National Poetry Day

As it’s National Poetry Day, here is a poem on the inferno of Poundland by Simon Armitage.

I gather some people encountered his work in GCSE. I didn’t, obviously, not just because GCSE is after my time and so is Simon Armitage. In GCE, we did bloody Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Wreck of the accursed Deutschland. I never did understand what people saw in him. He had to be spoken of in hushed tones.

Poundland, by Simon Armitage

Came we then to the place abovementioned,
crossed its bristled threshold through robotic glass doors,
entered its furry heat, its flesh-toned fluorescent light.
Thus with wire-wrought baskets we voyaged,
and some with trolleys, back wheels flipping like trout tails,
cruised the narrow canyons twixt cascading shelves,
the prow of our journeying cleaving stale air.
Legion were the items that came tamely to hand:
five stainless steel teaspoons, ten corn-relief plasters,
the Busy Bear pedal bin liners fragranced with country lavender,
the Disney design calendar and diary set, three cans of Vimto,
cornucopia of potato-based snacks and balm for a sweet tooth,
toys and games, goods of Orient made, and of Cathay,
all under the clouded eye of CCTV,
beyond the hazard cone where serious chutney spillage had occurred.
Then emerged souls: the duty manager with a face like Doncaster,
mumbling, “For so much, what shall we give in return?”
The blood-stained employee of the month,
sobbing on a woolsack of fun-fur rugs,
many uniformed servers, spectral, drifting between aisles.
Then came Elpenor, our old friend Elpenor,
slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Products display.
In strangled words I managed,
“How art thou come to these shady channels, into hell’s ravine?”
And he: “To loan sharks I owe/the bone and marrow of my all.”
Then Walt Whitman, enquiring politely of the delivery boy.
And from Special Occasions came forth Tiresias,
dead in life, alive in death, cider-scented and sock-less,
Oxfam-clad, shaving cuts to both cheeks, quoting the stock exchange.
And my own mother reaching out, slipping a tin of stewing steak
to the skirt pocket of her wedding dress,
blessed with a magician’s touch, practised in need.

But never until the valley widened at the gated brink
did we open our lips to fish out those corn-coloured coins,
those minted obols, hard-won tokens graced with our monarch’s head,
kept hidden beneath the tongue’s eel, blood-tasting,
both ornament and safeguard, of armour made.
And paid forthwith, then broke surface
and breathed extraordinary daylight into starved lungs,
steered for home through precincts and parks scalded by polar winds,
laden with whatnot, lightened of golden quids.

obiter dictum

I see that Obiter Dictum, das is now in the Duden.

(in einem Urteil eines obersten Gerichts) rechtliche Ausführungen zur Urteilsfindung, die über das Erforderliche hinausgehen und auf denen das Urteil dementsprechend nicht beruht

This had passed me by. And strictly speaking there is no hierarchy of binding decisions in case law in Germany, although it’s clear that some decisions are treated as binding the lower courts.

So here’s a quote from a decision of a Higher Administrative Court:
Oberverwaltungsgericht NRW, 16 E 648/15 (at marginal number 19!):

Denn der Beschluss des Bundesverfassungsgericht beschränkt sich auf ein obiter dictum, ohne die Bedenken näher zu begründen und ohne sich mit der seit langem gefestigten Rechtsprechung auseinanderzusetzen, die u. a. von verschiedenen Obergerichten eingehend mit der allgemeinen Bedeutung von Beweisverwertungsverboten im Gefahrenabwehrrecht begründet wird.

I don’t know if one would translate English obiter dictum as German Obiter Dictum – that depends on how familiar it has become and how much explanation the user of the translation needs.

The latest edition of Dietl/Lorenz EN-DE (7th) has the following – first you look under obiter and are sent to dictum – reminds me why paper bilingual law dictionaries are dreadful – I think Romain is even worse. Under dictum:

obiter dictum Lat (a saying by the way) gelegentliche Äußerung f, beiläufige Bemerkung f (e-r Rechtsansicht in den Entscheidungsgründen, auf der die Entscheidung selbst nicht beruht. Im Ggs. zu ratio decidendi nicht bindend).

And Romain EN-DE, 5th ed.

obiter dictum, dicta pl, lat Urteil Nebenbemerkung, nicht tragender Entscheidungsgrund

I don’t think Dietl is right to say that the obiter is found in the grounds for the decision. It is found somewhere in the text of the decision. Were it actually in the grounds, I wonder how obiter it would be?

via Burhoff Online

The Hidden Life of Trees

After I moved back to London in 2013 I attended a course on trees at the City Lit, I can now reveal. In five whole Sundays we were promised we could learn to recognize eight trees. I immediately saw the value to me. I had not thought much about trees till then, but I needed to get out walking and there are trees everywhere, so I thought it would be interesting to know something about them. And indeed I found the course quite fascinating. We used to go to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and pull leaves and flowers apart, and one member of the class put the bits in a bag, and the following week we had to identify them again. It was good that the course wasn’t restricted to Our Native Trees, because from gingkos to Tibetan cherries to unusual types of magnolia, London is full of immigrant vegetation.

