hund sucht Mann mit Herz

What other examples do you know?

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Out of a sudden mood, I decided to go see Brokeback Mountain last night. Although I would like to think of myself as a fairly fluent speaker of English, I must admit that I wouldn't have had a chance of understanding a thing, if the movie hadn't been subtitled. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are mumbling their 136 minutes of film to a degree, where their utterances can barely be perceived as spoken language, but rather an uncontrolled stream of sound. A complete pest!

On a more positive note, the film is still worth seeing it and gave me the opportunity to identify quite a number of idioms. Expressions like 'to be a spitting image of s.o.' (jmdm. wie aus dem Gesicht geschnitten sein) or 'she talks a bluestream' (sie redet ohne Punkt und Komma/wie ein Wasserfall) are what 'separates men from boys', i.e. less proficient from the more experienced speakers of a foreign language.

These are but two examples of a wide variety of rather colloquial expressions that were being used throughout the dialog in the movie, and I enjoyed learning them an awful lot. To those who have seen the movie, which other idioms can you remember?

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'Professional Blogger' - Not a Job Category...

...according to some German civil agency. Says the civil servant 'It's not listed in my directory, so you can't use it. Find a German word', and sends my friend Philipp away. He then came up with 'Internet author', which the civil servant was o.k. with, albeit muttering 'it's not a German word, either', and complaining that it didn't exactly fit the bill.
So the challenge is on: What is a good translation of 'blogger' or 'weblogger'? How about 'Online Chronist'? (where half of it is English again, gee.... it's hard, isn't it? Imagine the challenge for native speakers of French, who find a French expression for almost every foreign word...). Good thing, I don't blog professionally (yet), and hence am not forced to think of a suitable expression for my occupation...

//edit: I have taken a little bit too much creative freedom in putting the above civil servant's quote into his mouth. Actually, as Philipp just let me know, he hadn't really said that and in addition, the fact of it it not being a German word, was Philipp's own conclusion. Sorry for that - hope to have restored credibility :-)


Wunderkinds Eigenwert

Thanks again to Philipp, who seems to become a regular reader and contributor to this little stop on the web. He found these examples of German words that made it into English without getting translated (a phenomenon we discussed here, but vice versa, with English words making it into German without translation).

Apparently, the source who reports these examples, concludes that some German expressions are perceived as semantically more distinct and hence more selective than any potential English counterpart. I always found that notion to be true, with particular regard to semantics and even more specifically the notion of selection criteria. My graduation paper deals with uses of the German verb 'blicken' as a marker for directional movement.

Some examples from the above mentioned source include
- Eigenwert
- Kindergarten
- Wunderkind
- Zeitwert

Also 'Angst' and 'Blitzkrieg' seem to be so stereotypical of German mentality that native speakers of English simply adopted them... :/

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Introducing 'Deppenleerzeichen'

Introducing 'Deppenapostroph'

A widely seen habit is the use of blanks where they aren't really needed or more precisely: Decomposition of formerly compound nouns. I'm still figuring out to what end people tend to separate compound nouns...

See some examples (thanks Philipp for alerting me to them):

- 'Deppenapostroph' and 'Deppenleerzeichen'


- Deppenleerzeichen and D-Englisch


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Come in and find out - 'D-English' at its best

Says German newspaper SPIEGEL Online in this article: Phrases like "Nothing between us" or "Come in and find out" don't tell the average German consumer a thing. 'Unispiegel', targeted at German university students, continues to quote scientific findings which claim that advertising in English fails to speak to the German consumer. It just doesn't work for the intended audience.

One reason for this apparent failure may be found in the fact that the majority of the target group simply don't understand above claims. A German undergraduate student proved by measuring skin resistance that a great many of the candidates didn't show any physical reaction to phrases like "Fly high, pay low", "Designed to make a difference", Have a break, have a KitKat".

Does that mean we'd have to sum up above findings by attributing advertising companies a 'Spend much, win nothing'-attitude?

By contrast, Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped, who inspired and contributed to this post, sees a different tendency in spoken German language: He comes to the conclusing that many 'modules' of special terminology as e.g. in advertising undergo a development he coins as 'Englification'. According to this, you see a - false - decomposition of compound nouns, as in "Wir waren im Fisch Restaurant" or "Der sportive Fahrer Sitz..." (where his original quote named a famous German sports car brand for 'Fahrer'; apparently, the manufacturer meant to stress the brand's name here by separating the compound noun).

He finds more examples, e.g. a false apostrohpe as in "Tina's Kneipe" or the possessive where a plural is expected as in "Handy's" (actually this spelling reveals two mistakes: The false apostrophe as well as the missing morphological marker 'ie' for the plural). A very krass phenonemon is the arbitrary mixing of English and German into a 'new media melange' as in: "Laßt uns asap meeten, um uns zum täglichen daily business zu committen" - an almost incomprehensible phrase, don't you think?

Another interesting development is the superimposing of English Grammar on formerly German expressions, as in "Ich nehme eine Dusche" - apparently a literal translation of 'I'll take a shower' or "ein Foto schießen" for "to shoot a foto".

