The courts and language, and Harry Potter

The Trademark and Copyright Law Blog has – or had a few weeks ago – a post on all the court cases relating to Harry Potter – Harry Potter Lawsuits and Where to Find Them, for example:

Smith v. Rowling. In 2010, Elijah Smith brought a pro se claim against Rowling in the Eastern District of California. The allegation was simple: “I’m the author who write Harry Potter. . .” As to the relief sought, Mr. Smith stated:

Mrs. J.K. Rowling will make a great teacher . . . I’ll be gladly to help Mrs. J.K. Rowling after she pay me $18 billion.

Mr. Smith’s complaint was dismissed shortly after it was brought, and his request to proceed in forma pauperis was denied. Mr. Smith, who at the time the complaint was filed resided in a California state prison, has brought similar claims against Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dog and Sam Cooke.

(via Law and Magic Blog)

And Mark Liberman at Language Log links to an article on a court being invited to consider corpus linguistics in deciding the meaning of a term (to discharge a weapon), although perhaps the right judge did not win the argument: “Linguists have a name for this kind of analysis” . The linked article is by Gordon Smith in the Conglomerate: Corpus Linguistics in the Courts (Again).

A catapult in Berlin: Strafbefehl translated into English

Andreas Jede is a German lawyer (Rechtsanwalt) who has a blog on German weapons law: Deutsches Waffenrecht (found via Jurablogs). His latest post is about an American who brought a catapult (US slingshot, German Zwille) as a present for his nephews in Berlin and was fined 900 euros plus costs. The catapult was only a little thing, but banned; he could have got away with a crossbow (then could have used it to shoot lions too).

One interesting thing is that a certified translation of the Strafbefehl is shown on the site.

I have recorded Strafbefehl as order of summary punishment – it’s called ‘penal order’ in this translation – and have often done certified translations of them for the German courts. It’s a bit like a parking ticket: for a minor offence, you are sent this document which convicts you provided you accept the conviction and pay a fine, or allows you to appeal and in this way start court proceedings.

About certified translations for the German courts, I intend to write a separate post when I get round to it. You can see here that at the beginning it says ‘Certified translation from the German language’ followed by a line. At the end comes the translator’s certification – I would have put a line and certified under the line, but in this case the translator didn’t want to use a third page and has put the certification in italics. The translator’s stamp and signature have been omitted for reasons of privacy.

It’s a good translation. I do have a grammatical quibble with ‘thirty daily rates’ – I would say ‘thirty daily units’. The German term Tagessatz, by the way, is not an instalment – it’s an amount regarded by the court as appropriate for the financial circumstances of the payer. To my mind, ‘rate’ in this sense is uncountable, and there was a time when weekly ‘units’ were introduced in England, but I think the tabloid press killed them – when people heard how much rich people were paying per week for trivial offences, they were shocked.

Anyway, back to the offence:

Lieber Gutmensch, erklären Sie mir bitte, warum er auch mit diesem Kinderspielzeug genauso hart bestraft worden wäre, genau genommen sogar noch härter, weil er die erheblichen Gutachterkosten hätte bezahlen müssen?

There’s something wonderfully German about the calculations that must be made by an expert witness to determine if the catapult breaches the law:

Der Gutachter muß nämlich feststellen, ob die maximale Bewegungsenergie der Geschossspitzen je Flächeneinheit von 0,16 J/cm2 überschritten wird (Anlage 1, Abschnitt 1, Unterabschnitt 1.2.2 WaffG).

German Deli – Huh?


It looks as if German Deli is waiting for the next Olympics.



They do have a special offer on Limburger cheese, best before date 28th July. I’m not a great eater of Limburger cheese, and am surprised it has a best before date at all. Also an offer on Halberstädter Wurstsoljanka. It is also the place to get your Sahnesteif, or indeed the Great German Bake-Off Hamper (don’t think Paul and Mary would think much of this one) and pseudo Currywurst pack.

There is apparently also a shop here at Stratford.

“Wir sind da ein Rechtsstaat”

There’s been some discussion of how Angela Merkel responded to a Palestinian girl who spoke very fluently of her situation but afterwards began to cry, apparently in the stress of the moment. Merkel took the line that Germany can’t take all immigrants without exception, because there are too many. In a TV interview ranging over the political situation before the summer break, Merkel defended her statement, saying Germany is a Rechtsstaat. From Die Zeit:

In diesem Zusammenhang verteidigte Merkel ihre Reaktion auf ein weinendes Mädchen aus dem Libanon. “Ich finde, die Geste war in Ordnung.” Sie könne ja nicht Menschen, mit denen sie diskutiere, sagen, “weil du jetzt die Bundeskanzlerin getroffen hast, ist dein Schicksal schneller zu lösen als das von vielen, vielen anderen”, sagte Merkel. “Wir sind da ein Rechtsstaat.”

The Local translates this as follows:

“I think the gesture was fine,” Merkel, 61, said Sunday.

She said it would be wrong to tell people “just because you met the chancellor, we can resolve your case faster than many, many other people’s”.

“We are a state under the rule of law,” she said.

I often use that translation for Rechtsstaat, but it seems to me that state under the rule of law puts the wrong emphasis here: it emphasizes that the individual has rights and can enforce them at court, whereas Merkel is emphasizing law as a system that needs to be enforced. Maybe constitutional state would work better here.

This problem is particularly acute for interpreters, who have to translate this kind of thing off the cuff, and may also encounter references to the Third Reich as Unrechtsstaat: however you translate it, it tends to lose its rhetorical punch.

