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Lost in Translation

Because he’s a horse, of course.

As many of you will by now be well aware, I have a geeky curiosity and genuine affection for German words. Not only that, but I get positively frothy when funny things happen during the course of translation from Deutsch to Englisch and then back again. It happens a lot, so there’s plenty of froth.

Day by day, week by week, I pick up some new ones and spend far more time than is strictly healthy chuckling over them, or guffawing rather more safely into the crook of my elbow.

So it’s only right that I share some with you here, especially after the absolute welt-beater that I received earlier today. More on that in a bit.

I have a very silly mind. As an Englishman, this is vitally important when it comes to living in Germany. It helps you cope with the sheer weight of bureaucracy for one thing.

For another thing, it helps you fit in. Germans are funny. Drier than spilt Riesling, and don’t you dare believe the rumours to the contrary. On my first visit to the doctor’s last autumn, the receptionist had me on the floor. No, this wasn’t some grim form of German physical inspection, but more the hilarity we both found when I introduced myself as “Herr Lowe,” and she replied, in her best Denglisch “Hello, Herr Lowe” and we both chortled and held up the queue of shuffling OAPs behind me until we calmed down. Much froth.

Linguistic Twists

Then there was the period, also just after our arrival, that my wife was getting puzzled looks in delicatessens. To be honest, this happens a lot, as she’s Canadian and gets frightened if she walks down a street without a Tim Hortons on it.

Tim Hortons and snow. Two things that make my Canadian wife weep with nostalgia. (Photo: Matthew Singer/iStock)

She was hungry for ham and cheese, and her request for “schnicken und käse” kept getting her some funny looks. We endeavoured to find out why, and initially discovered that she’d been asking for “Poppers and Cheese” which, while mortally embarrassing, also felt ‘very Berlin’ as if we were about to become part of a very exciting scene.

Actually, upon further investigation it turns out she’d been asking for ‘Snap and Cheese’. The correct word for ham is ‘schinken’, so my wife was simply using all the right letters, just not necessarily in the right order, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe. However, if she’d swapped a letter from the Scrabble bag and asked for ‘schnecken’ to accompany her käse, she’d have wound up with her sourdough smothered in snails and cheese. Bonjour.

(Incidentally, this is a good time to bring up the fact that a slug is a ‘nacktschnecke’, which literally translates as ‘naked snail’. You can see why these little linguistic twists appeal to me, can’t you?)

Freelancers, Assemble!

So anyway. Back to today. Those little quirks of translation keep occurring, and today’s was an absolute treat. Recently, I signed up to a website here in Germany for freelance writers. As often happens, the website and Google Chrome enter into an earnest and frank discussion about what to translate and what not to translate, all in the space of a millisecond.

On this occasion, the website decided to translate my name. I was already aware that, give or take an umlaut, my last name ‘Lowe’ translated as ‘Lion’, which was all very nice and regal and stuff. What I hadn’t expected to see was the following:

Look in the top left corner…

Yes. That’s me: Horse. Equestrian freelance copywriter, at your service. Able to write features and leap over stripey poles in a field at a very competitive rate. Horse Lion, if you want to go the full zoo.

It gets better. The literal translation of ‘Ross’ is not just horse, but ‘steed’. So a knight’s horse then, and, if you know your British television from the 1960s and 70s, a dashing crimefighting dude able to knock villains senseless with an umbrella.

So. Turns out I’m an Avenger. Not a bad start to the week. Thank you, Germany. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a welt to save…

Share and enjoy.

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