Public Viewing

“We can English!”

Germans are very free and easy about adopting English vocabulary. I suppose we should be flattered, but sometimes the words they import get a little disoriented on their journey—one notorious example being Handy (HEN-dee) to mean mobile phone.

I generally shrug this off, but my shrug turns to a cringe when Germans use Public Viewing to refer to the public simulcast of a sporting or cultural event. This usage seems to have begun in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. (The German Wikipedia entry is quite informative here.) Why this phrase was chosen is a mystery to me: After all, it doesn’t exactly roll off the German tongue! And it doesn’t mean what they think it means …

But it has been trademarked since 2007 and legitimized in Duden, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.


Germans are very free and easy about adopting English. I suppose we should be flattered, but sometimes the words get a little disoriented on their journey …



Duden’s claim of “Herkunft: Englisch” is technically true … except for the small detail that in US English, public viewing = öffentliche Aufbahrung. (Duden bietet Rudelgucken als biodeutsches Synonym, bezeichnet den Gebrauch jedoch als „salopp“.)

So in English, if a famous athlete dies and lies in state for fans to pay their respects, that is a public viewing. But if he is alive and competing in the World Cup while you watch on a big screen in the city center, that is most assuredly not a public viewing!


So how do German-to-English translators deal with Public Viewing in a German source text? This can be a public simulcast, public livestream, open-air screening, or [event] on the big screen. You can also translate specific to the context: I once received a press release about a “Public Viewing” of the Bayreuth Festival’s “Die Walküre” in the city square for those not fortunate enough to have a seat inside the Festspielhaus. My translation? Opera in the Square. But Bayreuth on the Big Screen would’ve also fit the bill. No false images of coffins. It’s that simple.

Sometimes, tricking computers is just too easy … #fail

1 Comment

  1. Tamara Baker on June 10, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    These simple mistranslations are tolerable, even amusing in casual conversation, but an embarrassment in professional writing. I value the craftsmanship of Michael’s work. I wouldn’t turn to anyone else.

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