“Close, but no cigar” in Danish?

The word “Close” is hard to translate without context.
In English it can mean both to shut something down, be near something or someone, or to successfully finish a sales negotiation. Of course this opens up a plethora of pitfalls for the diligent linguist/translator, even in-context:

“Close the deal!” was translated as “Luk handlen!”, which can be understood as “Shut down the business!”. ūüôā It should have been something like¬†‚ÄúF√• Ordren!‚ÄĚ or “Luk salget!” (i.e. “Get the Order!”).

“As close as you can” was translated as “luk det s√• godt som du kan” (“close it as well as possible”). The correct translation would be “s√• t√¶t p√• som muligt”.

“It is close to my heart” ==> “det er mit hjerte n√¶r”. Interestingly when we go “poetic” in Danish we like to reverse the word sequence. Saying “det er n√¶r mit hjerte” would be a geographic description of something located near my heart, with no emotional content.

Close, but no cigar!
And what about “Close, but no cigar!”: what would be a good translation of this Idiom into Danish? Maybe “Lige ved og n√¶sten sl√•r ingen mand af hesten”? (“Close-to and almost¬†does not knock any man off his horse”).
Erik Moldrup has compiled a very impressive list of English-to-Danish idiom translations at: http://lakjer.dk/erik/engelsk/enidiomstb.html¬†. But “Close, but no cigar” is not amongst them.¬†Ahem… close, but no cigar…¬† ūüôā I will ask him for advice.
There’s also an impressive list of Danish proverbs with explanations (in Danish) at: http://da.wikiquote.org/wiki/Danske_ordsprog
and a corresponding one of English proverbs in English: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/English_proverbs

Linguistics is an experiential journey

Sometimes the issue is with words which are “oh, so correct” but therefore also rarely used, obscure¬†and largely unknown. Case in point:

“Gift certificates for services (including but not limited to experiential and entertainment certificates) are subject to the terms and conditions of the vendor providing the services”

“Experiential” anyone? Experiential, in this context, means something that lets you experience something. In other words: an Activity.
When the sentence was translated originally the translator¬†mistook “experiential” for¬†the more common: “experimental”, which created the funny idea in Danish of “experimental gift certificates”. ūüôā

Gavecertifikater til tjenester (herunder, men ikke begr√¶nset til eksperimentelle certifikater og underholdningscertifikater) er underlagt vilk√•r og betingelser fra den leverand√łr, der leverer disse tjenester.

The correct translation could be:

Gavecertifikater til tjenester (herunder, men ikke begr√¶nset til aktivitetscertifikater og underholdningscertifikater) er underlagt vilk√•r og betingelser fra den leverand√łr, der leverer disse tjenester.

English==> Danish:
Experience ==> Oplevelse, Erfaring, Aktivitet
Experiment ==> Eksperiment, Fors√łg
Experiential ==> Oplevelsesmæssig, Erfaringsmæssig, Hands-on, Aktiv
Experimental ==> Eksperimentel

Now, now… you can relax, but not now

If the Danish prince Hamlet gave the English language the immortal sentence: “To be or not to be?”, so does modern-day English give us the wonder of “Now, know that first now is not the same as the last now, you know?”. Behold now, honored reader:

In the English sentence “Now, follow these steps to confirm your bank account” the word “now” actually does not mean “now” as in “this very instance”. It’s a filler-word more meant as a gentle nudge,¬†or pause in speech, and synonymous (in this context only) with¬†words as “next” or “please”. Or, another way to look at the uniqueness of this “now” is to realize that while the sentence above sounds pleasant and non-alarming, removing the comma and moving the “now” couple of places to the right results in the sentence “Follow these steps now to confirm your bank account”, which obviously expresses more of an urgency and somewhat of an alarm. And, interestingly enough, placing the “now” at the very end of the sentence further enhances the sense of urgency: “Follow these steps to confirm your bank account, now”.

And, of course, we have to note then in this context that in Danish,¬†“now” does not¬†have a double-life as as a filler-word.¬†For Danes¬†“now” means -ahem- now. Starting a sentence with “now” causes a sense of urgency in a Danish reader, so a direct translation of the original sentence with a leading “now”, would convey in this case the meaning but not exactly the spirit of it. In Danish, we have two words at our disposal: “Nu” means “now” (as in “this moment in time”). “Nuvel” is the Danish word we use, when we need a filler-word to let our mouth continue, while our brain pauses. It more or less is equivalent to the English “well, now..”.

