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June 24, 2013

I was confused by an article in Der Spiegel yesterday (“Knallkopf” – Nr. 25/17.6.13). I thought it was a review of Kanye West’s new album Yeezus, but it turned out to be more of an exposé on his status as a celebrity. Despite not mentioning much about the actual quality of the music, it is an extremely funny article. My personal favorite line is the caption under a photo of him and his girlfriend, which reads “Es ist unklar, was diese Menschen voneinander wollen.” (Translation: “It is unclear what these people want from one another.”) This came just a few sentences after the solid gold description of Keeping Up with the Kardashians as “eine Serie von bestürzender Leere,” or, “a series of shocking emptiness.”

My confusion, however, came not from the unexpected tone of the article, but rather from the way two quotes were presented, one from Kanye himself and one from Barack Obama. When describing Kanye’s rise to fame, authors Andreas Borcholte and Tobias Rapp write, in a mix of German and English, “Dann kam der Satz, der ihn berühmt machte: ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.'” I found it interesting how they chose to keep that quote in English, despite having translated other quotes of Kanye’s into German earlier in the article.

Next, the article recounts the MTV VMA stunt and quotes the President’s casual/infamous response to Kanye’s antics, “Er nannte Kanye West einen “‘Knallkopf’.” Hmm, this time they kept the quote in German, even though everyone knows the word he actually used was “jackass”. I’m told “Knallkopf” is a pretty good translation of the word “jackass”. But to me it’s odd that they would translate that word and not the other quote by Kanye West about Obama’s predecessor. Even more odd is that they would then use that translation, “Knallkopf”, as the title of the article.

I spoke briefly with a German friend about this inconsistency, and his theory was that the sentence “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” would be very difficult to translate accurately and sensitively into German. Apparently the editor would rather see a lapse in the standard of translating English quotes than deal with the possible implications of that weighty sentence’s translation into German. I’m sure it was a tough call. But hey, no one’s likely to notice anyway, right?

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