Need help translating German "name."

Reply Sun 13 Jul, 2008 09:57 pm
It's what may be a throwaway joke in Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

"He was born Graf Heinrich Karl Wilhelm Ottot Friedrich von Ubersetzenseehafenstadt...."

(There's an umlaut over the "u" in "uber.")

So what would "Ubersetzenseehafenstadt" mean?
Reply Sun 13 Jul, 2008 10:03 pm
Ferry Lake Pot City?
0 Replies
Reply Sun 13 Jul, 2008 10:04 pm
Ferry Lake City?

Ferry Lake Seaport?
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 10:23 am
Ferry Lake Seaport City.
0 Replies
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 11:42 am
Ubersetzen = translate
see = sea
hafen = harbor
stadt = town

The joke is that Germans often string a bunch of words together to make a long compound word. Several words can be added together in German, whereas English compound words combine 2 or 3 words at the most.

Actually if "see" was "sie" the name would translate as a command: "Translate harbor-town!"
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 11:46 am
Yeah, I wondered if the author was playing with "ubersetzensee" = "ubersetzen-sie."

Although the Google translation widget seemed to have no problem with it.

"Ubersetzen-sie" translated as "Ferry them."

"Ubersetzen see" translated as "Ferry Lake.

Now, though "Ubersetzenseehafenstadt" translates as "Translate seaport city."
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 04:46 pm
No, it doesn't! Uebersetzen has more than one meaning:
translate would be one, the other is "to cross over" so you cross over
to the sea harbor town.
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 10:44 pm
"Translates" was inaccurate. "The Google widget translates" would have been more precise.

Thanks for the help.
0 Replies
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2008 11:34 pm
DrewDad wrote:
He was born Graf Heinrich Karl Wilhelm Ottot Friedrich von Ubersetzenseehafenstadt...."

It's a nonsense name. And as Wandel JW said, it's a play on the German habits to form big words by stringing small words together. (For a satirical account that hits the nail on the head, see Mark Twain's article The Ugly German Language which should be easy to find on the web.)

"Ubersetzenseehafenstadt" is a city name Neal Stephenson strung together this way. As I said, the name is nonsense, but the pieces it was strung together from are valid German words. Let's parse it: "Uebersetzen" can mean either "to translate" or "to traverse a body of water", usually a river or a lake. "See" means lake, "Hafen" means harbor, and "Stadt" means city.

It's impossible in English to put the pieces back together in a way that makes sense. And I suspect that's the point Stephenson is making about the German language.
0 Replies

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