A nice witty judgment to read – see Words to good effect:

So judges can be just as flummoxed as we are by legalese. Here is one of the “astonishingly informative” definitions Sir Alan was referring to:

(1) An hereditament is anything which, by virtue of the definition of hereditament in s. 115(1) of the 1967 Act, would have been an hereditament for the purposes of that Act had this Act not been passed.

The judgment is here. It’s about a houseboat on which council tax was levied after its owner wrote to the council offering to make a payment in lieu – a move he surely regretted later. It’s about settlers and wayfarers.

The Northrop’s houseboat, a former Thames tug built in 1953 has many of the features that prospective house buyers look for. There are two good-sized bedrooms, two open fireplaces, gas central heating, a large sitting room and kitchen and several flat screen TVs. Old admiralty maps decorate the ceiling and there is even a grand piano and dedicated music room on board.


Further to the post on gender-neutral language, Johnson at the Economist links to a Washington State statute removing all traces of masculinity from its legislation.

But the Washington overhaul has pressed into service some awkward coinages. “Fishermen” will now be “fishers”, a word I can recall only ever having seen in the Bible (“Come and I will make you fishers of men”), and even then only to avoid the awkward “fishermen of men”. An “ombudsman” will now be an “ombuds”. “Ombudsmand”, a Scandinavian word, has the etymological meaning a “man who is asked for something”, ie, help or redress. Washington has shorn the title down to a meaningless “ask-for”.

Substitute Senate Bill 5077 (PDF) is 475 pages long and you can see crossed out all the amended terms.

It appears that the term ombuds instead of ombudsman is already in use outside Washington State, often in the term ombuds office at a university. I wonder whether it is singular or plural. Wiktionary says it is an abbreviation of ombudsman and is singular, and offers the anagram dumbo.

A commenter on the Johnson piece says that ombud is a perfectly good Scandinavian term. LATER NOTE: but I’m told that it is a good Scandinavian term with a different meaning!

LATER NOTE: It appears that the term ombud was introduced in Norway as a neutral form of ombudsman – see comments.

Nachtbriefkasten/Night postbox at court

A colleague was wondering how to translate this term – Nachtbriefkasten or Fristenbriefkasten. I’ve often seen them but it had never struck me how peculiar they are to the German-speaking world. They are designed to recognize items posted up to midnight of a deadline date. Earlier, there must have been someone who did this, but seemingly it is done electronically now. Here is a small postbox which produces another shelf when the clock strikes twelve. A Google image search for Nachtbriefkasten will show many more.

I don’t think there’s a special translation – you would have to explain it if it was important.

Here is the local Amtsgericht one, photographed this evening:

And here’s an explanation in English of the coat of arms of Bavaria (you have to click through to see the colours).

The modern coat of arms was designed by Eduard Ege, following heraldic traditions, in 1946.

The Golden Lion: At the dexter chief, sable, a lion rampant Or, armed and langued gules. This represents the administrative region of Upper Palatinate. It is identical to the coat of arms of the Electorate of the Palatinate.
The “Franconian Rake”: At the sinister chief, per fess dancetty, gules and argent. This represents the administrative regions of Upper, Middle and Lower Franconia. This was the coat of arms of the prince bishops of Würzburg, who were also dukes of Franconia.[3]
The Blue Panther: At the dexter base, argent, a panther rampant azure, armed Or and langued gules. This represents the regions of Lower and Upper Bavaria.[2]
The Three Lions: At the sinister base, Or, three lions passant guardant sable, armed and langued gules. This represents Swabia.[2]
The White-And-Blue Heart Shield: The heart shield of white and blue oblique fusils was originally the coat of arms of the Counts of Bogen, adopted in 1247 by the House of Wittelsbach. The white-and-blue fusils are indisputably the emblem of Bavaria and the heart shield today symbolizes Bavaria as a whole. Along with the People’s Crown, it is officially used as the Minor Coat of Arms.[2]
The People’s Crown: The four coat fields with the heart shield in the centre are crowned with a golden band with precious stones decorated with five ornamental leaves. This crown appeared for the first time in the coat of arms in 1923 to symbolize sovereignty of the people after the dropping out of the royal crown.[2]

Gender-neutral language for lawyers

Gender-neutral language is a big topic. I’m just thinking of a couple of points here.