And a propos, there was¬†a very famous Danish radio- and tv-personality who so abused the word “now” in his live radio transmissions starting with the 1936 Olympic Games in¬†Berlin and all the way through 40s, 50, 60s, 70 and 80s, that the Danish word for “now” (Nu) was forever ‘added’ to his name as little gentle mockery and a Danish sign of respect (Danes,¬†being generally reserved and easygoing people,¬†are not very good at direct praise ūüôā ). Gunnar “Nu” Hansen (1905-1993).
And since he could talk and talk (which of course you had to be able to do as a sportsradio reporter) also a line of licorice flavored throat lozenges was named in his honor: Nu Sportspastiller. His picture was on the outside and a collectable picture of a Danish soccer-star was always inside. The line of lozenges was discontinued in 1977.

Arbeit macht rewards

“How rewards work”¬†was translated to “S√•dan bel√łnnes arbejde” , meaning: “This is how work is rewarded”.¬† Which brings up some eerie associations with the signs that used to adorn the entrances to Nazi concentration camps… ūüôĀ
This again is an instance of a translation ambiguity starting with English having exactly the same word for the verb and the noun, here:¬†“Reward”. Interestingly enough, in this case we DO have a similar pairing in Danish with the verb “bel√łnne” and the noun “bel√łnning”, except the latter is a bit old-fashioned and not used in context with modern-day Credit Card rewards programs and such.¬†In modern¬†Danish we use the verb “bel√łnner” with the nouns¬†“bonusprogram” or “pr√¶mieprogram”. So, a good translation would be: “S√•dan virker bonusprogrammet”.

A domestic relations matter is not the opposite of a foreign relations matter (in this case)

The “domestic relations matter” in the sentence “Except as expressly permitted in writing, Reward Points and awards are not transferable or assignable under any circumstances, including (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law.”¬† was translated as the opposite of “foreign relations matter”, which it obviously also can be, however not in this case, where it actually¬†refers to a divorce and such. Probably formulating the English sentence as “…(ii) as part of a divorce settlement or property division…” would have been significantly better.

So, the translation became “Medmindre det udtrykkeligt er tilladt skriftligt af banken, kan pr√¶miepoint og bonusser ikke overf√łres eller tildeles under nogen omst√¶ndigheder, herunder ved (i) d√łd, (ii) som en del af nationale forhold, eller (iii) ellers i kraft af loven.”
It should have been: “…(ii) som f√łlge af skilsmisse eller ejendomsfordeling,…”

Tricky Reward Rules. There’s no airplane-class on a coach, but there’s a coach-class on an airplane

“Cardholders may redeem Reward Points for a scheduled airline ticket”.
In Danish a regularly flown airline-route is NOT a scheduled flight, it is a “route-flight”. Therefore a direct translation to “Kortindehavere kan indl√łse pr√¶miepoint for en planlagt flybillet” actually means in Danish something like “Cardholders may redeem Reward Points for a planned airline ticket”. The correct translation is: “Kortindehavere kan indl√łse pr√¶miepoint for en ruteflybillet”.

This one is hilarious: “Tickets will be non-refundable and non-changeable coach class tickets” was translated to: “Billetter vil ikke refunderes, og busbilletter kan ikke √¶ndres”, which means “Tickets will not be refunded and bustickets cannot be changed” . How did Bustickets get in there? Well, think of the other meaning of Coach…
The correct translation is:¬†“Billetter vil v√¶re¬†ikke-refunderbare og ikke-omskiftelige turistklasse (eller Coach-class) biletter”.

Punitive damage may lead to compensatory and punitive damages

The sentence

‚ÄúUnder no circumstances shall the company be liable to you or to any other person for any indirect, incidental, consequential or punitive damages arising out of‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

looks perfectly good in English, but it actually has no less than two linguistic quirks that come to the surface under translation. The first quirk is that the last one of the “damages” is a completely different beast than the first three ones. “Damage” is something unpleasant that happens to you and under that we can have indirect, incidental and consequential damage. “Damages”, on the other hand, are awarded by a court as monetary COMPENSATION for those unpleasant things, loss or injury,¬†that happened to you. And they become “punitive” when they exceed the value of actual damage caused and are therefore a punishment. And actually, it’s not “they”, it’s “it”. Legal damages is a singular noun (see Wikipedia). Indeed in Danish we have two different words for the damage that happens to you vs. the damages you are awarded in court (the latter: more like compensation (“straferstatning”)).

