Volume 9, No. 4 
October 2005

  Igor Maslennikov


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Select one of the previous 33 issues.




Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Translators and Translations: Paintings and Shades in Their Frames
by Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Twelve-step Program to Recover from Translationese
by Ted Crump

  Translators Around the World
Translation Accreditation Boards/Institutions in Malaysia
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur d/o Gurdial Singh

  Translators and Computers
La traduction automatique par opposition à la théorie interprétative — analyse d'un corpus de productions réelles
Chidi Nnamdi Igwe

Strategies for New Interpreters: Interpreting in the Indonesian Environment
by Izak Morin

Picturesque German—German Idioms and Their Origins
by Igor Maslennikov

  Translator Education
Training of Interpreters: Some Suggestions on Sight Translation Teaching
by Elif Ersozlu, Ph.D.
The Contact Between Text, Mind, and One's Own Word in a Translation Workshop
by Leandro Wolfson
A Competent Translator And Effective Knowledge Transfer
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur a/p Gurdial Singh

  Literary Translation
L'Épreuve de l'autre dans la traduction espagnole de Vivre me tue
Dr. Nadia Duchêne

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Discovering Translation Equivalents in a Tourism Corpus by Means of Fuzzy Searching
by Michael Wilkinson
CAT Tools and Productivity: Tracking Words and Hours
by Fotini Vallianatou

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal


Picturesque German

German Idioms and Their Origins

by Igor Maslennikov


y acquaintance with German idioms and figures of speech began in one of the oldest restaurants in Berlin, when my German friends ordered an Eisbein for dinner (traditional German dish—boiled knuckle of pork with sauerkraut). I was amazed at such a funny name (the German word Eisbein means "ice leg") and I asked my friends about the origin of this name. To my disappointment nobody knew the origin and I was answered "It was always so." Only some years later did I find in a cooking book the information that people in old Germany made skates for ice skating from the knuckle bones (hence the name "ice leg"), because iron was too expensive to be used for recreation.

I often heard this answer after asking: "Why it is named so? Why very modish or chic person can be in German death chic (todschick)? Why do Germans use such comical words as Darmbremse (intestine brake) or Analgesicht (anal face) in absolutely serious contexts?"—The answer was "It was always so." Unanswered by my German friends I consulted dictionaries and figured out that there was very little special literature about the historical origin of German idioms and figures of speech. The voluminous and solid "DUDEN The Great Dictionary of the German Language" ("Das große Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache") gives the interpretation of thousands of proverbs and idioms, but little information about their historical origin. Many standard dictionaries are also short of specialized terms, which are of my interest, too.

During my translations I'm often confronted with figures of speech or specialized words, which were understandable to me in the context of the translation, but their origins were a riddle to me. I gathered such words in my glossary, which over time has grown into a large collection. My sources were not only special dictionaries and books, but also newspapers, comments of experts and even TV shows and the Internet. Some words in my glossary are known only to professionals: merchants, scientists, sportsmen and even bookkeepers, and are difficult to find in standard dictionaries.

I believe that every translator or interpreter who likes foreign languages must know the origin of idioms which he uses in his translations. It enriches the translator's language knowledge, broadens his linguistic horizon, and makes the difference between a good translator and an amateur. Together with the information about the historical roots of idioms comes information about the history, the manners, and customs of a country. So thanks to the search of historical origin of different German words, I received plenty of information about mediaeval Germany and the way of life in the Middle Ages. I think such a glossary would be interesting not only to professional translators but also to the all inquisitive people who are curious to know why the literal translation of some German idioms seems to be so comical to the uninitiated. Professionals may find new information about old meanings of well-known German words or new nuances in translation of well-known idioms. The knowledge of the origin of idioms helps translators understand and accurately interpret such figures of speech and put them in the right context.

I didn't include my glossary some well-known proverbs from the ancient world (ex. tastes differ or the sword of Damocles) or from the Bible (ex. love is patient). Such proverbs can be found in every modern language and are only more or less good translations of Latin, Greek, or Hebrew originals. I also avoided including German idioms that are similar to their English equivalents (ex. Er geht mir auf die Nerven = He's getting on my nerves). I tried to gather original German idioms and specialized words, but of course some of them have Latin or Greek roots too. I have listed the idioms and special terms alphabetically by key words in the case of idioms or by radicals in the case of special terms. English in parentheses ( ) indicates the literal translation. I hope my glossary will effectively help translators in their daily work.

German-English Glossary of Idioms