Kinds of goods /Waren und Güter

Wikipedia has an entry headed Final good, which subsumes all kinds of things as goods. For example, the public good and private good are listed as types of goods.

I am in a quandary. I don’t feel like correcting the article, because it is about economics terms and not language. I also feel that people like the Language Log bloggers would see me as a prescriptivist.

But for me, the public good is an abstract, only ever used in the singular, and consumer goods always has an s on the end, and never the twain shall meet. That is, goods is an example of pluralia tantum – nouns that in a particular sense occur only in the plural.

However, there is also a technical meaning of good: a particular article that is produced in order to be sold. So it’s not part of everyday English, but it fits in that article. I’m still not happy with the heading – it’s not a disambiguation article, after all.

Claimant, plaintiff, pursuer / Kläger

Parties to civil proceedings in England:
Up to 1999: plaintiff and defendant
(divorce: petitioner and respondent)
A claimant included a person claiming some benefit, for instance unemployment benefit.

From 1999 (Civil Procedure Rules)
claimant and defendant
(divorce: petitioner and respondent)
A claimant for unemployment benefit etc. (as before)

In Scotland: pursuer and defender
(divorce: petitioner and respondent)
Benefit claimant as above

Most English websites mention ‘claimant (plaintiff)’ – after all, it’s only been seven years since the change. A Google search for claimant -plaintiff site:uk produces mainly references to benefit claimants.

Here’s an exception: the claimant user guide of Her Majesty’s Courts Service.

I have previously linked to Michael Quinion on this subject. He writes of legal Latin being ‘swept away’, which seems a bit sweeping, so to speak.

I mention this because I don’t often use the word claimant to translate Kläger(in). My translations don’t just go to England, either. Do people who translate for England and the rest of the UK use claimant? Do translators for the EU and the European Court of Justice? I think maybe only sometimes. And I remember in 2000 or 2001 asking a British publisher client whether I was now to use claimant, and getting the answer ‘When it’s appropriate’, which suggested to me that the problem hadn’t even filtered through.

Nugatory / Richtersprache

A translator was wondering recently how to translate the word nugatory into German. A judge had used it, saying that it didn’t really matter whether a decision was made on appeal or not, since there would be no money to be got – the decision would be nugatory.

It’s typical of judges in English and in German to use this kind of word. I wonder if it’s used at all outside legal language. I decided to search at Bailii – the new judgments rather than the old ones. Some examples:


The second main ground for the application is that if matters are allowed to proceed next week then the appeal will be rendered nugatory. (Court of Appeal, 1996)

In such situations as Vafi, where a change in circumstance would render the substantive hearing nugatory, requiring the matter to go to substantive hearing before having the proceedings struck out would result in the parties incurring unnecessary additional costs. (Irish Law Reform Commission, 2003)

In our view, the Sheriff misdirected himself by not expressly taking all these matters into account when exercising his judgment as to whether or not the mere appearance of “bias” on his part was sufficient to render the first four days of the proof entirely nugatory and to necessitate a fresh start. (Court of Session, Scotland, 1998)

Here it seems quite often to relate to appeals. I also find legal dictionaries defining it as meaning ‘being without operative legal effect (held that such an interpretation would render the statute nugatory)’ (Merriam Webster). Things are often rendered nugatory. (‘He misdirected himself’ is another nice legal expression).

Muret-Sanders says ‘besonders juristisch: unwirksam, nichtig’. This won’t work for the appeal, though. I once found unbeachtlich being used in this way, but that won’t always work either.

Translating ‘Rechtsverordnung’ into English

In a recent comment, the term Rechtsverordnung was mentioned, and it reminded me of an article by Geoffrey Perrin, then of the Sprachendienst, Bundesministerium der Justiz, in an issue of Lebende Sprachen so long ago that the cover was still blue (LS No. 1/1988, pp. 17-18). It is one of the best things I have ever read on German-English legal translation. There was a later article on the vocabulary of juvenile crime and prosecution that was good too. I found Perrin translated the Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz) for Inter Nationes, who have published English versions of numerous statutes both on paper (I ordered some free of charge by post once) and online. This translation is also available at the German Law Archive.