One client wants to use the masculine to include the feminine. This applies to the German original, using Student to include Studentin, for example. This problem doesn’t arise in the English translation, though. What if there is an explanation at the beginning of a long document that the masculine will be used to include the feminine, and yet there are only three places where this happens in the English translation, and those could be elegantly amended to be non-sexist – and what’s more, it might be expected for the English to be non-sexist? Of course, that’s assuming the translation is intended for an Anglo-Saxon audience.

Second point is the suggestion of following the style guidelines at Kent Law.

The key rule of thumb is to avoid using gender-specific language; resort to alternatives like “he or she” only if there is no way to write the sentence without the pronouns. In most cases, one can rewrite any sentence to avoid the need for gender-based pronouns. There are three methods explained below. The first of the three is the most desirable. Do not use “their” as an alternative to his or her; “their” should be used only when referring to a plural subject. Each of the rules here offers a method of avoiding gender-based language.

1. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the need for any pronoun at all. One can often substitute the words “the” or “a” for the pronoun.

Incorrect: A good judge takes their job very seriously.

Undesirable:A good judge takes his or her job very seriously.

Better: A good judge takes the job very seriously

I agree that one might try to avoid their as a singular, because it is unpopular with many. As a translator, I tend to compromise if the client has a particular opinion on usage. But I am unhappy with the suggestion that their is actually wrong. I was going to ask if anyone knows how old this document is, but I see now that it is version 1.1 for a law class in 1994. I haven’t got my books with me, so I don’t know what the newest recommendations for legal English might be.

Christopher Williams, in a longer article which I haven’t got (but would like to have – but now, thanks to a kind reader, I have) says that the masculine rule was introduced by Bentham and was preceded by different usage:

According to Petersson (1998: 103), the masculine rule first appeared in British legislation in 1827, partly thanks to the influence of writers such as Jeremy Bentham who advocated letting ‘the masculine singular comprehend both genders and numbers’ so as to avoid the ‘evil of longwindedness’ (cited in Petersson, 1998: 102).3 This policy ended almost 300 years of using female terms to represent women in legislative texts, a policy which emerged during the Elizabethan period, at least in the field of vagrancy legislation (Petersson, 1998: 96).

Footnote: notes from the Canadian Department of Justice:

The need to deal equally with men and women highlights the desirability of drafting using gender-neutral language. Laws that exclude references to the female gender do not promote gender equality. For this reason, gender-specific language should not be used in legislation. Gender-specific words should be replaced with gender-neutral words that have the same meaning. In addition, the following writing techniques should be considered to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun:

use the singular “they” and its other grammatical forms (“them”, “themselves” and “their”) to refer to indefinite pronouns and singular nouns;
replace the masculine pronoun with an article;
use both pronouns “he” and “she”;
use the plural;
use a neutral word or phrase such as “person”, “any person”, “every person” or “no person”;
repeat the noun;
rewrite the sentence in order to eliminate the pronoun completely.

LATER NOTE: See also Charlie Bavington’s detailed discussion of how to handle gender when translating from French to English (though applicable to other language combinations).

German car numbers/Autokennzeichen

German car number plates are based on location, but some are forbidden. The combination of FÜ and CK is not forbidden (I’ve posted a photo of this before), although I prefer FÜ and MM. But some number and letter combinations are described as unerwünscht. The Motor Vehicle Licensing Order (Fahrzeug-Zulassungsverordnung) prohibit numbers which are against public morals. It recommends not to issue the following: HJ – Hitlerjugend, KZ – Konzentrationslager, NS – Nationalsozialismu, SA – Sturmabteilung, SD – Sicherheitsdienst, and SS – Schutzstaffel. There are also combinations in specific registration districts, for instance Nuremberg has the letter N and this can be combined to produce Nazi abbreviations.

