Approximations

The perceptive translator will notice that there are clear differences between the use of term “approximately” in German and English. Often abbreviated “ca.” (the term “circa” can be applied to all types of figures in German, not just to date estimations, as in English) “approximately” is used with much greater frequency in German texts. The proliferate and seemingly reflexive use of “ca.” in German is certainly related to the ease with which it can be inserted in front of any number, and perhaps also due to the pedantic focus on accuracy its use can convey (a German speciality). While the abbreviation “ca.” is often rendered annoyingly as “approx.” by translators (as if true allegiance to a source text is demonstrated with a superficial mimicry of its abbreviated forms), it is probably better to drop the term from the English text completely in many cases, particularly when its inclusion seems nonsensical, as in the following sentence I ran across recently: “In Baden-Württemberg wird die Luftqualität an derzeit ca. 41 Luftmessstationen regelmäßig überwacht.” So how many measurement stations are there? 41 and a half?

Here’s another good one, discussing a museum replica of President Kennedy’s Lincoln X-100: “Eine ganz besondere Einrichtung erlaubte es, den hinteren rechten Sitz um ca. 25 cm hydraulisch zu heben, um dem Präsidenten einen besseren Ausblick zu verschaffen.” Approximately 25 cm? Is the actual figure 25.3 cm? The translator should not feel obliged to slavingly transcribe this utterly useless insertion of “ca.”

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