COMPENDIUM ERRORUM, or What the Copy Editor Missed

Here are some examples of unfortunate errors in foreign-language words from very fine books. I would like to emphasize that these are not the author’s fault, but errors which have fallen into the cracks of the copy-editing process. For the most part, I recommend these books highly and provide Amazon links (click the titles) to encourage interested readers to purchase and enjoy them. I’ll be updating this periodically, occasionally adding movies and television scripts as well.

A Quiet Flame, Philip Kerr, 2009.

The protagonist, Bernie Gunther, would more likely be named Bernie Günther. One would like to have seen this caught in the first book of the excellent series.

In many, many instances the German abbreviations for Kriminalpolizei (“criminal police,” i.e., investigators) and Schutzpolizei (“protective police,” i.e., uniformed officers) are given as KRIPO and SCHUPO, when in German, they’re always written Kripo and Schupo (à la Gestapo). Presumably this was intended to show English speakers that they’re abbreviations (though the all-caps makes them look like acronyms). Still, when, as on p. 41, “KRIPO” shows up next to “Gestapo (an identical formulation for Geheime Staatspolizei), there’s clearly a disconnect. Suggestion: Use the German Kripo, Schupo, and Gestapo, all italicized. It’s more authentic and places little demand on the reader, and the consistent italics serve as a more subtle reminder than the caps.

Königs-Thor is a consistent error for Königs Thor (itself perhaps a confusing archaism that, were it named today, would be spelled Königstor).

Bulowplatz should be Bülowplatz throughout.

On p. 47, a prostitute is referred to as a Munzi. This nickname presumably comes from her working on Münzstrasse (see p. 103) and should therefore be Münzi. (All German diminutives add umlauts to the preceding vowel when possible.) The name may also contain a pun on Münze, coin, which incidentally causes an additional editorial problem on p. 103 where it is implied that Münzstraße is nicknamed Coin Street, when that’s simply the street’s name, after a mint which once stood there.

On p. 163, the caliber of the Mauser Gewehr 98 is given as 7.97mm. It is 7.92[x57]mm.

On p. 167, Gunther is told by a Munich cop, “…clear off back to Berlin, you stupid Pifke.” Piefke is a common Austrian derogation of northern Germans. A Bavarian would much more likely have called him a Preiß or Preißl (“little Prussian”) or in this instance Saupreiß.

On p. 300, a Polish white slaver’s name is given as Mihanovich, a Croatian name (Mihanović). Far more likely would be Michałowicz, unless the designation of “Pole” is an error on the character’s part, or “Mihanovich” is an unflattering allusion to the late Argentine shipping magnate Nicolás Mihanovich.

The Mao Case, Qiu Xiaolong, 2009

Throughout Laozi’s Taoist classic is referred to as Taodejing rather than its proper Pinyin spelling Daodejing, presumably to signal English-speaking readers familiar with its traditional Wade-Giles transliteration as Tao Te Ching (by “Lao Tzu”). Suggestion: simply use the older spelling, as one would say “Confucius” instead of Kong Fuzi.

In an unrelated Taoist error, the great sage Chuang Tzu’s Pinyin name appears as Zhaungzi on p. 42. It should read Zhuangzi.

On p. 194, Empress Lu should be for the Empress Dowager Lü [Zhi] (呂太后).

Belshazzar’s Daughter, et al., Barbara Nadel, 1999–present. I hesitate to criticize the early volumes of the Çetin İkmen mysteries, as Turkish proofreading has vastly improved over the life of the series. One onomastic solecism persists without any hope of change, alas.

Inspector İkmen’s right-hand man is named Mehmet Süleyman (who finally received his due umlaut in more recent volumes). Süleyman is also described as being a descendant of the former ruling House of Osman, the eponyms of the Ottoman Dynasty. In this case, he would almost surely bear the last name Osmanoğlu, as the actual descendants of the dynasts do.