Wherein hereinafter, hereinbefore and therethroughout are considered

I can’t pass by Trebots’ brief entry on The sad decline of hereinbefore. I have to say I have little use for hereinbefore, but quite a lot for hereinafter. I will counter his with another
Google chart which makes me wonder why aforementioned should be on the rise.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange calls these pronominal adverbs and links to a list in wiktionary. I have not heard of therethroughout but remember the confusion caused to students when they mistook wherefor for wherefore.

On the same subject, it seems that not everyone regards whereby and wobei as false friends.

I used to use an exercise with students where they had to enter the right form of, for instance, hereof, thereof and whereof. They found it surprisingly difficult – surprising to me because German does exactly the same thing.

There’s some good stuff on this and many other aspects of legal English in Rupert Haigh’s book Legal English. There is a website for the book where there are some exercises, although I could not understand the structure of the one on these words. The website is for the fourth edition of the book, whereas I only have the third edition.

Welcome to the online resource bank to support the fourth edition of Rupert Haigh’s Legal English.

If you are a student you will find a bank of activities and exercises corresponding to the chapters in the book designed to give you additional practice opportunities in using Legal English in a range of scenarios. These will range from simple gap-fill exercises, to multiple choice questions, to written activities, to comprehension exercises based on video simulations of real-life legal situations. An automatic grading facility will help you assess your own progress and identify areas for improvement. You can also email your results to your class tutor if required.

In the video section, you can find four instructional videos, based on the book and recorded by the author, to illustrate concepts discussed in the book.

If you are a lecturer you will find a bank of customisable activities which can be used with small groups in seminars or tutorials to help practice their use of oral Legal English.

Matching exercises
Question 3
The extract below is from an Indian deed of partition. It contains various old-fashioned terms beginning with here-, there-, or where- (e.g. hereof, whereof, thereof, hereby, hereinafter etc), which are still commonly found in documents relating to land purchases. For each numbered gap in the extract, select the correct word from the choices below.

Don’t love your translator

I agree with Alain Rosenmund (his blog is Effizient Übersetzen (Lassen): don’t love your translator.

Davon abgesehen, dass sich die Aktion an die falschen Adressaten richtet, kommen die Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzer als Bittsteller daher, statt als Partner, denen man auf Augenhöhe begegnet. Diese Aktion schwächt mit anderen Worten die Position der Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzer. Genauer: Die Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzer, die bei dieser Aktion mitmachen, schwächen ihre eigene Position.

Rosenmund goes on to give advice on how translators should really establish a serious professional relationship.

Fortunately, it sounds as if the stickers can be removed easily:

Our stickers can be removed easily and do not leave marks. The act of sticking them to street lamps and the like will therefore not be considered vandalism in most countries. However, we know that countries like Switzerland and Singapore are very strict and we ask you to consider your country’s law and use common sense when you go out tagging.

Our stickers are vegan, made of biodegradable plastics, and don’t have any negative environmental effects.

The Pool of Bethesda


Paintings by William Hogarth on the staircase in the North Wing at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, the Good Samaritan on the left and the Pool of Bethesda on the right, figures probably based on patients at the hospital at that time – possibly showing rickets, mastitis/breast cancer, gout, syphilis, gonorrhoea, jaundice/depression, obesity, emaciation. Unfortunately you need a guided tour to be let in to see them properly. The easiest way to see the figures is in this plate, made available by here:


Larger version

Here’s more detail:

The central protagonist is the man unable to reach the pool to be healed on account of a chronic ulcerous wound on his leg. The painting shows a scene from The Gospel According to St John, in which a man that has been unable to walk for many years is healed by Jesus. Much like St Bartholomew’s temple on The Tiber in Rome, Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda was thought to have healing properties. On occasion, the water would become disturbed and this was believed to be by an angel, who can be seen at the top of the painting, departing having made a pass over the water. Whomever entered the pool after the waters had settled again would be exposed to its healing properties. The man unable to walk was alone and no one would help him to the pool’s edge. Jesus took pity on him and healed him without the need of the water’s powers. So here he is, beneath Jesus’ kindly gaze. His physical stature has often been remarked upon and more recently it has been suggested that he is suffering from Myotonia Congenita, causing enlarged but weak muscles and ulcerous wounds. Others hold that it is a reflection of the influence that Hogarth took from the classical style of painting. Behind him is a mother holding a child with rickets, depicting the pronounced forehead, curved spine and inflamed joints of the disorder as described in the 18th Century. The fidelity of this portrayal may reflect Hogarth’s friendship with John Freke, a surgeon at Barts that trained Percivall Pott’s mentor, Edward Nourse. Freke had written on the subject of rickets in 1748 and may have provided Hogarth with the information and possibly even a model for its accurate portrayal. Although a diagnosis of rickets certainly makes sense, others have suggested the differential diagnosis of congenital syphillis – common in Hogath’s time and an illness that would also fit the bill.

The Gentle Author has also dealt with this picture in detail at Spitalfields Life, but seems less impressed than I am: Hogarth at St Bartholomew’s Hospital:

I cannot avoid the conclusion that “Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda” was a misdirection for Hogarth. It has more bathos than pathos. He aspired to be an artist in the high classical style, yet we love Hogarth for his satires and his portraits. … Far from proving that an English artist could excel at the grand historical style,”Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda” illustrates why this mode never suited the native temperament. All the qualities that make this painting interesting, the human drama and pitiful ironies, are out of place in the idealised landscape that suited the tastes of our continental cousins.

DIN terminology online

Beuth Verlag publishes standards, and on the few occasions I would have liked to use one, they were too expensive for me.

Now the publisher has put DIN terminology online free of charge.

The first site gives the translations of terms used in norms, the second gives more information such as definitions, notes and examples, but it requires registration:

DIN-TERM online
DIN-TERMinologieportal (registration needed)

Thanks, Marc!