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I'm working on a translation but can't seem to find a suitable expression for the English "foul play", in the sense of "unlawful or dishonest behavior, in particular violent crime resulting in another's death."

Reading an article about Arjen Kamphuis from Wikileaks is what got me started on a translation. Here is a quote about foul play:

Police said on Thursday they were "holding all possibilities open in respect to what might have happened" to Kamphuis and pursuing three distinct lines of inquiry: a "voluntary disappearance" including a possible suicide; an accident; or foul play.

Suggestions?

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    Note, the OP is asking for a metaforical equivalent, and not a for a translation. "Verrückt Spiel" means probably some very different. This question can be answered only by a well-educated native speaker, a dictionary is not enough. – peterh Sep 16 '18 at 15:38
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    @peterh dict.leo.org for example lists: das Verbrechen, der Mord, faules Vorgehen, unehrliches Spiel. I think it could help, if blackappy adds, why s/he thinks those expressions (especially the first and second) weren't suitable for their translation. – Arsak Sep 16 '18 at 20:09
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    A qualified answer would need more context. Describe the scenario. Also, it heavily depends on the register of speach. There are things you would write or say in an bureaucratic report, in a newspaper, in a chat with your friends, and so on. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 16 '18 at 20:51
  • Reading an article about Arjen Kamphuis from Wikileaks is what got me started on a translation. Here is a quote about foul play: Police said on Thursday they were "holding all possibilities open in respect to what might have happened" to Kamphuis and pursuing three distinct lines of inquiry: a "voluntary disappearance" including a possible suicide; an accident; or foul play. – blackappy Sep 16 '18 at 22:55
  • More context is needed. – Martin Peters Sep 17 '18 at 7:12
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EDIT: Given the new example sentence in the comments of the question, Verbrechen would be the best fit in this specific case.

I searched for some example sentences, to make sure I get the conotation and use of foul play in the English language correct (because I'm no English native speaker) and found

She is still missing, and the police now suspect that she may have been a victim of foul play

and

There is no evidence of foul play

at the Learner's Dictionary. This sounds like the expression is also used in official news in e.g. a newspaper and not only in colloquial language.

In the given context one of the following German expressions is usually used:

Verbrechen, Straftat, Delikt, Gewalttat

The translation for the first example sentence could be:

Sie wird immer noch vermisst und die Polizei vermutet nun, dass sie Opfer eines Verbrechens geworden sein könnte.

and the second example sentence in German:

Es gibt keine Anzeichen einer Straftat.

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    "Fremdverschulden" is another term that appears in the indicated contexts, and is even a bit more (too?) general than "Verbrechen" or "Straftat". – O. R. Mapper Sep 16 '18 at 21:04
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    @O.R.Mapper Ja, "Fremdverschulden" würde einen Unfall (verursacht von einem Dritten) mit einschließen. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 17 '18 at 8:28
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    'Verbrechen' is perfect for this, 'Straftat' has too many theoretical undercurrents that might imply that while it is known that somebody ,say, snatched him it remains unclear whether some technicality would let this not be classified as a 'Straftat'; 'Delikt' is just wrong in this context, and 'Gewalttat' focusses to much on violent aspects of the foul play. – bukwyrm Sep 17 '18 at 10:47
  • @bukwyrm I was struggling with why "Gewalttat" would not be appropriate (aside from its not being a typical police report term), but then I understood that, indeed, the "foul play" here could be poisoning the poor Kamphuis. Which would not be a "Gewalttat" and still "foul play". So, yes, you are right. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 17 '18 at 14:00
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Given your (subsequently added) context

Police said on Thursday they were "holding all possibilities open in respect to what might have happened" to Kamphuis and pursuing three distinct lines of inquiry: a "voluntary disappearance" including a possible suicide; an accident; or foul play.

I suggest using for foul play simply ein Verbrechen, as in this translation:

Die Polizei teilte am Donnerstag mit, sie könne noch nicht abschließend feststellen, was Kamphuis genau zugestoßen sei. Derzeit ermittle sie in drei Richtungen: "freiwilliger Abschied" einschließlich eines möglichen Suizids; ein Unfall; oder ein Verbrechen.

Rationale: In a relatively sober, factual report like this I do not see an option to use for "foul play" some of the German equivalents like "ein krummes Ding", "eine faule Sache", "eine Schweinerei" etc. as these are expression applicable only in very informal speach - i.e. speach as used in a pub perhaps, even not at the workplace.

I wonder whether the expression "foul play" in your example - the English original - is not also inappropriate in terms of style. As there is possible murder, would police officers or reporters really use "foul play" to refer to it? Or is "foul play" more appropriate for cases of deception - say, secret services or evil competitors place a corpus delicti into the house of somebody in order to smear him/her? Wouldn't that be a more typical case to be described as "foul play"? In which case a good (and high register) German equivalent would be

Hier wird mit gezinkten Karten gespielt.

Side issue (not related to the original question):

The bigger problem in that paragraph is - in my perspective - how to treat the "voluntary disappearance". Directly translated "freiwilliges Verschwinden" it sounds unprofessional and would not be part of a statement by the police. Usually they would say "freiwilliges Untertauchen", but this means that the person is still alive but does not want to be located by authorities. "Freiwilliges Untertauchen einschließlich ein möglicher Suizid" are contracting therefore and could be part of such a police statement only if written by an unexperienced junior officer (which sometimes happens, but most regularly they pass statements through a press liaison bureau that irons out stylistic mishaps). Therefore, eventually, I decided to use "freiwilliger Abschied" in this translation as this can include death. It is very unusual, though.

After reading the source in context

I later understood that this paragraph is taken from an article in the Guardian about the disappearance of a Dutch cyber security specialist. Read in context, indeed the term "foul play" seems to be meant here to suggest that some secret services or other covert, "foul" actors did something related to the dissappearance of Kamphuis, including perhaps laying false traces for investigators (e.g. a kayak and other equipment found off shore). So in this case, a translation could be:

Die Polizei teilte am Donnerstag mit, sie könne noch nicht abschließend feststellen, was Kamphuis genau zugestoßen sei. Derzeit ermittle sie in drei Richtungen: "freiwilliges Verschwinden" einschließlich eines möglichen Suizids; ein Unfall; oder es wurden absichtlich falsche Spuren gelegt.

I admit that this shifts the meaning in one specific direction, and that "foul play" is open for a broader interpretation. However, my reading of "foul play" is anyway not so much of violently causing somebody's death, rather the terms seems to be related to activities to mislead an investigation.

  • I sampled some online examples of 'voluntary disappearance' (excluding the Kamphuis case) and am not at all sure whether this would , in usual usage, include suicide. Maybe the english version was corrupted? I am pretty confident that 'freiwilliges Untertauchen' and 'voluntary disappearance' are quite congruent in meaning. – bukwyrm Sep 17 '18 at 10:32

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