Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TRANSLATION WOES....Remember those games where you electronically translate something into Japanese and then translate it back into English? Lotsa laughs.

It looks like that happened for real today. Here is a report in Die Welt about Paul Wolfowitz commenting on the difference between Iraq and North Korea:

Betrachten wir es einmal ganz simpel. Der wichtigste Unterschied zwischen Nordkorea und dem Irak ist der, dass wir wirtschaftlich einfach keine Wahl im Irak hatten. Das Land schwimmt auf einem Meer von l.

The Guardian picked this up and translated it thusly:

Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

This makes it sound like we went to war to secure Iraq's oil, but here is the DoD transcript of the original quote in English:

Look, the primarily (sic) difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage....

Wolfowitz was obviously making the point that he feels we can bring economic pressure to bear on North Korea but couldn't do the same in Iraq. The only question is: did the Guardian deliberately slant this, or was it a case of a really incompetent translation? And who screwed up the translation, Die Welt or the Guardian?

Are there any fluent German speakers out there who can read the Die Welt article and compare it to the DoD transcript? If so, leave your remarks on the accuracy of the translation in comments.

UPDATE: Via comments, it looks like it was Die Welt that did the bad translation. The Guardian's main fault was accepting the quote without re-verifying it.

UPDATE 2: This gets even weirder. Via comments again, it looks like the Guardian printed an AP dispatch four days ago that had the correct quote. So not only did they pick up the Die Welt version of the quote without checking to see if the translation was correct, they didn't even realize that they themselves had already published the original English language quote. Very strange.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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