In light of these almost helpless efforts to comply with formerly perfectly logical grammatical rules (where the various renditions of the German Rechtschreibreform add to the general insecurity with regard to grammar), it's probably not too bad an idea to simply do without translating at all and keep the English original - or a simplified version instead, e.g. in movie titles such as 'Miss Congeniality', which was translated to 'Miss Undercover' in German theatres. Most technical terms aren't translated anymore, either, which is probably a good idea, too. For what you get in trying to convert them all into the target language can be seen in French: "L'ordinateur" for computer, "logiciel" for software a.s.o., making it an almost complete new 'language in the language'.

Philipp closes in stating that according to his view there are two opposite tendencies: One being the above mentioned 'Englification' in order to - supposedly - make rather mundane things sound more interesting as in 'Eat & Drink', a neon ad in a bakery's window. On the other hand there is an almost compulsive effort to synchronize most anything in the media: Movies, TV series, the news a.s.o. Especially movies and TV series suffer substantially, e.g. with falsely translated metaphors or puns on words that lose their original punchline when being translated literally.

With the linguistic fact of language being subject to change by its speakers, it will be interesting to see, whether we'll succeed in striking a balance between 'borrowing' words and subdue it to the target grammar or whether 'Englification' will lead to a rather unusable mix of expressions, grammatical rules and meanings.

I suggest: Come in (this blog) and find out ... ;-)

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Spinning or going nuts?

At some point into Episode 76 of series 4 of the much acclaimed US TV series King of Queens we hear Carrie say something along the lines of 'Were you thinking we were spinning around on the floor?' (could not find original quote yet, will keep looking) and she is illustrating the spinning movement with a vivid gesture. This whole scene depicts her being dressed for the gym and on the verge of leaving the house, announcing her leaving to Doug by saying something like 'Gone for the gym, am having a spinning class'.

The German translation as expected reads "Hast Du gedacht, dass wir auf dem Boden rumspinnen?". Now, it's hard to determine here, whether synchronization intentionally chose this translation in order to somehow carry over the jocularity of her graphic acting out the dialog. Because "spinnen" in German rather means 'going nuts' than referring to a fast circular motion (which the original dialog refers to with regard to the pedals of the immotile spinning bike at the gym). Whether the fact of a person going nuts is worth a laugh may remain disputable. However, the introduction of spinning in European gyms and the idea of exercising on a bike save a forward motion gave some people a good laugh.

If we look at a literal translation as an alternative, the translators could have come up with something like "Hast Du gedacht, wir drehen uns auf'm Boden 'rum?". Now, that ain't funny at all, isn't it? Whereas "auf dem Boden rumspinnen" may have at least some comic quality to it, albeit not a very sophisticated one. What do you think?

Ideas anyone? Mine keep (pointlessly) spinning in my head, I think I'm about to go nuts here...


I have no idea

... where I have come across this false friend for the first time. For all I know, it was either a TV series or a movie and the German translation - you may have guessed it - was "Ich habe keine Idee...". The correct translation would have to be "Ich habe keine Ahnung ...", although I must admit at this point that I have already heard native speakers of German form phrases beginning with "Ich habe keine Idee dazu". Hm. Does that mean that false friends are on the verge of becoming 'real friends' from hearing false translations so often that people start to take them as the correct version?

I have no idea...

What's this blog about?

This blog is about collecting and discussing examples of a linguistic phenomenon called 'False Friends' in German to English translations and vice versa.

Originally I had wanted to use this very expression for this blog's title, referring to a linguistic situation, where two words or expressions in two different languages - more accurately: their orthographical representation - is equal, but their meaning is not. To give you an example: In English 'pathetic' means something along the lines of 'poor', whereas the German (orthographical) representation stands for 'elevated' or 'solemn' and is being used in situations of great significance, such as the signing of treaties between countries or ceremonial events or similar. (find more examples of false friends in the German False Friends Glossary and the related article)

The two meanings of these - at first glance - identical words couldn't possibly be any more different, could they? Hence, translating one into the other is terribly wrong, isn't it? However, errors like the aforementioned are still fairly common, e.g. in movies, articles, news... you name them. An expression that looks the same in one language doesn't necessarily have to have the same meaning (although some do). The two may look similar, but are of a completely different nature - they are indeed 'false friends'. (In greater detail, the expression used here is a brilliant capture of that exact phenomenon, as 'false friends' is not too an exact denotation, either...)

So, with this blog I would like to collect and discuss some of the most frequent translations errors known as 'false friends'. Only, I wasn't able to use that title for this blog, as someone else had already taken that name. I could have offered James H my services in contributing to his blog, but he (or they?) isn't too outspoken about themselves (and apparently not too active, either). Hence, I was a bit reluctant in contributing to their blog and had to come up with a different name.

The challenge now was to think up something close enough to capture that same idea without falling for the need to use the same expression - in fact, I was to find a false friend to 'false friends'! ;-) I came up with 'fine friend', referring to the expression "What a fine friend you are!" (which, in fact, means that this fictitious person isn't a friend at all). To me, this is the closest approximation to the original expression, hopefully retaining the essence of the metaphor, while differing on the orthographical level.

What do you think? Have I pulled this one off? For starters, you and I could begin with discussing the very naming of this blog with regard to whether or not I met the above described challenge. You tell me... :-)

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