The article takes the problems of translating the term Rechtsverordnung into English as examples of the problems of translating legal terminology in general. For a summary, see the continuation. Continue reading

German Courts of Law / Deutsche Gerichtsnamen auf Englisch

It’s common knowledge among legal translators that there is a set of English, French and Spanish terms recommended by the Auswärtiges Amt as ‘translations’ of German court names. The terms are listed here, for example. Attempted standardization of outgoing translations is always fun, especially as a job-creating activity. But last year someone thrust into my hand a big A3 piece of paper with a full diagram of the courts, actually one page in German and another in English. It shows all the chambers and paths of appeal and contains a lot more vocabulary. I wanted to copy it to take to New Jersey (ATA legal translation conference) next week – it looks good on A4 too – but I couldn’t find a clean copy. Now I have actually found it appeared on the website of the German Ministry of Justice in February.
They always sneak something interesting onto that website. I remember an English version of the Criminal Code appearing. Today I found not only the Insolvency Act (they call it Insolvency Statute) – the German Law Archive announced that some time ago – but also the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch (Code of Crimes against International Law), and the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (Act on the Organization of the Courts or Judicature Act – they call it the Judiciary Act). Here’s one link, but searching around the site may help.

Looking briefly at the courts diagram, I note they like to use different words for Senat, Kammer and Gericht, although in my view all are chambers (but then again, a Senat may be larger than the number who sit). They have Panel for Senat in the Federal Court of Justice, Division for Kammer (I have an article by a U.S. law professor arguing in favour of division, but I tend to use division for Abteilung, e.g. criminal division of the Amtsgericht), and Court for Gericht.
The tricky word Schöffengericht is translated as Full Bench! I suppose it isn’t a bad idea, but then you have Extended Bench for Erweitertes Schöffengericht, which makes me wonder if someone has to sit on the floor. What about Schwurgericht? They simply omit it. It is a form of Große Strafkammer (Grand Criminal Division). For Schöffe they have lay judge, which I agree with. There’s a Rechtspfleger in the civil division of the Amtsgericht and that used to be easy to translate into British English as registrar, because there was a kind of sub-judge at the English county court called registrar. But when they were renamed district judges, the term registrar seemed too obscure or ambiguous. This BMJ list (does anyone know where it comes from?) leaves Rechtspfleger in German. I didn’t think we were supposed to do that… For ehrenamtlicher Richter, for instance in the courts of labour law, I don’t really like ‘honorary judge’: this is more like ‘unpaid’. Still, the diagram’s language is largely comprehensible.

Berufsakademie / Fachhochschule

A colleague, Paul Thomas from Ehningen, translated two certificates containing the word Berufsakademie, which he rendered as vocational academy. The client – a German – was annoyed and said the translation was wrong: it should have been University of Cooperative Education.
Paul searched the Web and found the term almost exclusively used on German Berufsakademie websites.

I don’t know these Berufsakademien – they are a Baden-Württemberg thing, and I’m in Bavaria. There’s a site here.

They sound a bit like polytechnics. But what does cooperative mean?

Eurybase definitely puts them outside higher education. It says they are in eight Länder.

‘Berufsakademien (professional academies) form part of the tertiary sector and combine academic training at a Studienakademie (study institution) with practical professional training in the workplace, thus constituting a dual system (duales System). They were first set up in 1974 in Baden-Württemberg as part of a pilot project and are now to be found in Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Sachsen and Thüringen, where they are state-run, and in Schleswig-Holstein, Niedersachsen and Saarland, where they are privately maintained state-recognised institutions.’

The DAAD book: Wörterbuch Englisch, Französisch, Spanisch – Begriffe aus Wissenschaft und Hochschule (ISBN 3 7639 0418 2) gives ‘higher education institution in Germany with professional orientation and on-the-job training’.

And Raddatz’s Fachglossar: Deutsche Berufsbildungsbegriffe, Bertelsmann/GTZ (ISBN 3 7639 0128 0), otherwise full of Germanisms, has ‘vocational college’ plus ‘The vocational college which exists in some Federal States of Germany prepares, as a rule, upper secondary school graduates … in a three-year period for a qualified graduation for a scientific and advanced occupational activity. The training scheme features in-company training periods.’

