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5 Tricky words to translate from German to English

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You might have found out that some words are more difficult than others when translating. In other instances, you could read a translated document and find some words in it that seem totally out of place.

This is usually the first sign of a translation being handled by non-professionals.

Picking the German language as a case study, here are some of the trickiest words you could ever come across during translation.


1 Torschlusspanik

If this word would be taken for what it means in the literal sense, it would be written as ‘gate-closing panic.’ That would, however, make the word lose all of its meaning.

In the right context, the word is used to mean the fear of opportunities with advancement in age which is not something strange in the corporate world.

2 Schadenfreude

There are a lot of expressions in German which do not have a parallel translation in English language. One of such is Schadenfreude which refers to a feeling of pleasure from seeing the misfortune of someone else.

Given as this is one word, there could be a lot of ways to translate it into English – since the target language doesn’t have a single word for such an expression. Many times, this meaning gets lost in the translation


3 Drachenfutter

Perhaps one of the funniest literal translations of this word will give you ‘dragon food.’ It is even funnier in the sense that the true meaning of the word has nothing to do with dragon, neither does it bear close semblance to food.

Well, depending on how you look at it.

In Germany, this is the word you use for a gift bought for either a wife or partner when you have wronged them. If you may, this could be called an ‘apology gift.’ You might see why the literal translation could go that way now though.


4 Kummerspeck

If you were to take this word and put it into the English Language, you would get ‘grief bacon.’ This would not be funny if not for the fact that the context is far from that.

For those who are in Germany, or understand the German language in-depth, these words are used to mean some kinds of food that could lead to the consumer gaining weight.


5 Geisterfahrer

People who are used to commuting the roads – either in their own car or as a passenger – would have come across other drivers who use the wrong side of the rod. This could be due to a lot of reasons: either they are driving under the influence, trying to avoid a pothole/ other incident on the road, or anything else at all.

In German, Geisterfahrer is the name given to such a driver.

A translator who doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of the language would not know this though. In fact, they would be tempted to translate this to ‘ghost driver’ instead.


Wrap Up

Of course, German is not the only language with such difficulties in translation, and these are not the only words translators can have challenges with.

To avoid such problems, make sure your work is given to only certified translators who also have a cultural knowledge of the source/ target language. That way, you can usually escape these problems popping up in the finished document.

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