English words which it would be nice to have

Some things in German are so useful you do wonder why there is no equivalent in English. In German there is this pair of words überschreiten and unterschreiten. Beautifully symmetrical and quite comprehensible. One goes up and the other comes down.

Überschreiten is easy, "exceed" is a good translation although you will find quite a few other suggestions
  • to stride
  • to outrun
  • to overrun
  • to overstep
  • to trespass
  • to overshoot
  • to transcend
  • to transgress
  • to cross [a canal]
  • überschreiten [Termin]
  • to overstay

If you look up unterschreiten, you get

  • to deceed [neologism (disputed): opposite of exceed]
  • to fall below
  • to fall short off
  • to go below
  • to underrun
  • to undershoot

I like "deceed", even if it's not English. Goodness only knows which creative soul popped that one into dict.cc. (See weaknesses of online dictionaries).

Maybe it reflects some sort of foolish optimism, the economy will always grow and expectations will always be exceeded, so there is no need for a word to describe the reverse?

Why I hate abbreviations

Today I had to translate Nur wenn mit VKE 1 belegt, finden Aktionen im FC statt.

The Ingenieur is so familiar with this, that he/she doesn't hesitate for an instant when asking for a translation. Naturally there was zero context, just the name of the company and my suspicion that it is a comment in some code for numerically controlled machine tools.

I researched and found nothing. Half an your later I was searching for something else and stumbled across a forum entry where VKE was explained as Verknüpfungsergebnis. Taraa! The forum also contained some mockery of the person who asked the question along the lines of, "you call yourself a professional and you don't know what VKE stands for".

I could cheerfully strangle adherents of that philosophy. Why can't documentation be comprehensible? What is the point otherwise?

Well if you are still interested, I could then correct my translation to

"Only if at logical 1, will action be taken in the FC"

No, I don't know what FC is, I guess that it's function call……..

Absent nouns

Here's a good example -

Das Zentrieren und Verriegeln erfolgt über Führungsbolzen und Verriegelungseinheit.

I have already whinged about the use of erfolgen, so I will ignore that. Here is my translation

"Tools are centred and locked by locating pins and a locking unit."

The interesting bit is where does "Tools" come from. Werkzeug does not appear in this sentence, nor in the one above it if the truth be told. It is in the context, which translators are supposed to keep in their head. This means you not only have to chunter through sentence by sentence, as encouraged by the use of translation software. You have to understand what the document is covering and fill in the absent nouns.

I suppose you could translate it as

"Centring and locking is done by locating pins and a locking unit"

but I feel uneasy with that. Exactly what is centered and locked?

For the engineer who wrote the documentation it was obvious, so he/she didn't bother to write it down. I often feel that something is missing. I have not yet made my mind up whether it is idle engineers or something fundamental about German. It seems to contradict repeated noun use, which is surely a tendency in the other direction...

The wonder of Wikipedia

Today I was confronted with Eigengeschäfte and found "business for own account or "trade for own account" in a number of the common online dictionaries. That didn't really sound convincing so I used Wikipedia to sort it out.

Google found this page http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eigenhandel

and lo and behold, there is a nice blue underlined "english" link at the side to take us here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprietary_trading

The content of these two articles matches, so schwuppdiwupp I've got a decent translation "proprietary trading".

And that is the Wonder of Wikipedia. Don't you just love it!

Translation memories

I do some work for a very large company which has thousands of documents translated every year and they do not use a single, online translation memory (what’s that?). Most freelance translators work online these days and if we could all use exactly the same translation memory it would be great.

At the moment however, for each order, this company’s agency forwards a tiny package (produced by the company itself) of the work to be translated and maybe a reference file or two. I am not even sure if the company’s preferred tool (Transit) supports an online memory. It would be good, malicious fun to run an analysis and see how much money they waste by having the same sentences translated over and over again.

I am guessing that this is because “it’s all too complicated” just like credit default swaps, no one knows what is actually going on, or how in this case translation memories actually work. All that I know is, that I occasionally recognise sentences which I have recently translated, sitting there like old friends waiting patiently for me to translate them again.

Since I have realised what is going on, I have started keeping everything from that customer and I manually include it, so that I then don’t have to waste my own brain power on repeat translations. I still get paid for it of course.

It’s still a shame though, because this company has lots of technical bits & pieces which are hard to name in English. It would be nice, when the terminology supplied can’t help, to be able search the memory of thousands of existing translations. Then I wouldn’t have to get researching in hyperspace and reinvent the wheel, which may end up a different shape to older ones.

Plausibility checks

Today i came across Schwerpunktstation. Both Leo and IATE call this a “distribution network core unit”. I have never heard of that, so I did the Google test and got just 1 hit from a Dutch website. So, it’s obviously not called that in the Anglo-Saxon world. I think that I will choose the closest quickly understandable term and call it a substation. Wouldn’t it be nice though if online dictionaries could do a plausibility check like this, as well as using votes from users, in a similar way to Websters Online “usage frequency” ?


I find the prominence given to tags by some tools amazing. In the example that I am showing, there are 4 words to be translated in the entire window. Almost all of the rest is irrelevant chaff for a translator, which only serves to distract from the real content, displacing what might be useful context above and below the bit that you are currently translating. This is obviously a tool designed by software engineers who were not provided with a sensible specification of what the planned product should do.

In the 1980s I was working in a research centre in London, where they had an incredibly expensive Canadian word processing system, where the secretaries needed 6 weeks of training to produce correctly formatted letters. Then we bought some Macs with WYSIWYG editors and overnight anyone could do it. 25 years later on we get tags.

Big screen

On the big screen today ... On the left, your favourite translation tool and on the right, the unadulterated original document that you are supposed to translate with all of its formatting, pictures and other useful context. This is the only solution that I know of to the irritating characteristic of most translation tools, that they seemingly deliberately strip off every possible bit of context that they can find. One agency that I worked for instructed you to print out every single page to resolve the problem. My screen is 1920 pixels wide and I don’t print anything. Wayhay! (See synchronise PDF)

Crossword puzzles

Over time, I have found that if jobs are long enough, the accumulated context makes it possible for the crossword puzzle that is a translation to be solved with a reasonable amount of confidence. The mistakes that I make at the beginning become clear, just like fakes in the art world. They are perfectly convincing at the time, but the more time elapses and the job progresses, the clearer the fake becomes and I can go back and correct it.

Unfortunately, this only works if the whole job is to be translated. If only half is to be translated as the other half was previously translated by someone else, there is a problem. The problem is that, as a freelance translator, I only get paid for the new bits. What do you do about the “fakes” which appear in the previously translated half. I’m afraid that I feel that I have to fix them, which is pretty silly, doing unpaid work, just to have a clear conscience when I deliver.

What do you do?