Translating the Madhouse Effect into German

Madhouse Effect book jacket

We are currently translating the The Madhouse Effect, a popular and very readable illustrated book on climate change, by leading climate scientist Michael E Mann and cartoonist Tom Scoles, which was originally published in 2016. The book was motivated by the authors’ urgent desire to clear a fog of manufactured and self-interested climate scepticism around the greenhouse effect. The full original English language title is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. The German translation is a collaboration between Herbert Eppel and project initiator Matthias Hüttmann.

So  far the best working title for the German language translation has been Der Tollhaus-Effekt. The English word madhouse suggests a place of chaos, lunacy and foolishness, as well as clinical mental illness, but not fun or enjoyment. Tollhaus might suggest to an Anglophone a toll-taking station, such as in the book The Phantom Tollbooth, but the German adjective toll actually means “splendid” or “super!” The compound word Tollhaus can indeed describe a madhouse, both in the colloquial sense of a locus of lunacy, and in the technical sense of a mental hospital, but in the present day some businesses are using this word as a name for a themed safe play area or nightclub. That might sound a bit like the innocuous English term funhouse, so in this case the book’s cover illustration may ease the translator’s task by hinting at what sort of madness the book concerns.

As well as admirably exploring the pressing scientific and social issues for the layman, The Madhouse Effect also looks at how language itself has been altered by shadowy paid lobbyists and professional astroturfers. Michael Mann explains how the scientific method works and its need for rational enquiry, hypotheses, tests, and evidence. He then continues, “Unfortunately the term ‘skeptic’ has been hijacked, especially in the climate change debate, to mean something entirely different. It is used as a way to dodge evidence one simply doesn’t like.”

So, when the evidence is that one’s house, or world, is on fire, it is hard to see why anyone would want to reject the evidence; unless, of course, they are heavily insured against loss, and have another place ready to move to. So perhaps they need to read this book.

Dog waste bin Berlin

Translating Trump: are you rising to the challenge?

Donald Trump’s recent description of Caribbean and African countries as shitholes has creaDog waste bin Berlinted a shitstorm in the translation world, with translators and censors struggling to find words to convey Trump’s meaning. The need for a German language translation of the term has seen the media popularise the term Drecksloch, a previously little used noun, which denotes literally a hole of, or for, muck. Technically Dreck does not exclusively refer to excrement, as it may also describe dirt, mud, rubbish, and manure. Interestingly, Drecksloch was previously recognised by dictionaries and but not yet by the authoritative Duden.

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bars of gold

Deleting emails – trash, treasure, or amnesia?

For some mysterious reason, a lot of people appear to be positively obsessed with deleting emails. The other day we referred one of our correspondents to a discussion which took place a couple of months earlier. Astonishingly, their reply was: “I don´t keep emails that far back“. Why???bars of gold

FWIW, our basic rule is to keep all non-spam emails, because any email can turn out to be useful for future reference (or indeed even used as “evidence”) at any point in time. For this reason, we regard our very comprehensive email archive (dating back to the 1990s) as an invaluable resource. Additionally, the process of regularly deciding which emails to keep and which to delete is both a tedious and unconstructive activity.

At one time webmail services had very tight storage limits and ruthlessly bounced new emails once we hit the limit, and computers had small hard drives which would often fill up.  Nowadays disk space is hardly an issue and we can just let stuff pile up in the cloud, unless a cloudburst sends it pouring down to earth.

So just why do people delete emails? Out of habit? Are they viewing their email as some kind of physical personal space to keep tidy? Here are some possible reasons we found, both good and bad:

delete button on keyboardTop reasons to delete emails:

  1. To save space
  2. It’s fun
  3. A clear inbox looks nice and tidy
  4. To avoid paying
  5. To avoid replying
  6. Because it’s not important
  7. Don’t want to think about it
  8. So no one else can read it
  9. To avoid wasting electrons
  10. It’s all backed up somewhere anyway

That last idea, a vague belief that it is all saved somewhere, is interesting because email can be in several places depending on how you  operate.

A clear inbox, of which we are all in favour, is best achieved by applying a combination of mail folders and filters.

Emails may be stored on your only device such as a computer, or if you sync them, stored across all your devices, as well as on a service provider’s servers.  Additionally, any of those devices may back up to a separate physical drive or to the cloud, whereas if you use only a webmail service your email probably lives only in the cloud and is subject to the weather there.  So when you hit delete, do you really know if your email has gone, and where to?

Dustmen and rubbish

Meerkat family speaking meerkat language

Simples – how a Russian rat hacked the OED with western ads

Or how to buy a place in the good book – a report from

Author holding book in English
The Oxford English Dictionary has recognised a new phrase imported into English from English by an animated cartoon character who appears to be a wealthy Russian rodent trading in insurance protection. Simples? What does that mean? You might ask that if you don’t watch UK commercial television, and even then you might not know that it took expenditure of over £90,000,000 to get this word into the OED. Read more

Sennen Cove Webcam thirt message

Sea on the thirt in Cornwall

Observations from HE Translations linguist and researcher Chris Mawer

Having been a lover of, and visitor to, Cornwall since childhood holidays throughout the 1960s, the decision to retire to the end of the land (I now live less than a mile from Land’s End) seemed a natural choice.

As a linguist the Cornish language has always been of interest to me; over six decades many words now seem very familiar and relatively easy to understand, with similarities to other languages e.g. eglos and église – apparently Breton and Cornish fishermen in the 18th century could converse in their respective languages and understand each other.

Although Dolly Pentreath, who died in 1777, is often cited as the last known person to speak Cornish as a first language, Cornish persisted as a local dialect through the 19th century. Despite this, the language was officially declared “extinct” in the early 21st century. However, there was a gradual and growing movement to revive the language, and indeed a conscious investment in keeping it alive, with the result that Cornish was recently reclassified as “critically endangered“.
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