Weitere nicht vergebene Buchstabenkombinationen sind in Stuttgart S–ED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), in Nürnberg N–PD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) und N–SU (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund)[38], im Kreis Warendorf WAF–FE, im Kreis Steinburg IZ–AN („Nazi“ rückwärts gelesen), im Kreis Dithmarschen HEI–L (nur bei Neuzulassungen). Die Stadt Regensburg in Bayern vergab entgegen den Weisungen der Bundesregierung bis Anfang Oktober 2012 noch das Buchstabenkürzel NS. Erst nachdem eine lokale Zeitung die Behörde darauf aufmerksam gemacht hatte, wurde die Vergabe eingestellt.

Thus it was that in connection with the NSU trial (see recent entry) there were complaints in Nuremberg that the town drainage lorries had numbers starting with N-SU (this was reported last November). It was eventually decided that those 35 city vehicles would have their numbers changed and anyone else who had that sequence (450 of them) could have it changed free of charge. The city has applied for a ban on future use and meanwhile only those with a justified interest, e.g. names beginning with S and U, can get it.

It was pointed out that Audi took over a company called NSU, whose logo decorates a number of vehicles in Neckarsulm.

Bee sting cake/Bienenstich

Bee sting cake seems to be what it’s called in the USA, when translated from the German.

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen (the blog) has created one, but it doesn’t look quite like the one I know:

The Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich) is a German specialty and while my mother’s parents came over in 1935 and 1936 respectively, the areas once known as German epicenters (the middle of Queens, where my mom was raised, and Yorkville, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan) have now mostly dispersed, and most of the accompanying stores have shuttered. Calls to German bakeries to see if they sold it were almost futile, until I found one in Ridgewood, Queens that sold us a whole one that was rather awful; let’s not speak of it at all. The only thing left to do was go it alone, researching obsessively along the way.

It actually looks to me as if the proportions of filling and pastry are reversed. this Wikimedia Commons picture looks closer:

I haven’t had Bienenstich often. I don’t like the blancmange-type filling, but confectioners’ custard is OK.


Swimming can be a problem.

Fürth has a really good indoor pool (Hallenbad), renovated a few years ago. It used to have a shallow end, but nowadays the shallower end is still too deep to stand in, so non-swimmers go to the smaller children’s pool. But unfortunately the renovation was subject to agreement that schools should have priority. So it opens only at 14.00 three days a week and closes at 13.00 or so at weekends, unlike in other more civilized places. On top of that, even when it’s open it’s been known for all lanes to be booked by clubs, or children’s swimming competitions have taken it over without announcement.

A sauna establishment called Fürthermare, which you can’t seriously swim in, optimistically described as a thermal bath, opened a few years ago (Bad Fürth was a spa at the turn of the twentieth century and Quelle was named after this). It looked as if you could use the indoor pool adjoining during opening hours, but no, it still opened only at 14.00, although I see that it can be used on Saturday and Sunday evenings only by the Fürthermare guests. It would be too expensive to open the Hallenbad entrance. So how about paying extra for Fürthermare and using the Hallenbad through that? Well, at first you had to take the sauna option, and in the sauna you could only change in public, not in a cubicle, after which you had to walk for miles to reach the pool. The system was slightly changed, but it drives me to Kristall Palm Beach (!) or the Nordostbad in Nuremberg.

Then in summer there is a huge demand for the open-air baths, as long as it is hot. Every year they complain about not enough takings because the weather was too cold. The indoor pool closes and the outdoor pool opens. This may be OK for young and fit people, but not so good for us beached whales. First of all, the padlocks for the wire cages for clothes storage run out (could take my own). Then, to swim every morning at 8 would be too cold, because the system of stainless-steel pools relies on being heated by the sun (if available). If it’s raining it’s unpleasant to swim, and on top of that there’s nowhere near the pool to leave a towel out of the rain. It’s a long way to the pool. On sunny days it’s full of young girls in bikinis and one hesitates to strip off in the showers. But lots of Germans like fresh air and abominate indoor pools.