So what do we do when a whole set of institutions has chosen a term that is rubbish in English? Their very choice seems to disqualify them. A similar term is University of Applied Science for Fachhochschule. There’s a term that Eurybase does support. It reminds me of the Holy Roman Empire – neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

Paul calls it ‘what would appear to be a misnomer made up by German speakers for German consumption’. Tim Slater replies, ‘Well, of course it is not for German consumption, but for misleading an international readership (part of unscrupulous and dishonest sales promotion by German authorities)’.

The conclusion on FLEFO at CompuServe was: use the German term, if only once in brackets, make sure you get paid, and let the client do what it wants with the text.

Zusammenfassung: das Wort Berufsakademie wird standardmäßig mit einem sinnlosen englischen Begriff übersetzt, vor allem auf den Webseiten der Berufsakademien. Kunde, der die beeidigte Übersetzung zweier Urkunden wollte, bemängelt Übersetzung deswegen. Übersetzer klärt Kunden auf. Fazit: wenn der Kunde dem englischsprachigen Übersetzer nicht glauben will, oder ihm sogar glaubt aber sich an der eingebürgerten Form halten will, soll er es tun.
Website von Eurybase – Eurydice Database – gibt zweisprachige Entsprechungen für Bildungsbegriffe in ganz Europa.

Zuchthaus: how to translate?

Zuchthaus is a Swiss term. Professor Niggli of the University of Freiburg/Fribourg explains it.

Das Gesetz kennt als Freiheitsstrafen Zuchthaus, Gefängnis und Haft.

Der Unterschied zwischen Zuchthaus und Gefängnis besteht zunächst in der unterschiedlichen gesetzlichen Mindest- und Höchstdauer. Zuchthaus bedeutet Freiheitsentzug von 1 bis zu 20 Jahren (Art. 35 StGB), in drei Einzelfällen lebenslänglicher Freiheitsentzug (Art. 112, 185 Ziff. 3, 266 Ziff. 2 Abs. 2 StGB). Gefängnis bedeutet Freiheitsentzug von 3 Tagen bis zu 3 Jahren (Art. 36 StGB). Haft entspricht Freiheitsentzug von 1 Tag bis zu 3 Monaten (Art. 39 StGB). Vorbehalten bleiben Abweichungen im Besonderen Teil und im Nebenstrafrecht. Die Dreiteilung der Freiheitsstrafen in Zuchthaus, Gefängnis und Haft bezogen auf den Vollzug, die mit dem Strafgesetzbuch beabsichtigt war (vgl. dazu nachstehend II.), hat sich nicht durchgesetzt. Allerdings rang sich der Gesetzgeber formal auch nicht zur Einheitsfreiheitsstrafe durch, wie man sie in zahlreichen anderen Staaten kennt.

Zur Statistik: Ca. 2% aller Freiheitsstrafen sind Zuchthausstrafen, ca. 78% Gefängnisstrafen und 20% Haftstrafen.

Die Botschaft 1998 schlägt die Einführung der Einheitsfreiheitsstrafe vor (Art. 40).

… Faktisch ist bezüglich Zuchthaus- und Gefängnisstrafen der Einheitsvollzug und die Einheitsstrafe verwirklicht.

If this is right, there is no notable difference between Zuchthaus and Gefängnis apart from the name.

Dessemontet and Ansay, Introduction to Swiss Law, 2nd ed. 1995 (3rd. ed. is in the pipeline), ISBN 3-7255-3235-4, call Zuchthaus penal servitude, Gefängnis imprisonment, and Haft detention. ‘Both punishments are served in penitentiaries where the convict is required to work. There are two kinds of penitentiaries, one for convicts presenting a danger of absconding, and one for the other ones.’

So Zuchthaus is not a type of prison.

Someone’s client suggested Zuchthaus = strict-regime imprisonment, Gefängnis = ordinary imprisonment, Haft = custody or detention.

But is Zuchthaus strict-regime imprisonment?

It’s a misnomer in the original German, anyway.

Doucet-Fleck DE>FR, ISBN 3 406 35995 7, which has a lot of Swiss terms, deals with Zuchthaus only up to 1969, and at that time it did imply harsher treatment.

Translate it as imprisonment unless the distinction is important, in which case add the German word and a definition?