Translation Mysteries

by John Holbo on October 6, 2009

It has come to my attention that Terry Pratchett’s discworld novel, Thud!


is available in German translation under the title, Klonk!:


I think German readers must lose some of the heavy, earthiness of the English word in translation. ‘Klonk!’ is lighter and more metallic. I don’t think it means the same thing as ‘thud!’ Discuss.



Ben 10.06.09 at 1:09 pm

That’s true if you say it with an English pronunciation. Try saying it with a German accent, though.


chris y 10.06.09 at 1:14 pm

I agree with your analysis of the onomatopoeia in both words, but I don’t know enough any German to know whether a German speaker would respond in the same way or whether there is any alternative German word which would do better. Perhaps the wretched translator spent weeks weeping in her beer at the fate which had decreed that she needed to find a parallel word for “Thud” and eventually submitted her best effort and ran away to join a Trappist order (better beer to weep into and you never have to pronounce the word “Klonk”).

Maybe it sounds fine and thuddy to a German ear. To me, the fact that the Danish for King Kong is Kong King appears mildly amusing. To a Dane, it’s probably just the name of a movie.


musical mountaineer 10.06.09 at 1:19 pm

“Thud” is if the guy isn’t wearing a helmet. The conquistador helmet shown would make a “krank”, but that’s already a German word, for how you feel when hit in the head with a club. “Klonk” avoids this unwanted literalism of what is supposed to be a sound effect, while still being onomatopoeiatically superior to “thud”, so ze cherrmans have stolen a march on us here. (Note that I make no claims regarding non-conquistador helmets.)


John Holbo 10.06.09 at 1:25 pm

The cover makes the case look harder than it really should be. It isn’t supposed to be a particularly helmet-centric sound, let alone a conquistadore helment. More a generalized dwarf-meets-troll and vice versa sound.


B.C. 10.06.09 at 1:31 pm

In French : “Jeu de nains” (Dwarf’s game). The heavy earthiness is also lost…


Deadra 10.06.09 at 1:36 pm

In terms of onomatopoeia, “klonk” would definitely be the club-meets-helmet sound, rather than what the book is actually about, so it’s not an ideal translation, but Discworld translations rarely are. (Because they are fiendishly, no, archdemonically difficult.)

But I honestly don’t know where the “Klonk” idea came from. I don’t think I had ever come across that word before. I figure that it’s either made up, or it comes from one of those old comedy shows. If you can have “palim palim”, “klonk” can’t be far off, right?


John Holbo 10.06.09 at 1:38 pm

Ben makes a good point about the pronunciation, possibly motivating this otherwise inexplicable attempt to render the book ‘Thudenrein’. But couldn’t they have just added an umlaut?


John Holbo 10.06.09 at 1:45 pm

I wonder whether you can get a job translating sound effects for English-language comics into German. What’s the German for this, for example?


stostosto 10.06.09 at 1:49 pm



Axel Gelfert 10.06.09 at 1:50 pm

I don’t feel very strongly about ‘Klonk’ — but ‘Klönk’? Surely not. (The German language is still recovering from the misplaced umlaut in ‘Brüno’…) :-)


stostosto 10.06.09 at 1:52 pm

Google Translate has “Plumps!”


Deadra 10.06.09 at 1:57 pm

“Tschack” sounds about right.


John Holbo 10.06.09 at 2:07 pm

Oh, sorry, I meant Thüd.


Richard J 10.06.09 at 2:09 pm

That’s a bloody awful cover, it has to be said. Makes some of the poorer Josh Kirby covers look almost decent.


Deadra 10.06.09 at 2:18 pm

Thüd? Sounds like a shopping bag from Ikea.


Lee 10.06.09 at 2:20 pm

Inexplicably Germans also deny that frogs say “ribbit”. I think we can excuse them when it comes to the onomatopoetics of head-bashing, though: their phonetics doesn’t provide the necessary “th” consonant.


AlanM 10.06.09 at 2:42 pm

That’s not so inexplicable. Unless you’re listening to Pacific Tree Frogs, frogs do not go “ribbit”.


Ginger Yellow 10.06.09 at 2:43 pm

Inexplicably Germans also deny that frogs say “ribbit”.

QI claimed that only Southern Pacific tree frogs say “ribbit”, and because they live in California, they’ve become the standard sound for frogs in Hollywood movies. No idea if it’s true, but certainly most of the frogs I’ve heard on nature programmes make noises I wouldn’t describe with “ribbit”.


nnyhav 10.06.09 at 2:47 pm

Curiously, ‘thud’ is Old English for ‘to strike with a weapon”, apparently derived from Original Teutonic.

