I was proceeding in a northerly direction

I’ve just received a comment on a post I wrote in 2004: I was proceeding in a northerly direction/Polizeisprech.

The comment is actually a link to an article on another blog written by a police officer who picks up factual errors in TV police shows. He writes that no policeman has ever ‘proceeded in a northerly direction’, by which he means not that they never go north, but they never use the expression. But that’s exactly the point: it’s when a police officer is in a magistrate’s court refreshing his memory from his police notebook, which is standard practice and permissible, and reads out what he has written – it doesn’t come over naturally.

On this subject I can’t help remembering the German TV series Ein Fall für Zwei, where the German lawyers would strut up and down in court as if there had been a jury in the German court – US TV was the inspiration for that.

Here’s another article on the same topic

Leo Whitlock, one of the editors at the Kent Messenger group of newspapers, has penned an interesting blog looking at the how individuals use overly complicated words when speaking to people in authority.  

It is, I suspect, an attempt to appear not just ‘posh’, as Whitlock claims, but to appear better educated and to gain the respect of their peers. 

This inflated use (or abuse) of the English language is no better illustrated when engaging with the legal community. 

Take, most likely, the apocryphal PC writing in his notebook.  “I was proceeding in a northerly direction, when I apprehended the suspect…..”

No one talks like that.

That’s the situation, I think: talking in a courtroom setting.

Buses and state courts

Can you commit a breach of copyright by watching streaming pornography? The Cologne Landgericht (officially translated into English as the Cologne Regional Court) has apparently admitted that it may have been unjustified in requiring the names of customers to be revealed, following which letters before action were sent out, requiring recipients to pay 250 euros (text corrected – see first comment).

In the Guardian and elsewhere, the Landgericht has become the Cologne state court.

Did they get the story from an American press report? The Independent uses it too. But even there, state court is a misleading term. We’re not talking about a dual system of federal and local law here.

Some US sites intelligently write of a Cologne court. That seems enough information in this context.

I’m not sure whether the German site The Local purports to write US or British English:

Cologne lawyer Johannes von Rüden represents hundreds of what he says is at least 10,000 people who were sent the legal letters and ‘fines’ from Bavarian law firm Urmann and Colleagues (U+C). …It is thought the Cologne state court only ordered internet providers like Deutsche Telekom to hand over names and addresses of customers because it misunderstood what Redtube.com was.

Yes, Abmahnung is difficult to translate.

The Local also reports that ‘buses’ are Germany’s new favourite transport.

But it does condescend to refer to coaches later in the article.

Goeuro.de, which released the online search figures, says it expects around a million passengers to travel by coach around the festive period.

The pilcrow’s partner in crime: §

Keith Houston, of the Shady Characters book, turns his attention to the section symbol.

I’ve always known it as the section sign, or section symbol; Robert Bringhurst (The Elements of Typographic Style)[1] and Theodore Rosendorf (The Typographic Desk Reference),[2] my go-to typographic references, agree. It seems odd, though, that this eminently shady character has no other name. Have you come across any other names for the pilcrow’s partner in crime?

It’s called the paragraph sign in German, and it symbolizes law. It’s used in US statutes too, but there called the section symbol.

The commenter Erik writes:

It’s a symbol I used heavily (as a mathematical symbol) in my PhD thesis, and many other people who use it in the same way I did referred to it as “paragraph” which always drove me nuts because to me, the “paragraph symbol” is the pilcrow. But sadly that name is out there. I always called it the “section symbol”.

Typography for Lawyers reminds us to use a non-breaking space after these symbols.

On the book:

If Eats, Shoots & Leaves whetted your appetite on the subject of punctuation, then you have a treat in store. Shady Characters is an authoritative, witty, and fascinating tour of the history and rationale behind such lesser known marks as the ampersand, manicule, the pilcrow, and the interrobang. Keith Houston also explains the octothorpe — otherwise known as the hashtag — and my final comment on his book is #awesome.
Ben Yagoda, author of How to Not Write Bad

Judgment and judgement

It’s not a secret that UK legal usage prefers the spelling judgment (Urteil) and general usage judgement (Urteilsvermögen).

