Punitive damage may lead to compensatory and punitive damages

The sentence

“Under 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…”

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 “punitive”: Punitive in this context, when attached to Damages, means: “as a punishment”, but the word Punitive is also used in non-legal speech to mean “terminal” or “decisive”, “grueling” or “inflictive”, like in a “punitive blow to the head”, 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)       ==> Løn
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”. 🙂

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 voilá: 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.

And…Action! (not “Auction!”). To list a list is not possible in Danish.

When the company is PayPal, an eBay company, getting “an action” past the translators can be challenging, as all around us are “auctions” . 🙂
“Please select an action” has a few times become “Please select an auction” in translation.
And speaking of auctions and online selling, the English word “a listing” is very hard to translate. To the English-speaker it clearly stands for an item listed (or, in other words: put up) for sale. In Danish we have a word for the noun “a list” (en liste), but no single word verb for “inserting an item into a list”. We read lists and we publish lists, but when we “list” in Danish, i.e use the verb “at liste”, we sneak up on something or someone on our tippie-toes and are typically up to no good… 🙂

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 præmiepoint baseret på internetkøb på 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”.

Your stream of money has just been turned into a drip, drip, drip.

The correct Danish translation of “amount of money” is “beløb”. Some times a typo sneaks its way into the Danish target side and the ‘e’ gets ommitted , in which case we get “bløb” in Danish, which is more or less the sound a dripping water faucet makes. Bløb, bløb, bløb….. That’s kind of profound in regards to today’s economy!…  🙂

Charging a battery adds to it, but charging an account takes from it

Here’s another English word that can mean the exactly opposite depending on the context:
“We will charge your account” means “we will take money from your account”.
“We will charge your battery”, on the other hand, means that we will add some juice to your battery.
In Danish there are two different words for this: “opkræve” is what we do to your money and “oplade” is what we do to your battery. If you enter “charge the account” into Google Translate you will get the incorrect word.

Custom number, customer number, customs number, customary number

The English words “Custom number” were meant to refer to the ability of the customer to put his own custom, internal (identification) numbers inside a PayPal invoice. Without the whole context the translations came out as “Customer Number” and “Customs Number”. And strangely enough, “customary number” is the exact opposite of “custom number”… One has to get accustomed… 😉

In Danish:
Custom number  ==> Tilpasset nummer
Customer number ==> Kundenummer
Customs number ==> Toldnummer
Customary number ==> Sædvanlige nummer

The comma before “which” can make a lot of difference. Or is it: The comma before, which can make a lot of difference?

The original English sentence was:

“When you receive an upgrade notification on your mobile device, install it immediately. With every upgrade, providers are closing security gaps which can make your device more vulnerable to security breaches.”

It sounds to me as if the upgrades are making the device more vulnerable to security breaches!

A better formulated English for the purpose of internationalization (and common understanding) probably could have read something like this:

 “When you receive an upgrade notification on your mobile device, install it immediately. With every upgrade, providers are closing security gaps. Not-closed security gaps make your device vulnerable to security breaches.”

This puts the security breaches in the past. I translated into Danish accordingly, although in Danish we benefit from the fact that we have two different words, “som” and “hvilket”, depending on whether “which” refers to the noun before (“som”) or to the whole sentence before (“hvilket”). In English language that is accomplished by the far more subtle comma before the word “which”: if it’s there, we are referring to the whole preceding sentence, if it’s NOT there, then “which” just refers to the previous word. Who knew? So, in fact, the first quoted English sentence is abolutely correct, as the word “which” (without a comma) refers to the word before it, i.e. “security gaps”. The security gaps are the ones “making your device vulnerable to security breaches”, -and not the “every upgrade” of the previous sentence.
And if you now do know, try to avoid using it that way, because it’s almost guaranteed to get lost in translation.

You can read more about the English rules for “comma before Which” at: http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/ask-teacher/73947-using-comma-before.html