I highly recommend the teacher, Letta Jones, who holds courses elsewhere. Her website will not always be quite up to date, but I think an email should get a list of courses and walks.

At the time I got some books on trees. I must say that there is no one guide to identifying trees that covers everything, and they vary in the way they help identification. You have to put time into recognizing twigs and buds and leaves and bark.

But then there are other, more discursive books on trees. And this is where the story reaches the present day. I had read a bit of the German bestseller Das Geheime Leben der Bäume by Peter Wohlleben, and much to my surprise I heard a German talking about trees to Jo Good on BBC Radio London last week, and sure enough it was he! At the time of writing the clip can still be heard as part of Prue Leith and the Barking Hour at about 1.05 (who knew one could pronounce Wohlleben like vol-au-vent?). It seems that the book has just been published in English, by a Canadian publisher, translator unnamed, as The Hidden Life of Trees. I suppose Canada is the place for lumber. Anyway, Wohlleben was passing through London and is obviously selling his book.

On air, Wohlleben was a bit sniffy about non-native trees. He had obviously practised his tree English, but he didn’t know the word pollarding. Jo Good seemed obsessed by an allegedly particularly lonely plane tree outside The Dorchester (that tree is included in The Great Trees of London and was planted in the 1930s, it says. book, website). Other callers referred to the plane tree in Cheapside, but seemingly believed it is the oldest tree in London and survived the Great Fire of London. In other words, the programme wasn’t very informative.

When I started reading the German book last year it did occur to me it might be worth translating, because there are quite a number of books about trees in English and quite a readership – but not a readership that puts them in the top ten best-selling books. One explanation is that Wohlleben tells stories and gives trees feelings.

Wohlleben was a forester for 20 years, learning how to manage wood. Later he found himself conducting nature walks and making provision for woodland burials and began to see trees differently. He retired as a forester (giving up his civil service career) and it looks as if he has published a book every year since then – see his German Wikipedia entry. But it was with Das geheime Leben der Bäume that he hit the really big time. Funnily enough, Colin Tudge’s book The Secret Life of Trees covers a lot of the same ground and got great reviews in 2005. So Wohlleben’s book had to be given a different name in translation. I read most of Tudge and found it a good read full of memorable detail, but eventually there was so much memorable detail and I was remembering so little of it that I seem to have stopped at page 252. I think this was because of the six chapters on six different tree families all over the world – the last chapter I managed was ‘From Handkerchief Trees to Teak:The Daisy-like Eudicots’.

The thing about Wohlleben is that he is a great popularizer and anthropomorphist. Both authors’ books have their references to scientific articles – I can’t help thinking Wohlleben was influenced by Tudge, not in style or detail but in the idea of writing a book on this subject, but he doesn’t cite him.

An article by Christoph Schröder in Die Zeit

Im Duktus des Märchens entwirft Wohlleben das Bild eines bestens durchorganisierten sozialen Systems, in dem zwar einerseits das Recht des Stärkeren gilt, andererseits aber der Schwächere niemals allein gelassen, sondern aufgefangen und mitgetragen wird. So beseelt wie bei Wohlleben war der Wald selbst bei den Romantikern nicht. Man spricht miteinander, liebt sich, erzieht sich und hilft sich gegenseitig mit Mahlzeiten aus, wenn Not am Stamm ist.

Kobolde haben schlechte Karten
Kann es in aufgepeitschten und unruhigen Zeiten etwas Tröstlicheres geben als den Entwurf eines funktionierenden gesellschaftlichen Gefüges, das in gegenseitiger Achtung und in Solidarität und Generationengerechtigkeit lebt? Das ist der Wohlleben-Wald: ein nur von außen, durch den Menschen bedrohter utopischer Raum, in dem es keine Schuld gibt.

In the FAZ Bäume sind so tolle Lebewesen, Melanie Mühl also considers why Wohlleben’s book has been a bestseller for months: he has been practising how to explain trees to people for years, and people want stories and feelings.

Seit zwanzig Jahren führt Peter Wohlleben Menschen durch den Wald, zeigt, erklärt, erzählt. Zwanzig Jahre Marktforschung darüber, welchen Ton er anschlagen muss, damit die Wissensvermittlung funktioniert. Bei der trockenen Wissenschaftssprache jedenfalls, da schalten die meisten sofort ab. Menschen wollen Geschichten. Und Gefühle. Wohllebens rhetorische Vermenschlichungsstrategie ist lange erprobt.

In Wahrheit gibt Wohlleben den Deutschen nicht ihren Wald zurück. Er erklärt ihnen den Baum, damit sie den Wald besser verstehen. Er fragt nicht, wie die Romantiker und die Yogamattenausroller, was der Wald für unser Seelenheil tun kann, sondern was wir für den Wald tun können.

„Ich umarme keine Bäume, und ich spreche auch nicht mit ihnen“, sagt Wohlleben.

