‘John Doe’ slips into German news articles/”John Doe” = unbekannt, wer wusste das schon?

In den USA heißt John Doe (oder Jane Roe usw.) “unbekannt”, z.B. in Anzeige gegen Unbekannt oder für jede andere anonyme Partei. In England kommt derselbe John Doe in fiktiven Fallbeispielen im Jurastudium vor.

Nun hat AP dieses nicht gewusst, so dass der Eindruck erweckt wird, Michael Jackson hätte was mit einem echten John Doe zu tun. Näheres in Carob, der auch Blick Online zitiert:

bq. Denn «John Doe» ist der englische Bruder von «Otto Normalverbraucher» und springt oft als Platzhalter für unbekannte Tote, erfundene oder anonyme Personen ein. Übrigens: John Doe hat auch eine Schwester – sie heisst Jane Doe.

Robin Stocks
picked up the following wonderful story.

bq. Would the real John Doe please step forward?
This is lovely. A broad cross-section of the German and Austrian press has egg on its face today thanks to an overlooked translation error in a German news agency story about the trial of Michael Jackson. The latter stands accused of seducing a boy referred to for anonymity’s sake as John Doe. Accordingly, there are references to ‘John Doe and his family’ in the American press. Now, ‘John Doe’ of course means nothing to a German readership, but the German news agency, AP, failed to pick up on this and retained the name.

5 thoughts on “‘John Doe’ slips into German news articles/”John Doe” = unbekannt, wer wusste das schon?

  1. John Doe is also a fictitious litigant who appears sandwiched in the titles of real court cases – exported from Colonial Age England to the present-day US & Can.

    There are some US cases featuring John & Robert Doe etc. where the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.

  2. Hi Margaret

    I’d be interested in hearing what is used in Britain these days Margaret. Surely not the all-American, coca cola-swigging, french fries guzzling “John Doe”? What for instance is shown on ads in Britain for credit cards?


  3. Paul, I don’t know. I only know John Doe as a fictitious or unknown party in US legal proceedings and a party to pre-1852 actions of ejectment in English law, and as you say, I don’t think the others are true equivalents.
    I see that Mark Liberman on Language Log thinks that writing ‘John Doe’, without the inverted commas, in a German text is a translation. I have to disagree with that. Normally, a name in a court case means a person, whatever language the case is reported in. But ‘John Doe’ does not mean a person – it means either an unknown person (as in ‘gegen Unbekannt’) or a person who remains anonymous (as in ‘Roe v. Wade’).

  4. Well done, Margaret, in pinning down John Doe (let’s not forget your prize-winning Bavarian doughnuts picture)to England pre-1852. I knew I had seen the name in the titles to ancient Eng. equity, crime or land law reports – couldn’t remember which.

    To Paul, I think Joe or Jane Bloggs or Mr or Mrs Specimen on a credit card.

    The Eng. & Welsh Court service uses ‘Mrs. V. Cross’ in their ‘How to make a (Small) Claim’ when exemplyifing a pre-action letter to a naughty tradesman who’d messed up her building & electrical work.

    Otherwise in case titles, as Margaret writes, ‘and others/ persons unknown’, ‘et al. = et alium or et alia or the R. v. X, Y, or Z. R. is Regina i.e. the Crown in a crim. case – or A, B & C v. ‘Bungled Op. Hospital’ Area Health Authority in a civil medical negligence claim in tort.

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