I do sometimes wonder about mixing spellings in one text, but not so Lord Neuberger:

Judgments are the means through which the judges address the litigants and the public at large, and explain their reasons for reaching their conclusions. Judges are required to exercise judgement – and it is clear that without such judgement we would not have a justice system worthy of the name – and they give their individual judgement expression through their Judgments. Without judgement there would be no justice. And without Judgments there would be no justice, because decisions without reasons are certainly not justice: indeed, they are scarcely decisions at all. It is therefore an absolute necessity that Judgments are readily accessible. Such accessibility is part and parcel of what it means for us to ensure that justice is seen to be done, to borrow from Lord Hewart CJ’s famous phrase.

I’m not sure about the capitalization of Judgments.

The source is the first annual BAILII Lecture on 20 November 2012 , No Judgment – No Justice.

Via Binary Law

LATER NOTE: for more detail, commentary and links, see Peter Harvey’s post.

Signing off on emails/Wie unterschreibe ich eine E-Mail?

Diamond Geezer has a great post on how to start and end an email, with 44 comments at present. It starts Hi Reader and ends Many thanks dg.
I think this shows that there is no easy answer to how to address people in both formal and informal emails.
I hope this post doesn’t come across as prescriptive, because I have great doubts about all forms of address and closing.
In German, the problem is just as great.

First, in letters (British English only):
Dear Sir or Madam … Yours faithfully
Dear Mr. Smith /Dear John … Yours sincerely

In the law firm I worked in, we had this closing for clients:
Kind regards

In formal emails, you might start
And close:
Best regards
Kind regards

Is this right? I rarely write formal emails in English and I have been known to close
Yours sincerely

which may be a no-no in email.

Now the emails to friends, acquaintances and forums.
I usually start:
Some write

To a forum, I often start without a greeting.

To close, I usually write
Some write
Kind regards
Best regards

which seem awfully formal to me.
Then there are
and if one wants an answer
Many thanks
Best wishes

I particularly liked dg’s comments on Take care.

Take care. Whereas this one’s not so good. It may be only eight letters long, but there’s an unspoken hint within that something terrible is about to take place. You might as well end your email with “Watch out!” instead. It’s much too negative for me, and I’d hope for you too.

But I suspect that Take care is more common among Americans.

Now about German. First, formal.
A potential new client might write:
Sehr geehrte Frau Marks … mit freundlichen Grüßen /freundlichen Gruß
Hallo Frau Marks
Guten Tag Frau Marks

This is less formal and might come from the secretary of a client one already knows.
After some time, the client might want to be more friendly:
Liebe Frau Marks
Hallo Frau Marks /Guten Tag Frau Marks

Beste Grüße
Herzliche Grüße
Viele Grüße

Not everyone likes Viele Grüße, but I quite like it, and in any case I follow the client’s lead.
Non-Germans should note that the ß character has not been abolished – Gruß/Grüße and Straße are the most common pitfalls (except in Switzerland, of course).

Now in German to friends, acquaintances and forums.
I do have a difficulty here, because I have found German forums more formal than American and British ones. Maybe that’s because I was on CompuServe much earlier than on German forums and they seemed slower to relax. I have had my knuckles rapped and been thought to be intentionally rude for writing to a forum without a greeting. This was obviously an offence against German netiquette. I don’t know if that is the case any more, but I have an uncomfortable feeling when I write to a German forum.
So some write
Liebes Forum
Liebe Mitglieder

or some variation on the forum’s name.
Otherwise it’s down to
I don’t feel northern enough to use Moin (which is not limited to the morning)
I usually close with
but always feeling it is a bit abrupt.
I have not got used to the increasingly common
Liebe Grüße
which feels overfriendly to me but is possibly becoming standard.
I have just checked my inbox and found one
Schöne Grüße
and one
Mit kollegialen Grüßen
(this reminds me a bit of Mit sozialistischem Gruß in Goodbye Lenin).
It’s also, I remember, fairly common to mention the weather in one’s location:
Mit verregneten Grüßen aus Köln
Mit sonnigen Grüßen aus München

or if one wants a reply to a question
Neugierige Grüße
Is this done in English? I certainly avoid it.

