Translator’s errors/Miels van Driel

The Observer reviews Manhood, by Mels van Driel.

And as for rigour, well I am no urologist, but I do doubt whether researchers really found that the “average diameter of the fully erect penis was approximately 121mm”. That is nearly five inches or about the same size, in cross section, as a compact disc. A simple mistake, I’m sure, substituting diameter for circumference, but such things ought to matter in this book.

Earlier in the review:

And yet, even when one has finished the task of absolving him and his translator from their many sins of style and punctuation, Van Driel’s book remains, by any normal measure, a botched job.

Yet no other example of translator’s errors are given, and the punctuation may be down to the editor. At you can look inside the book and see if it reads badly. It reads well to me. The translator, Paul Vincent, has a good reputation in the ITI. I wonder if the reviewer is getting carried away.

11 thoughts on “Translator’s errors/Miels van Driel

  1. It sounds like error 121 is either in either the Dutch original or revision or in this translation. The Erick Janssen study was published in English as “Penile circumference variability in a Dutch sample” (, and there is an earlier translation by Judith Abma-Hill which gets it right ( Abma-Hill knows her medicine, while Vincent is a literary translator, so it could have been his wrong, but I’m betting on authorial or editorial error. And not paying a proof-reader. Not that I know a huge amount about the Dutch penis.

    (Can Leo Benedictus read Dutch? Did he actually find any translation mistakes, or is he just churning out the usual bullshit you get in reviews of translations?)

  2. Well, no doubt the reviewer didn’t mean to get cocky. At least his circumference is well-circumscribed rather than circumcised.

  3. I hate the book “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. It is the only book that I stopped reading halfway through (and I had invested a good month in reading it). It’s one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best English-language Novels. The book depressed me. I hated the main character (frankly, all the characters) and decided the book wasn’t worth my time. It still makes me shudder when I think about it.

    • I have heard of that, but it hasn’t reached my list of books to read yet. I see his others are on Project Gutenberg, but not this.

  4. I think it is Enid Blyton. I believe the Famous Five are just as famous in Germany, and then there are the Five Find-Outers – those were my favorites but they were just as pretentious and downright mean at times. Now, I am trying to think of a book I hate and I can’t think of anything. Actually, when I read the title, I thought you were referring to a “hate book”, some teeny bopper thing where girls write all the things they “hate”, including the ex-boyfriend of the moment.

      • I was referring to the name, I believe you wrote Edith Blyton and not Enid.
        I once tried to find the original books just to see if they are as square as the German translation. I was only able to find the Five Find-Outers around here. I believe Hanni and Nanni was called St. Clare’s.
        I just checked Wiki and learned that the Franz Schneider Verlag actually went ahead and wrote additional books but pretended they were also written by Blyton. I have to admit, I loved them – the books and the audio tapes!

  5. Eat Pray Love was pretty much like that for me. Had to force myself to finish it. What’s worse, someone I really like recommended it. Also, Die Klavierspielerin. I wanted to like Jelinek but could not make it through.

    • I abandoned Die Klavierspielerin halfway through – liked the film. I should imagine her other stuff is even heavier going. I did throw away The Last Samurai by Helen de Witt, but I think I just have too high an inverted snobbery level (was Donna Tartt’s The Secret History also in an academic setting? I seem to think that was praised a lot). I also threw away Infinite Jest, but that was definitely good in parts, just a bit of a young man’s novel – not only not as great as claimed, but the lure ‘when you reach the end you will want to start at the beginning again’ that there was some big revelation at the end was completely disappointed. So it seems my strongest reactions are to books hyped by others!

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