Beyond cognates, each language has its own resonances; I suppose that on original instruments, the music was … thud-like.


chris y 10.06.09 at 2:50 pm

Frogs say “Brekekekek koax koax”. Accept no substitute.


Richard J 10.06.09 at 2:51 pm

The German translator’s actually going to have a fair bit of trouble with the new Pratchett, which has long fake-German[1] titles for books as one of its running jokes…

(For those who’ve not read it yet, but are wondering the question you’re afraid to vocalise, it’s not quite as tightly plotted as some have been in the past, and the tone wanders slightly alarmingly in places, but it’s actually quite good.)



fardels bear 10.06.09 at 3:24 pm

“Thud” is a good woody word. “Klonk” is a horrible tinny thing.


claudia 10.06.09 at 4:08 pm

As a native German speaker and an English/German translator, I would say that
“klonk” sounds metallic to an English speaker and sort of hollow to a German speaker. (Well, to this German speaker, anyhow.)

I tried googling it but the results are either for Pratchett’s book, for a range of German people named “Klonk” or are used to describe various sounds ranging from trains to musical equipment.

“Thüd” sounds… Scandinavian indeed.


dave 10.06.09 at 4:14 pm

Having seen that USA cover, I’m glad that my policy of only buying the Kidby/Kirby covers is still enforced.

The Kidby cover of Thud is here:


annele 10.06.09 at 4:21 pm

The German market for Anglo-Saxon products seem to stay as close as possible to the original; the same goes for many movies etc… This may have to do with the Germanic roots of the English language; it’s probably more closely related to the post-WWII concern with providing Germans with alternative cultural products to the Nazi / neo-Nazi or Communist options.
The French translation takes the title to a new level: Jeu de Nains, possibly echoing the popular expression Jeu de mains, jeu de malin and perhaps even related to more of the Pratchett publications. All I am suggesting is that the history of each European nation and their market is to take in consideration when we evaluate the sound(ness) of translated onomatopoetic words.


Dhananjay 10.06.09 at 4:22 pm

chris y is a man after my own heart. Onomatopeia is despite all appearances nearly as much a matter of convention as any other bit of language. Phonaesthetics are nigh-untranslatable. Of course, some sounds are easier to pin down. The fact that the sheep of Greek comedy say βῆ βῆ turned out to be good evidence in the early 16th c. that η was once a long vowel with a fairly open pronunciation, despite the pronunciations then current in Oxford and Athens.


Ginger Yellow 10.06.09 at 5:16 pm

What if the sheep were speaking with a Greek accent?


justlanded 10.06.09 at 5:27 pm

Somewhat OT, but somewhat relevant still. The best onomatopoeia was, of course, invented by Wodehouse when he wrote:

The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G. K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.


roac 10.06.09 at 5:36 pm

Here is what looks like a pretty comprehensive roster of Pratchett translations, for anyone with the whole afternoon to waste on this.

My favorite title, just because of the look and sound of it, is the Italian version of Wyrd Sisters: Sorellanza Stregonesca. I assume that is literally “Witchy Sisterhood,” but I don’t know Italian.


Cryptic ned 10.06.09 at 5:47 pm

“Klonk” is a false friend. The German word actually means something quite different from its English cognate.


rea 10.06.09 at 6:02 pm

I meant Thüd.

You’re thinking of the German translation of the Gayle Sayers autobiography: I Am Thüd


Jörgen in Germany 10.06.09 at 6:04 pm

I suggest something like “Wumm”, like Thudd it ends with a dull sound. I don’t know of a German onomatopoia ending on that dull and at once short “dd”-sound.


Dan 10.06.09 at 6:38 pm

OT, but anyone care to tackle this pile?


Marco 10.06.09 at 6:38 pm

The German market for Anglo-Saxon products seem to stay as close as possible to the original; the same goes for many movies etc.

Wait, are we talking about American movies in Germany? The Germany just to the east of France? The Germany that needlessly changes the name of almost every single movie to something German that has little to no relation to the original title? The Germany that renamed “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to “Schokolade zum Frühstück”? That Germany?


Billikin 10.06.09 at 6:49 pm



mart 10.06.09 at 8:40 pm

Dan @33

Well, he starts with “I’d like to introduce you to two friends of mine”, which is a likelihood fail right there, and the rest of the piece is a bigger mess than that car pile-up in Blues Brothers. Pretty good takedown in comments here.


kid bitzer 10.06.09 at 9:02 pm

looks like a monomoraic morion.


Alex B 10.06.09 at 11:53 pm

Oddly, the letters in the German word do not mimic those in the English word in curving with the wood of the club.


