In witness whereof/Zu Urkund dessen

There are conventional German equivalents of numerous fixed expressions in English legalese. Dietl-Lorenz, for example, has:

in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand: zum Zeugnis dessen habe ich diese Urkunde eigenhändig unterschrieben

and Romain:

in witness whereof: zu Urkund dessen

I prefer ‘zu Urkund dessen’ – I think it’s closer to the meaning.

Does anyone use a simpler translation?

The question of plain English is indirectly raised by the TransLegal Legal English blog, which suggests an improvement:

Try a straightforward closing like this:

THE PARTIES, INTENDING TO BE LEGALLY BOUND, have executed this agreement on the date first set forth above.”

This still looks pretty unstraightforward to me (set forth is a normal American expression, British set out, but it still sounds rather lawyerly to me). But yes, being legally bound is the main point. There is also a criticism that ‘the year of our Lord’ is objectionable for religious reasons, and that ‘witness’ implies that there were witnesses (this is a misunderstanding of ‘in witness whereof’)

Doonan and Foster, in Drafting, 2001, (an impression of an earlier version is given in Google Books) recommend:

These incantations may be revised to:
Executed as a deed on …
Signed and delivered as a deed on…
The parties have signed this document as a deed on …

(This assumes English law, where a deed has a special meaning)

Plain English books can be useful where they make it clear whether the two words in a doublet are synonyms or not, or what the meaning of fixed expressions is. (I’m not so sure that law can be written completely in plain English).

4 thoughts on “In witness whereof/Zu Urkund dessen

  1. Thanks for these book tips, Margaret. I find it a strange quirk of history and off-putting that, daytime and evenings, there are German police armed with machine guns posted outside and *protecting* the Berlin Literaturhandlung branch and the Israeli jeweller’s shop next door.

    I’ve just got round, 20 years after buying the books on the back of Sussex Uni’s ‘Living Oral History’ project, to women survivors’ Holocaust stories in surprisingly goodd English and published by the Book Guild Ltd. in Sussex – which, coincidentally, is bringing out later this year Sir Ivan Lawrence QC’s autobiography: ‘My Life of Crime’.

    • Thanks for further references. I see Book Guild have quite a collection. I didn’t know that about the bookshop. No such problems here, but then again, the Jewish cemetery is locked up except for special tours.

  2. The three partly autobiographical novels by Judith Kerr are actually an interesting example of a series whose intended readership grows older with its main character. *When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit* is a story about a child, for children.

    The second book, *The Other Way Round*, takes place in her teenage years and treats more mature themes.

    In the third book, *A Small Person Far Away*, she is an adult, and has to deal with her conflicted relationship with her mother (who wants to commit suicide) and her father (who is having an affair).

    • Yes, you must be right – I hadn’t thought about that. The second book is called ‘Bombs on Aunt Dainty’ over here. I don’t remember her father having an affair. I think her mother eventually worked in Germany, possibly in connection with the war crimes trials in Nuremberg.
      Btw, I did also look at Michael Kerr’s autobiography. It is not so readable, but it does have some more photos in it. Here is an
      [url=]interview[/url] with Judith Kerr in the Guardian

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