Today's curiosity was from a manual about some electronic circuit.
Zusätzlich können die Signale /IOWR und /IORD zeitlich verzögert werden.
Which I translated as
"The /IOWR and /IORD signals can also be delayed."

The question is do I need the translation of zeitlich? If something in delayed, it always involves time, so why bother with zeitlich, which is surely unnecessary, even in German?

But then again, maybe that's a boy's way or looking at it, to use the least number of words possible. My old headmaster once wrote in a school report "his tendency to brevity may prejudice his future chances…". Well, the less keys I have to press the quicker the job is done and the better my hourly rate...


Sometimes you just have to simplify things. Today I bumped into Bedienelement and the "mandatory" terminology entries included operating part, operating control, operating element.

I had to think back to an old film I once saw where Doris Day is on a flight and the pilot dies or is otherwise incapacitated and she has to land the plane herself. Can you imagine what a laugh it would have been if the air traffic controller in the tower had said to her "You will have to take the operating elements and land the plane yourself". That would not have been good for her career!

The correct translation for Bedienelemente is controls. Basta!

Nouns or verbs

Germans often much prefer a noun where us English folk would use a verb. Like in Soll Generatorupdate durchgeführt wer­den? You could say

“Should the generator update be carried out?” - Not so good

It would be more English, not to mention shorter, i.e. less typing, to say

“Should the generator be updated?” - Better

If you munch your way through a German sentence translating word by word, it is sometimes irresistible to swap verbs for verbs and nouns for nouns. It’s like driving long distances, most of your brain switches off and only those parts required to get you where you are going stay active. At the end of the day, on your 2000th word, who could blame you? Not me, I do it all the time, but if I “wake up” and notice, I do try to pop back and fix it.


I was watching the footie after my 2000th word yesterday and the commentator came out with Stürmerfoul. I couldn't resist googling that one and sure enough two popular online dictionaries translate that as "offensive foul" LOL. Like I say nouns are much preferred and us translators ought to kick some of them firmly into touch!


Possessive pronouns

Sometimes to make things more English, you have to add things that aren’t in the original German text.

How about Eilanfragen an den Technischen Kundendienst richten. That is pretty typical and you could translate that as “Please address urgent enquiries to the technical customer service department.” A genuine Englishman (fee, fo fi fum, I smell the blood of ...) would however say Please address urgent enquiries to our technical customer service department.”

It’s the same with fingers and thumbs and other bits of your body. When I complained to my German wife that she says
das Haar instead of mein Haar, she just replies well of course it’s my hair, whose else would it be?

Maybe it has to do with the big
Du/Sie question? Is the person you are writing to a mate or not? Fortunately everyone is a mate in English, so there is no dithering associated with a choice.

Anyway, I have learned my lesson and I try to sprinkle possessive pronouns liberally about, despite the fact that they are used much less frequently in German.


Like erfolgen, durchführen is one of those dodgy “nouns are nicer” words. Look what I found the other day.

Zur Zeit wird das Sperren nur bei Frontairbageinheit Beifahrerseite durchgeführt!

this was translated as

Deactivation is currently only performed in the front airbag unit on the passenger side.

How about

Currently, only the front airbag unit on the passenger side is deactivated.


Efolgen is one of those words which I suppose shows that Germans think that nouns are to be taken more seriously than verbs. Why would they do this otherwise?

Die Prüfungen des Airbag-Systems dürfen nur mit den dafür vorgesehenen Prüf- und Messmitteln erfolgen.

The tests of the airbag system may only be carried out with the specified test and measurement equipment.

Which you can understand, but I think this is more English.

The airbag system may only be tested with the specified test and measurement equipment.


Übersetzungstechnisch. finanztechnisch, schmiertechnisch, wolkentechnisch, geschmackstechnisch, mnemotechnisch, messtechnisch - the list is endless of words guilded with a magical technisch. This seems to be a question of style & does not have much to do with technicalities. Instead of writing Dokumentation über Schmierung, engineers write schmiertechnische Dokumentation. Sounds grand does that!

I translate like this - messtechnisch geschultem Personal - personnel trained in the use of measurement equipment


Image credit: Robert McLassus
Ho hum, Google can find 13,000 instances of Betriebsmedium, which some contributor to Leo has reasonably called operating medium. Wikipedia defines this as “In industrial engineering, a gaseous, vaporous, fluid or shapeless solid material that plays an active role in manufacturing processes ... “ Eeek. I just did a job for radiator valves where the client used Betriebsmedium, which is actually water. So I translated it as water, as I wasn’t sure what a British plumber would make of operating medium.

I was then entertained to read that calling a spade a spade is actually based on a mistranslation...

Repeated noun use

I suppose that it’s an attempt to be precise, that produces sentences like this -
  • Achse mit der Hand in eine mittige Lage fahren, so dass die Achse noch mindestens 50 mm fahren kann.
I know someone who gets very excited about this, where the same noun is reused within one sentence, in this example the word Achse.
Instead of writing this -
  • Manually move the axis to a central position so that the axis can move at least 50 mm.
My advice is to use ”it”.
  • Manually move the axis to a central position so that it can move at least 50 mm.
The context makes it quite clear what “it” refers to and that’s how a native English speaker would express themselves. On reflection I suppose that the German es is used differently to the English “it” although on the face of it they express precisely the same idea.

Another example
  • Verbindungskabel am PC anschließen
  • Connecting the connection cables to the PC
  • Connecting the cables to the PC

Exclamation marks

Testbetrieb!!!Sicherheitsschalter für *IBN teilweise deaktiviert!!!

Maybe it’s just engineers who have this curious affection for exclamation marks. You don’t hear engineers speaking with this sort of vehemence. It’s as if they doubt that you will believe them in writing and that by adding more exclamation marks it increases their credibility. Maybe it’s just my British tendency to understate things.

Whatever it is, I delete almost all exclamation marks.

(*IBN is this particular engineer’s shorthand for Inbetriebnahme)

Just nouns

Überlastung Q13.2: Leistungsschutz Hydraulikpumpe

This sort of abbreviated German is unfortunately common. The colon serves to replace everything that is not a noun, thus avoiding any possible grammatical challenges associated with assembling a full sentence. Encouraged by agency strictures that „die Terminologie ist verbindlich!“, you could translate this as

  • Overload Q13.2: contactor hydraulic pump

This would score zero terminology errors and is almost comprehensible. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually use the context to solve the puzzle and use a few words other than nouns.

  • The hydraulic pump contactor Q13.2 has cut out following an overload.