The system in Havering seems better. At Hornchurch, they have ‘adults only’ (unfortunate that the timetable currently displayed omits this). But even in the Swim4all times, two lanes are kept free for lane swimming, clockwise without stopping (well, you can stop briefly at the ends, but there are no toeholes at the deep end). The water is about 28° and the pool 33m long. It was first opened when I was at grammar school and was supposed to be long enough for Olympic competitions, but there was a planning error so the length was wrong. I learnt to swim there and remember going back to school after a hot blackcurrant drink and arrowroot biscuits.

Ärger über Öffnungszeiten des Hallenbads

Bäderland Fürth

Hornchurch Sports Centre

Hornchurch Swimming Pool:

Hornchurch Swimming Pool is just at the edge of Harrow Lodge Park. It was built in 1956. It was the first swimming pool to be built in Britain after the Second World War. This was because all building materials were being used to replace bomb-damaged property. It was built to a new design with the changing rooms away from the poolside and a spectator gallery along one side. This design is still used for most swimming pools today.
An additional pool was built alongside the main pool in 1981 for learners and disabled swimmers with toilet and special changing
It is interesting that more people have swimming lessons at Hornchurch Swimming Pool than at any other pool in Britain.

You could read Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton:

As a teenager, Leanne Shapton trained for the Olympic swimming trials; now an artist, she is still drawn inexorably to swimming, in pools and on beaches across the world. What do you with an all-absorbing activity once it’s past its relevance, and yet you can’t quite give it up? Is it possible to find a new purpose for its rigors and focus?

But there is also Pond Life by Al Alvarez, which I have been dipping into, so to speak. I associated Alvarez with the 60s, with Sylvia Plath and suicide, but he is an old arthritic man who dealt with his arthritis over years by swimming daily in Hampstead ponds, negotiating Canada geese and other obstacles and in very low temperatures.

Tuesday 7 May. 55°F
A dark morning, windless and silent, and soft rain, the kind that soaks you without your noticing. Since I prefer not to get soaked and want to buy bread at Rumbolds, I decide to drive round to Highgate for my swim. A mistake. The car is coated with cherry blossom, the radio is nowhere to be found, the traffic is dreadful. But the swimming is beautiful, the pond like glass with a single swan floating on its own image. By midday, the clouds have lifted, the sun is out, the air is hot and it feels as if summer is finally on the way.

Translation error in Dijsselbloem’s cv

This goes to show that translation errors sometimes matter!

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Dutch government has changed its English translations of Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s online resume to make it clear that he never received a master’s degree in business from University College Cork.

‘Foutje’ in cv Dijsselbloem weggepoetst

I rather like the term ‘foutje’ and am thinking of adopting it for my own work.

Here is the current, altered version of the cv.

Thanks to Marisa.

Tenth blog anniversary/Zehnter Geburtstag des Blogs

When I started this blog in April 2003, I didn’t expect it to run for ten years.

Unfortunately, I am in a phase of little blogging, although there is plenty to write about, if I weren’t otherwise occupied.

So what is going on in the law in Germany at the moment?

In case anyone has missed this, a court in Bavaria has been making headlines.

The trial in question, before the Munich Higher Regional court (Oberlandesgericht), is called the NSU-Prozess. NSU is Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (National Socialist Underground), after the right-wing terrorist organization to which the surviving defendant, Beate Zschäpe, belongs. The charge relates to ten racist murders, of which five were committed in Bavaria (memorial to the three who died in Nuremberg) and eight were of Turks. The press originally called them Döner murders and attributed them to inter-Turkish gang warfare. I believe the trial is expected to take a couple of years. It was due to start tomorrow, on April 17.

The court allocated seats to journalists on a first-come first-served basis, and no Turkish journalists were included. The subsequent outcry (some German journalists even offered their places to Turkish journalists, but the court refused this, and it refused to relay the proceedings into a second room) culminated in an application to the Federal Constitutional Court, which found that the seat allocation should be changed (press release in English, in German). Thereupon the court yesterday changed the starting date of the trial from 17 April to 6 May.

Here’s a New York Times article for more.

The change of date is unfortunate for the victims’ families, who had made arrangements to stay in Munich. It might not have been necessary if the court had been prepared to take notice of objections, instead of claiming the moral high ground.