Translation issues: ein sternverformter Schraubenschlüssel

My German collection of Arthur C. Clarke stories, Ein Treffen Mit Medusa, contains one of the most unintentionally funny editorial comments I have ever encountered. Editor and translator Michael Nagula, attempting to explain the punchline of “Neutronenflut” (“Neutron Tide”) to the puzzled German reader, tells us:

Ihr besonderer Witz rührt vom plötzlichen Wechsel der Perspektive her.

Its exceptional joke is rooted in the sudden change of perspective.

This is a glorious failure to get the point of the story, reflected in his translation of its final paragraph:
»Es fällt mir wirklich nicht leicht, das zu sagen.« Er seufzte schwer. »Aber das einzige noch identifizierbar Teil des Stolzes der Raumflotte der Vereinigten Staaten war – ein sternverformter Schraubenschlüssel.«
In German it looks rather mysterious and completely humourless; what is so funny about an American spaceship being entirely destroyed, apart from one small item dropped from some astronaut’s toolkit? (I am reminded of the gap in cultures satirised in that great line from Black Adder: “How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item. For you, it is the basis of an entire culture!”) Because of course the original punchline to the story, while not actual toilet humour, is an excruciatingly awful pun:
“I really hate to say this.” He sighed. “But the only identifiable fragment of the pride of the United States Space Navy was – one star-mangled spanner.”

One thought on “Translation issues: ein sternverformter Schraubenschlüssel

  1. Nicholas with the SF seat in Lagan Valley under severe threat,which unionist party looks best placed to capture it?
    To me,based on the westminster election,it is not obvious whether a 4th DUP runner,a second UUP candidate or the TUV’s Keith Harbinson will gain the seat.What do you think?

Comments are closed.