It will be interesting to see if the book is as successful in English as it is in German.

As a footnote, Christiane Bergfeld’s blog Übersetzung und Literatur, doch nicht nur has recently been taken over by tree photos.

Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Trees. How they live and why they matter, 2005.

Oliver Rackham, Woodlands. 2006.

Oliver Rackham, Obituary :

He was also a gifted linguist, reading Latin verse for relaxation. During a field course on the Croatian island of Rab he sat next to the local priest on a bus and questioned him closely in Latin about the management of the local woods.

Peter A. Thomas, Trees. Their Natural History.

British military manual for Germany selling well in translation

The Bodleian Library reprinted Instructions for British Servicemen in Germany, 1944 a couple of xears ago (there are others, and if you buy it from there don’t forget to look at their bookish Christmas cards). I missed this, and also the bilingual version now doing so well in Germany, which itself appeared over two years ago:
Christian Kracht und Helge Malchow (Hrsgs.): “Leitfaden für britische Soldaten in Deutschland 1944” (Kiepenheuer und Witsch) (via Denis Scheck, Druckfrisch).

The result is a remarkable booklet, often unintentionally humorous and sometimes crudely stereotypical, it reads by turns like a travel guide (advising on the excellence of German sausages and beer – ‘one of the pleasantest in Europe’) and a crash course in psychological warfare. It is very much a document of the period, revealing as much about British wartime attitudes towards Germany as it does about British hopes and fears.

‘If you have to give orders to German civilians, give them in a firm, military manner. The German civilian is used to it and expects it.’

There seem to be a whole series of hese books, including one on German invasion plans for the British Isles.

There’s even a German Wikipedia page, and the bilingual version is available for Kindle.

It looks as if the translator was Helge Malchow.

Legal research colouring book and EW judicial system

What Color is your C.F.R.? – PDF version free online – is a nice idea, alas very much a USA thing and not very full (yet) (via Open Law Lab, tweeted by Stéphane Cottin). C.F.R. is apparently the Code of Federal Regulations.

For something more British, The Judicial System of England and Wales: a visitor’s guide is another free downloadable PDF, published by the judiciary, probably of use not only to visitors. In particular, it has a great courts diagram. I especially like the photo on the title page:



A colleague recently asked how to translate Randnummer/Randzeichen/Randziffer into English, in three different contexts.

1. The usual query of inexperienced legal translators is ‘What does Rz./Rn. mean?’ The usual translation of Randnummer, Randzeichen or Randziffer is marginal number or margin number. Here’s a discussion on ProZ.

Germans just love marginal numbers, especially in legal contexts and above all in textbooks. This example is from an old copy of Peter Hay, US-Amerikanisches Recht, page 74:

hay IMG_6398

The marginal numbers here are the 172 and 173. Every single paragraph is numbered consecutively through the whole book. So you don’t need to refer to ‘7. a)’ but just to one number.

I think these are a peculiarly German thing, and there are instructions online on how to create them in Microsoft Word, for example, which is not too easy. (Randziffern in Microsoft Word). They are sometimes related to the subject matter and sometimes to the physical location, see the administrative court judgment below and the English case report practice mentioned further below.

Here’s another example of marginal numbers used in a German court case, which I don’t think is very common. The NRW Oberverwaltungsgericht uses these numbers in the right-hand margin to make it easier to refer.

2. Case reports of the CJEU use paragraphs, called para. or paras., a term which needless to say is hard to pin down when you’re looking for it (rather like indent in EU cases). So when a German version of an EU case refers to Randnummer, it is translated into English as para. The number is not in the margin, either.

3. Finally, we really do have marginal numbers/letters or marginal references in English. Some case reports have used not numbers, but letters to make it easier to quote. Google Books has Studying Law, by Simon Askey and Ian McLeod, from which I quote:

Marginal markings and neutral citations
Some series of law reports use marginal markings, in order to make it easier to provide pinpoint citations, while others do not. The original report of Henthorn v Fraser contains no such markings, while the most common system in the 20th century was to provide marginal letters, evenly spaced down each page. The system of marginal letters worked reasonably well, but it was rather cumbersome for true pinpoint citations, which had to take a form such as ‘page 234, letter D, line 3.’ More importantly, this citation would vary from one set of law reports to another, according to the page numbering of the report in question.

I remember barristers lugging cartloads of law reports to the Law Courts, where the court staff would lay out matching volumes from the court library and these would later be cited in argument. Nowadays I suppose at least for newer cases computers replace this.

More on citation in OSCOLA, whence the nice word pinpoint:

A pinpoint is a reference to a particular paragraph of a judgment or page of a report.

and also Latin ‘gadgets‘:

Avoid the use of ‘Latin gadgets’ such as supra, infra, ante, id, op cit, loc cit and contra, which are not widely understood.

The Sausage Man

I didn’t realize Herman Ze German didn’t make their own sausages.


It seems they get them from The Sausage Man, who produce

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