“Two heads are better than one,” we say. What we do NOT say is that “four eyes are better than two”! The German Vieraugenprinzip expresses the requirement that two people sign off on a particular action or decision, not one person alone. It is often mistranslated literally as “four eyes principle”—even by professionals such as the good people of PONS.
Sorry—but no, this will not do! First: In English, “four eyes” are found on one head: namely, of someone who wears eyeglasses (according to the schoolyard taunt). So any attempt to use “four eyes” in the translation leads to a shrug at best and a guffaw at worst. Second: The Vieraugenprinzip is not a “principle,” it is a rule or requirement or (best) practice intended to prevent errors or abuse. Vieraugenprinzip expresses this concept through a German lens, and translating it requires finding the English lens.
“Four eyes principle” is an absolute non-starter. “Two-man rule” or the more modern and inclusive “two-person rule” is an improvement, but this evokes a military security context (think: missile launches) and is not a good solution in business contexts. “Double-checking” or “cross-checking” could still be one person, so it doesn’t pass muster. “Quality control” follows the wrong scent: Vieraugenprinzip is about authority, not quality. “Peer review” is about verifying findings (typically in a scientific context), not preventing unilateral actions. “Dual control”? “Dual verification”? Now we’re getting somewhere. But the trick from here on out is to express this in clear, natural English. A couple of examples from my past work illustrate the point:
- Es gilt das Vier-Augen-Prinzip = Approval by a second party is required.
- Idealerweise sind die Bearbeiter für diese beiden Aufgaben unterschiedlich, um das Vieraugenprinzip zu wahren. = Ideally, these two tasks should be assigned to different people. This provides a second set of eyes, as required.
And finally, for extra credit …
- Für Belege bis 100.000 € arbeitet das System nach dem Vieraugenprinzip, darüber nach dem Sechsaugenprinzip. (Yes, really! Where will the madness end?) = The system requires two people to sign off on any transaction up to €100,000 and three people for larger amounts.
(For fun, here’s what DeepL did with that: “For receipts up to 100,000 €, the system works according to the four-eye principle, above that according to the six-eye principle.” Machine translation can only rise to the level of quality of the data it analyzes!)
A last word on a related idea: What is a Vieraugengespräch in English? You probably guessed that it’s not a “four-eyes meeting.” Indeed, it is a one-on-one (meeting). We count heads, Germans count eyes (or noses … but that’s another blog post!).