It’s been pointed out by a commenter that MfG is a bit of a no-no, especially in formal correspondence.
That reminds me of some abbreviations widespread in informal contexts. Thnx rather irritated me because it’s scarcely shorter than Thanks.

Lawyers among themselves use Mit kollegialen Grüßen (see comment). I sometimes have to translate this into English, and the equivalent is just Yours sincerely or Best/Kind Regards. There’s a lovely heated discussion on this on the LEO forum.

And I forgot to mention the direct address I often use on forums: just the name of the person addressed, without any ‘Dear’.

Indirect speech in judgments/Indirekte Rede in Urteilen DE>EN

There was a query on Proz this week on a topic I remember once discussing on u-forum: when you translate a judgment from German to English, how do you indicate that part of it is in reported speech?

I basically agreed with the solution in this case, although it wasn’t quite what I would do (using words like ‘allegedly‘ was one of the points, and I find that a bit negative). I must say that the suggestions and discussions on Proz are often extremely helpful to me. Proz has this weird system called Kudoz, whereby you get points if you help someone to answer a question. This seems to force people to put effort into their answers, because they get even more points if their answer is selected, although sometimes the asker doesn’t select the best answer. There are discussions on Leo and dict. cc too, which tend to be more time-consuming to consult.

So here’s the problem: German uses the subjunctive for reported speech. It is absolutely clear from the verb itself that this is reported speech, even without the reporting verb. Here is a sentence from a judgment of the Bundesgerichtshof:

Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts hat die Klägerin einen Anspruch darauf, dass die Beklagte die Bezeichnung der Klägerin als “Terroristentochter” unterlässt (§ 823 Abs. 1, § 1004 BGB analog). Die Bezeichnung verletze die Klägerin rechtswidrig in ihrem allgemeinen Persönlichkeitsrecht.

The judgment quotes another court. It is a vital part of the meaning that this is a quotation. In the second sentence, the verletze
is subjunctive, so clearly indirect speech, without any introductory verb or ‘Nach Auffassung’ and so on.

In English, it is essential to make this reporting clear. If the reporting verb is in the past tense, the reported verb is backshifted, but this is not always enough to show reported speech: it could mean ‘verletze’ or ‘verletzte’.

English reported speech rules are not terribly well understood in Germany, partly I think because students are expected to adhere rigidly to the backshift whereas we don’t backshift every single verb if it’s clear. Still, here is a summary:

Reporting verb in present tense or ‘According to’ etc: no backshift
Reporting verb in past tense: backshift

Canoonet has a nice summary of the German practice.

In the German example above, the first sentence has ‘Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts’ and no subjunctive, the second sentence has subjunctive.

In English, the reporting phrase ‘In the opinion of the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht)’ would also be followed by a present tense, and the second sentence would remain present tense too.

Techniques of showing it is reported speech: you may replace ‘in the opinion of the court’ by ‘the court held’, followed by a backshift.
You may pepper the translation, as it continues with a big block of reported speech in the subjunctive, with more reporting verbs and ‘in the court’s view’ – these may not be there in the German, but they convey the subjunctive.
Another help is that if a whole paragraph is quoted, the layout alone may make it clear that is the case. This is the approach taken by an online translation of this very judgment.

Here’s a block of judgment (for reference see below) with the reported verbs marked. Note that the last sentence turns to the opinion of the present court, the Bundesgerichtshof, which is no longer subjunctive:

Entscheidungsgründe: I. Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts hat die Klägerin einen Anspruch darauf, dass die Beklagte die Bezeichnung der Klägerin als “Terroristentochter” unterlässt (§ 823 Abs. 1, § 1004 BGB analog). Die Bezeichnung verletze die Klägerin rechtswidrig in ihrem allgemeinen Persönlichkeitsrecht.

Die Äußerung “Terroristentochter” stelle eine Tatsachenbehauptung dar.

Ein durchschnittlicher Leser verstehe den abstrakten Aussagegehalt der Bezeichnung dahin, dass jemand die Tochter von Terroristen oder eines Terroristen sei. Durch den Bezug zu Ulrike Meinhof sei für den durchschnittlichen Leser klargestellt, dass die Bezeichnung im Sinn von “Terroristin-Tochter” gemeint sei.