Mutus 10.07.09 at 12:52 am

mart @36

Pretty good takedown in comments here.

The comments where?????


Odm 10.07.09 at 2:02 am

30: So far as I’m aware, ‘klonk’ is not a word in German. Using German Google, I did find out that the ‘quaffle’ is called ‘klonken’ in Swedish…

Thüd would be pronounced ‘tood’ in German- no idea what sound that would represent.

I think ‘Wumm’ isn’t bad, except it’s too far in the other direction. It’s more like a soft thump than a thud.


ckc (not kc) 10.07.09 at 2:29 am

check out Don Martin – he had them all


R Gould-Saltman 10.07.09 at 3:32 am

. . .and was Mad Magazine, in its heyday, translated for the German market? What became of those vaguely Germanic -sounding onomatopoeias which were all over Don Martin’s work, such as:

“GING GOYNG ” (Mask Flying Off Face) MAD #87, June 1964, Page 10
“GING POING SWAP ZIT SHTIK FLIK GLUT” (Frog Catching Fly) MAD #118. Apr 68, Page 14,15
“GISHKLORK” (King Kong stepping on somebody) MAD #262 April 1986 Page 22
“GISHKLURK” (Soup Parting as done by Moses) MAD #186, Oct 1976, Page 15

“GLADINK BZZZT KLADWAK SPROINK FWAK KAZIK” (Vending Machine Delivering Fresh Milk) MAD #206, Apr 1979, Page 48



Kenny Easwaran 10.07.09 at 8:25 am

I was recently interested in a title translation that changed in the other direction. As everyone knows, Germany is where good board games come from. One such game is titled (in German) “Jenseits von Theben”. ( The box you can buy in the US has the title in around four languages on it, with the German, French “Au-delà de Thèbes”, Italian “Al di là di Tebe”, and English “Thebes”. The game is about archaeologists traveling around Europe, going to conferences, and holding exhibitions of the antiquities they dig up from ancient sites. I don’t know why most languages think you have to go “beyond Thebes” to do that, while in English you just have to go to Thebes itself.

(Actually, now that I found the link above, I see that Spanish also has the “beyond” part, while Dutch doesn’t. Who decides these things?)


Becky Grant 10.07.09 at 11:09 am

Did you ever play the Sony Playstation Game “Disc World?” I has to be one of my favorites. Challenging, inspirational, emotional, and above all else, a very long game. I think the book resonates well with the game. You should check it out :P I know I’m such a nerd.


John Holbo 10.07.09 at 12:06 pm

Hey Kenny, it’s very true about the Germans having a definite edge in board game technology.


alex 10.07.09 at 12:23 pm

It’s all those forests…


astrongmaybe 10.07.09 at 12:39 pm

Don’t want to sound prissy but this otherwise inexplicable attempt to render the book ‘Thudenrein’ @7 is clever, but a bit crass, no?


John Holbo 10.08.09 at 1:43 am

“clever, but a bit crass, no?”

Probably so.


John Meredith 10.08.09 at 10:37 am

“Don’t want to sound prissy but this otherwise inexplicable attempt to render the book ‘Thudenrein’ @7 is clever, but a bit crass, no?”

Yes, it made me wince too.


novakant 10.08.09 at 4:17 pm

In this context, one should definitely mention Dr. Erika Fuchs (RIP) – she was a genius.


eddie 10.08.09 at 9:00 pm

For me, the problem with ‘Klonk!’ is that it has two hard consonants. It sounds like a double-strike and makes me think of bells, especially thse swiss mountain ones.
For the translation, I agree that simply adding an umlaut would have more elegance, and possibly have led to less photoshop fail.


bad Jim 10.09.09 at 6:15 am

Tomorrow’s news today: Moonstruck: Making one giant thud for mankind

In my family, “clunk” and “clonk” were common terms, often used in pillow fights.


fred p 10.11.09 at 8:59 pm

To me, the fact that the Danish for King Kong is Kong King appears mildly amusing. To a Dane, it’s probably just the name of a movie.

To this Dane at least it it news that King Kong should be Kong King in Danish, and Danish being a rather small language I think I would now it personally it if it was so.

Somewhat related I’ve heard that apparently the American ice cream Häagen Dasz was named that way in order to sound Danish. Funny thing is that all Danes think Häagen Dasz is either Swiss or German because of the obviously German/Swiss sounding name. The other funy thing is why anybody would want their ice cream to sound Danish, maybe because of the ice and snow that apparently also is associated with Denmark all though we have neither for more than two days a year.

And thüd does not sound Scandinavian. Thød and Hægen Dås do maybe a little.

Comments on this entry are closed.