A colleague recently had the word unverzüglich in a legal text and wondered whether it mattered which of the many alternatives to choose.

Romain: prompt, forthwith, without delay

Dietl-Lorenz: (ohne schuldhaftes Zögern) without culpable (or undue) delay

I had wrongly remembered this as without unreasonable delay. Other renderings have been immediately and with all due speed

  1. I note that unverzüglich ist one of the words given a statutory definition (Legaldefinition) in the Civil Code. Here it is:

Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)
§ 121 Anfechtungsfrist

(1) Die Anfechtung muss in den Fällen der §§ 119, 120 ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (unverzüglich) erfolgen, nachdem der Anfechtungsberechtigte von dem Anfechtungsgrund Kenntnis erlangt hat. Die einem Abwesenden gegenüber erfolgte Anfechtung gilt als rechtzeitig erfolgt, wenn die Anfechtungserklärung unverzüglich abgesendet worden ist.(2) Die Anfechtung ist ausgeschlossen, wenn seit der Abgabe der Willenserklärung zehn Jahre verstrichen sind.

Note the way a statutory definition is indicated. Further research reveals that this definition is regarded as applying even outside the Civil Code.

2. Does it then matter how precisely it is translated into English? Immediately seems to suggest more speed, but does that matter? Perhaps not, as long as your translation is for information only and makes it clear that German law prevails. However, without undue delay or without culpable delay does the job well.

3. Dietl wins over Romain here (as so rarely). Von Beseler has:

adj immediate, prompt, instant(aneous);
adv immediately, promptly, instantly; forthwith; at once; on the spot; without delay; at short notice, at a moment’s notice

The BGB meaning is missing, and when it comes to choosing between the other alternatives, legal translators are left to themselves. Nor is there any indication in Dietl of the source of the definition.

LATER NOTE: As Inge Noeninger points out on Twitter (see comment too) unverzüglich contains the word Verzug, delay or default, which is why translating it as immediately is avoided.