Es könne dahingestellt bleiben, inwieweit die Klägerin grundsätzlich dulden müsse, dass auf ihre Abstammung von Ulrike Meinhof hingewiesen werde.

Selbst wenn sie dies hinnehmen müsse, dürfe ihre familiäre Abstammung von Ulrike Meinhof nicht durch das eindringliche Schlagwort “Terroristentochter” zum Ausdruck gebracht werden. Zu familiären Beziehungen als Teil der Privatsphäre hätten andere grundsätzlich nur Zugang, soweit er ihnen gestattet werde. Die Klägerin habe keine Einwilligung erteilt, die familiäre Beziehung zu ihrer Mutter und ihre Abstammung darauf zu reduzieren, dass sie eine “Terroristentochter” sei. Sie müsse die Bezeichnung daher nicht dulden.

Etwas anderes gelte auch nicht deswegen, weil die Klägerin mehrfach über Ulrike Meinhof und den RAF-Terrorismus veröffentlicht und dabei auch offen gelegt habe, dass sie die Tochter von Ulrike Meinhof sei. Die Klägerin sei als freie Journalistin tätig. Im Rahmen der in Art. 5 Abs. 1 Satz 2 GG garantierten Pressefreiheit habe sie das Recht, Art und Ausrichtung, Inhalt und Form ihrer Veröffentlichungen selbst zu bestimmen. Der Ton, in dem sie ihre Artikel verfasse, sei Teil der Meinungsfreiheit. Dass sie die Grenze zur Schmähung überschritten habe, werde nicht vorgetragen.

Die Bezeichnung “Terroristen-Tochter” sei rechtswidrig. Zwar habe niemand einen Anspruch darauf, so gestellt zu werden, wie er sich selbst sehe, wohl aber darauf, zutreffend und nicht verfälscht dargestellt zu werden.

II. Die Ausführungen des Berufungsgerichts halten einer revisionsrechtlichen Überprüfung nicht stand.

And here are a couple of ways of translating the beginning:

Grounds: I. In the opinion of the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht), the plaintiff has a claim for the defendant to cease and desist from referring to the plaintiff as ‘Terroristentochter’ (terrorist’s daughter; section 823 (1), section 1004 with the necessary modifications, German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch)). The court finds that the term unlawfully violates the plaintiff’s general right of personality.

Grounds: I. The Higher Regional Court … held as follows: that the plaintiff had a claim…The term unlawfully violated

The expression ‚terrorist’s daughter’ was a statement of fact.

In the translation by Raymond Youngs online, the layout makes it obvious that the whole block is indirect speech. This works here. Youngs uses a past tense, ‘infringed’, without an introductory reporting verb to justify it, but I doubt a reader would normally notice that.

7 In the appeal court’ s view, the claimant has a claim for the defendant to desist from describing her as a “terrorists’ daughter” (¿¿ 823 para 1, ¿¿ 1004 of the BGB by analogy). The description unlawfully infringed the claimant’ s general right of personality.

8 The expression “terrorists’ daughter” represented an assertion of fact.

BGH, Urteil vom 5. 12. 2006 – VI ZR 45/05; OLG München (Lexetius.com/2006,3371)

Raymond Youngs translation on the University of Texas site: Case: BGH VI ZR 45/05, Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Supreme Court), 6th Civil Senate
VI ZR 45/05

University of Texas Institute for Transnational Law

Interpreter’s oath/Dolmetschereid

Here’s a curious question from an ITI member. This is the interpreter’s oath, which is taken by all interpreters in courts in England:

I swear by Almighty God that I will well and faithfully interpret and make true explanation of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

Gosh – haven’t they modernized that one?

The colleague thinks that ‘to the best of my skill’ is wrong and should be ‘to the best of my skills’, because ‘best’ is a superlative adjective and it implies comparison between at least two objects (actually, as a superlative, it would have to be three, because ‘better’ applies to two). He wants it changed.