The second quirky thing is the word “Punitive”. As I commented to my colleagues on the potential pitfalls of the above sentence when subjected to I18n internationalization, one of them said “but wait, I don’t see anything wrong, I can easily see how you can suffer damage that is punitive”. Indeed you can. But that has to do with the dual meaning in English of the word ‚Äúpunitive‚ÄĚ: Punitive in this context, when attached to Damages, means: ‚Äúas¬†a punishment‚ÄĚ, but the word Punitive is also used in non-legal speech¬†to mean ‚Äúterminal‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúdecisive‚ÄĚ, ‚Äúgrueling‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúinflictive‚ÄĚ, like in a ‚Äúpunitive blow to the head‚ÄĚ, i.e. a SERIOUS blow to the head (from which it is hard to recover).

So, YES, you can be damaged punitively (meaning: ~seriously, irrecoverably) as the result of something bad happening to you, but “punitive damages” is something else.

Pay respect to the context for “Pay”

With English having¬†relatively few inflection rules, many words in English have to do double-duty as both nouns and verbs, or nouns and adjectives. Take, for instance, the word “Pay“:¬† Depending on the bigger context¬†it can stand for a gentle¬†order: “please pay now”, a choice in infinitive form: “you can chose to pay now¬†or¬†later”, or¬†a noun: “receive your pay“. Unfortunately, we often see it just standing there all¬†by its lonesome self in source materials to be localized.
When localizing to a language with slightly different inflection rules, like Danish, each of the above contexts of “Pay” calls for a different translation:

Pay (verb, order)             ==> Betal
(to) Pay (verb, infinitive)  ==> (at) Betale
(monthly) Pay (noun)¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†¬†==> L√łn
Payment (noun)               ==> Betaling

I hope someone pays attention! -Which by the way would be total rubbish in most other languages, if translated literally.
In Danish we “are attentive” or “give attention”, but we don’t “pay attention”. ūüôā

Ken surging onto Barbie: plastic surgery? Disecting the joke linguistically: little deep, my apology!

“Plastic surgeon”…¬†Is that a¬†surgeon made of plastic?¬†Or maybe a¬†surgeon specializing in operating on latex dolls? (George Costanza of “Seinfeld” fame and his stint as latex salesman at Vandelay Industries¬†come to mind, or to those Scandinavian, the history’s probably one and only hit song dedicated to an inflatable doll. It was 1969 and it was Swedish) :-).
Of course we know (somehow) that a plastic surgeon in English is also known as a cosmetic surgeon and is a live person operating (and funny enough: NOT “surging”, similar word, seemingly with the same root, but with a quite different meaning) on live people.
Why the confusion, then? It is because in this context “plastic” is an adjective. It’s derived from the¬†Greek word ‘plastikos’ meaning to mold or shape. It so happens that it’s the same word in English as the noun “Plastic”, which refers to usually stiff objects made out of a plastic (<–adjective) material, a material to which we often refer to as simply “Plastic” (<–noun). And voil√°: an easy joke.
A deficiency (or difficulty) of English is that often a noun and an adjective version of a word is the same word: “bet on the red (<–noun)” and “the red (<–adjective) bike”.¬†And that then leads to¬†another issue with the English language: since the two forms of a word are often the same, some times¬†a different (correct) adjective form exists, but is not used in daily speech. Case in point: “Face surgeon”. Yes, we all know it’s the doctor operating on your face. But since “face” here is supposed to be an adjective describing the surgeon, we are actually here strictly speaking describing a surgeon facing us (in a crowd). Like in “face value” (the value you can see). The correct wording is actually “Facial surgeon”, because “Facial” is the adjective pertaining to what happens to a face.
But nobody talks like that.
Linguists, however, sometimes have to understand nuances between how a language should be used and how it is actually used, because otherwise it can come out really funny at the other end.

Your net purchases: may or may not be purchased on the net.

As people buy more and more on-line, and as web sites get localized accordingly,¬†we’ll probably see more confusion between “net purchases” and “purchases on the net”. I caught it when the English sentence “Cardholders will accumulate Reward Points based on net purchases on the cardholder’s account” was translated into Danish as “Kortindehavere akkumulerer pr√¶miepoint baseret p√• internetk√łb p√• kortindehaverens konto”, i.e. that the Reward Points would be accumulated based on the amount of internet purchases, rather than the correct “net purchases”, meaning: “purchases minus returns”.