John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Saturday, September 16, 2006
  The meaning of words
Much of the global debate about the Pope's speech misses the point. The linked article from The Guardian is, however, much better than most reports. It still confuses states and religions in its strapline.

The point The Guardian makes is that the Vatican is unhappy about persecution of Christians in Muslim states. This obviously links to the popes denunciation of the use of force for proselytising.

What I would like to know is how the speech came to global attention. This may rest upon the meaning of the word "erstaunlich". The main meaning is "astonishing" which can be taken as implying an apology for the meaning of the quotation. An alternative nuance, however, involves positive connotations such as admirable. My German is not good enough to judge which applies. However, it is on that point that the meaning of the speech can switch. If the speech was brought to people's attention from a fluent german speaker then it does make a material difference.
 
Comments:
The German original repeats the word 'schroff', for which I would say that 'brusque' is the best translation. Close words such as 'blunt' and 'frank' would not fit:

...wendet er sich in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form...

repeating this in English too would either give a repeat of something surprising: ..astonishingly brusque, for us surprisingly brusque...,
or ... strikingly brusque, for us surprisingly brusque...
or ... admirably brusque, etc

For various reasons I would choose the 'strikingly' version as the one which makes most sense. Why we should be surprised by this may lie in further knowledge about the Kaiser's character, should this happen to be mild-mannered, moderate etc, but I don't know whether this was the case or not.

This quote was ill-considered, or at the very least not properly explained in my opinion, but should not cause uproar.

I remember Jenny Tonge's problems with being badly quoted, not badly translated, which led to her being sacked. Ah, the meaning of words, and the misunderstanding of sentences they form...
 
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