A happy end(ing)

The German tendency to freely adopt English terms and expressions has been widely observed. Yet beyond the butchering of the German language that can often result from the wholesale borrowing of English expressions, the German-to-English translator is confronted by a particular challenge when required to “re-translate” expressions which are putatively English but which have been invested with new meaning in German. For example, what exactly are “Servicedienstleistungen” other than just “Dienstleistungen”: service-services, perhaps?

The German use of the term “dumping” can also be highly befuddling. In English, a company can be accused of engaging in “price dumping” when it sells its products at extremely low prices to undercut competitors – the products are, so to speak, “dumped” on the market. From this perspective, the German neologism “Lohndumping” sounds particularly incongruous for the native speaker of English because “wages” cannot be “dumped” in any figurative sense.

It’s also confusing when English terms are used in German texts for no apparent reason. In a PowerPoint presentation I recently translated for a large German IT provider, for example, one slide discussed the regrettable tendency of customers to use service hotlines unnecessarily. This was identified as the “Hello Joe Problem.” What was the motivation for the invention of this phrase? Considering I’ve never met anyone in Germany named “Joe,” the name choice is all the more inexplicable.  Should this perhaps have been translation into English as the “‘Hallo Klaus Problem”?

Another comical malapropism is the German use of the expression “happy end,” which 82 million Germans have confused with “happy ending.” In English, of course, one is said to have “met a happy end” when one dies, which lends the German use of the expression a particularly macabre ring. Were the makers of the “Happy End” toilet paper brand aware of this linguistic mix up?

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