The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, Walter Laqueur, 2007

A wide variety of foreign-language copy errors, particularly in Middle Eastern names, disfigure this work. For example, the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet appears as Hurriyet, Milli Görüş is almost unrecognizable as Milli Goerues, the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir’s own preferred spelling of its name (they have a website) is rendered as Hizb al Tahrir (which isn’t incorrect per se but is more academic), C. Kaplan’s Islamist group is called the Khalifat Group instead of Kalifatstaat (or Caliphate State), the terrorist Abu Hamza al-Masri’s sobriquet is given as al-Mizri, and one sentence after the Turkish president’s surname is correctly given as Erdoğan, it loses its yumuşak g and becomes Erdogan.


Compendium Errorum


Blood Rain: An Aurelio Zen Mystery, Michael Didbin, 1999. On p. 249, the detective sits down with a German character.

He raised his glass.


In German, as in English, Gesundheit is what you say when someone sneezes. Here it incorrectly calques “to your health,” à votre santé, sláinte, &c. Ordinarily that’d be (formally) Zum Wohl, or (especially with beer) Prosit, or Prost or Wohl bekomm’s. However, since they’re drinking whiskey, a German might well say Cheers (in English) or Auf Schottland! (“To Scotland!”) or the like.

Night Soldiers, Alan Furst, 1988. Furst‘s excellent thrillers are usually very good on French, but less solid on other languages. Here are a few examples from the first pages of the first book.

Protagonist's surname Stoianev should be probably be Stoyanev to avoid the confusing oia vowel cluster.

The profanity khuy sobachiy (“Dog Prick”) is Russian. “Dog” in Bulgarian is kuche. Kuchi sin is “son of a bitch.” ”Khuy spleskam” is "flattened dick." "Kur prepleskam" is similar. If he literally called the man "Dog Prick" it'd be "Kuchi khuy" or "Kuchi kur." (p. 14)

Arpád should be Árpád. (p. 18)

Letter to the editor, City Journal:

Subject: Misedit in Glucksmann article

Message: Dear Folks,

I've found a nit to pick in the translation of your André Glucksmann piece of July 30.

There's an italicized word, "Ordjonikidze" which is presented as the Georgian word for the subsequent phrase "shameful Caucasians." In fact, it's a proper name, and the third of the three "shameful Caucasians" who organized the purges: Stalin, Beria, and Ordzhonikidze (as it's conventionally transliterated through Russian; Glucksmann's French "j" corresponds to English "zh" in Russian transliterations). I suspect the original sentence read:

"They retain searing memories of massive purges organized by Stalin, Beria, and Orzhonikidze—Georgians themselves, "shameful Caucasians"—who liquidated more than one of every ten citizens."

Aha! Google reveals:

"Ils nourrissent des souvenirs cuisants, les purges massives organisées par Staline, Beria, Ordjonikidze (Caucasiens honteux) ont liquidé plus d'un citoyen sur dix."

Literally: "They cultivate burning memories: the massive purges organized by Stalin, Beria, Ordzhonikidze (shameful Caucasians) liquidated more than one citizen in ten." [« L'été de l'Europe sera-t-il chaud?» Le Figaro, 03.07.09]

Best regards,

Bill Walsh


Stone’s Fall, Iain Pears, 2009.

In an object lesson in the dangers of cut-and-paste technology and linguistically uninformed copy editors, Pears’ marvelous new novel’s central figure, Elizabeth, uses the Hungarian title Countess Hadik-Barkoczy von Futak uns Szala. While this pardonably omits the Hungarian long-o acute accent, it unpardonably retains the evidence of Pears’ finger hitting “s” when he meant the “d” next to it, as the German now reads “of Futak us Szala” instead of “of Futak and Szala.” The correct spelling is Hadik-Barkóczy von Futak und Szala. (Reference.)

Salt, screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, 2010.

While watching the movie, the fact all the KGB agents refer to Angelina Jolie’s character as “Comrade Chenkov” rankled. Ms. Jolie is clearly a woman, and therefore should have been “Comrade Chenkova.” It seemed like merely careless Russian—though most of the dialogue was idiomatic. At the end, when Ms. Jolie says, “I didn’t know…” something, and the translation was “ya znal” instead of the sex-correct “ya znala” the thought occurred that perhaps the character had originally been written as a man, but when changed to a woman, no one caught that the Russian needed changing. Gratifyingly, Wikipedia confirms Tom Cruise was the original choice for the character. It’s hard not to be proud of that deduction…