A list of false friends: Why Denglisch is not the way to go

Handy shortcuts for translating

During the translation process, I find it very helpful to look out for so-called “false friends”. False friends are words, phrases or idioms that you might be tempted to translate literally, even though the literal translation is not 100 % accurate or even misleading. At the very least, this can lead to “Denglisch”, a confusing mixture of German words and English grammar or style. In order to avoid this, it is crucial to identify false friends. In this blog post I have compiled a list which will help you distinguish between English and German phrases easily.

In another blog post I describe my encounter with a “false friend” in a novel and why it completely changed the meaning of a scene.

Not every use of Denglisch is wrong, some uses are simply considered less common and might sound unusual to your readers. Some forms are increasingly common (e. g. translating “I think” as “ich denke”), so it really is up to you as a translator to decide which form to use.

You will find that in many cases there is no right or wrong, but when in doubt go with the version that sounds the most natural.

English
Denglisch
German
I think
ich denke
Ich glaube
with all due respect
bei allem gebotenen Respekt
Mit Verlaub
to have a point
einen Punkt haben
da ist etwas Wahres dran/gutes Argument
in terror
in Schrecken

schreckerfüllt/schreckerstarrt

in 1870
in 1870
1870/im Jahr 1870
pink
pink
rosafarben
in the general direction
in die generelle Richtung
ungefähr in die Richtung
to overhear something
etwas überhören
etwas belauschen
sharp looks
scharfes Aussehen
elegantes Aussehen/geschniegelt und gebügelt aussehen
to eye someone
jemanden beäugen
jemanden mustern
to bet the farm
die Farm verwetten
alles auf eine Sache setzen
that’s torn it
das hat es zerrissen
das hat die Überraschung verdorben