I can’t see this at all. I am familiar with the legalese expression ‘to the best of my knowledge’ and ‘to the best of my ability’. These are uncountables, as are ‘skill’ and ‘understanding’ in the oath. ‘Skill’ can be countable too – a good source for information on countable and uncountable meanings is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, which is now online. Now if ‘skill’ should be plural, then ‘understanding’ must be wrong too – which it isn’t! I think both ‘to the best of my skill’ and ‘to the best of my skills’ are correct English. However, although I find 27,000 ghits for the plural, I only find seven of them on UK sites. So if you are in Canada or India or the USA, ‘skills’ is OK here.

Most interpreters in Germany swear an oath, a sort of permanent oath, when they are appointed, so they don’t have to swear in court. I did manage to affirm when I became a court-certified translator, although the courts seem fairly unfamiliar with that procedure here.

In an article on ProZ, Marta Stelmaszak, a Polish-to-English interpreter, also gives the affirmation.

The Interpreter’s Oath
“I swear by Allah/Almighty God, etc. that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

The Interpreter’s Affirmation
“I do solemnly declare that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”

(That should be ‘the best’, not ‘my best’ – but ‘and true explanation make’ is apparently the recommended word order).

LATER NOTE: A commenter would have added the following affirmation as used in Oxford magistrates’ courts:

I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to the best of my skill and understanding.

I imagine there is a lot of variation over the country, or should I say over England and Wales. Apparently Scots are permitted to raise a hand when swearing.


I just had to translate Lohndumping into English. Not easy! Someone on leo.org suggests using wage dumping plus a definition. It’s true, sometimes a single term needs a single term (one or two words) rather than a long definition, to work in a text. Apparently Lohnunterbietung is a synonym. So the suggestio would be to write ‘”wage dumping” (forcing the reduction of wages and salaries)’ or something like that.

Here are some people on a Swiss forum getting very angry on the subject:

thanks, I’m intrigued by the term itself though. Why use “dumping”? Isn’t the German language capable of describing this practice?

This is kindergarten stuff…

The term is used in English too, usually in inverted commas with a definition. It does usually apply to bringing in foreign workers.

Mysterious English by Lena again/Wer versteht den Text?

The Eurovision Song Context approaches and Lena’s song has been chosen. Does anyone understand the text? The title is ‘Taken by a stranger’, which sounds worrying enough, but is the first line really ‘She’s got a knuckle in her eye’? For more theories, see TQE.

LATER NOTE: the Eurovision site has now posted the original lyrics:

Original Lyrics
Eurovision Song Contest 2011 Final
Performer: Lena
Song title: Taken By A Stranger
Song writer(s): Gus Seyffert, Nicole Morier, Monica Birkenes
Song composer(s): Gus Seyffert, Nicole Morier, Monica Birkenes

She’s got a knuckle in her eye
He knows her cat call
Can’t escape from telling lies I heard her saying
Hey mind if I take this chair
Hey mind if i take this chair
He drops a pause
She looks annoyed
But she’s so mean he thinks she has to be the one
Taken by a stranger
Stranger things are starting to begin
Lured into the danger
Trip me up and spin me round again
You got some coffee on your collar
And you forgot to comb your hair
But I can’t wait till I do better
You’re here and I don’t care
I can’t help it if you like it
Cause I won’t be here tomorrow
No one ever told you that you wouldn’t be rejected
Taken by a stranger
Stranger things are starting to begin
Lured into the danger
(Danger is a risky business)
Trip me up and spin me round again
Dip dip dada dada da
Dip dip dada dada da
Uh uh uh uh
Nah nah nah nah nah
Taken by a stranger
Stranger things are starting to begin
Lured into the danger
(Danger is a risky business)
Trip me up and spin me round again

STILL LATER NOTE: here is more information on Eurovision, plus Lena singing German on Sesamstraße.

Shooting star

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg after his eventual resignation:

Die Union stritt derweil über den Umgang mit ihrem ehemaligen Shootingstar.

Germans use the term shooting star to refer to a rising star rather than a falling one, so he has now become a ‘former shooting star’. See earlier entry of May 2007, quoting an interview with Hilary Hahn in which she was surprised at Gustavo Dudamel being described as ‘the shooting stare from Venezuela’.

I you do a Google search for Guttenberg “shooting star”, you get over 235,000 ghits. Although the number of those in Germany should be falling now.