Robert Heinlein wrote a novel that begins as follows:

"Easy, boy, easy."

Don Harvey reigned in the fat little cow pony. Ordinarily Lazy lived up to his name; today he seemed to want to go places.

Heinz Nagel translated it as follows:

»Ruhig Blut, Junge, ruhig Blut.«

Don Harvey zügelte sein strammes kleines Pony. Gewöhnlich machte Lazy (was zu gut deutsch Faulpelz heißt) seinem Namen alle Ehre, aber heute schien er es eilig su haben.

The phrase "zu gut deutsch" has a certain superficial appearance of being a prepositional phrase, but we don't see a dative form of the adjective "gut"; indeed it seems to be getting used as an adverb, and "deutsch" does not have a capital initial letter.

Can someone explain the syntax here?

  • Ich sehe eigentlich keinen entscheidenden Unterschied zu dem englischen Ausdruck "... in plain English ..." – tofro May 12 '18 at 8:35
  • @tofro : That is what I assumed was meant, but I wondered why it is not "zu gutem Deutsch" or something like that. – Michael Hardy May 12 '18 at 15:28

For me, 'zu gut deutsch' has the same meaning as 'auf gut Deutsch (gesagt / ausgedrückt)', meaning 'um es klar zu sagen' or 'um es so zu sagen, wie es ist' or here 'man müsste es (ehrlicherweise) mit Faulpelz übersetzen'. I would not say 'zu gut Deutsch', which is however understandable and grammatically correct, I would always use 'auf gut Deutsch gesagt' or 'auf Deutsch gesagt'. Maybe it's a regional variety. You often say it as an anticipated kind of apology for an explicit way of talking in the following text. The meaning approaches 'frankly speaking'.

It's an idiom with an ossified non-declined adjective like 'das ist rausgeschmissen Geld' or like 'sich verkaufen wie geschnitten Brot'.

|improve this answer|||||
  • There seems to be a certain overlap, but they are not the same in use. "zu" usually follows an abbreviation, acronym, foreign or pretentious word/phrase – explaining the unfamiliar // "auf" can be the same but more often signals an insult, offensive words or otherwise 'strong language' the will follow immediately afterwards – announcing the very familiar; or directly before "auf" – pseudo apologising for it. – LаngLаngС May 12 '18 at 18:39
  • @LangLangC: I think you're right, and I didn't realize that up to now. So, in the given context it should be "auf gut Deutsch", because 'lazy' is more or less offensive. I was trying to catch that in my attempt of translating Heinz Nagel's annotation. – Ralf Joerres May 12 '18 at 21:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.