Notes on Psychiatric Translation and the Diogenes Syndrome

For any translator, the medical vocabulary is confusing enough; the psychiatric vocabulary is often chaotic, given the perennial divide between behaviourism and mentalism, as well as the various degrees of eclecticism between them, not to mention the renewed efforts, now exaggerated by PC, to sanitize terms that arouse prejudice. However, translating a 1985 article on Das Diogenes-Syndrom in the Fortschrittliche Neurologische Psychiatrie I found the language sober, sauber and restrained. A few lexical points:

Entmündigung; 'sectioning' is the tactful British cultural equivalent; I preferred 'certification', as the German context perhaps removed it from prejudice.

Sammeltrieb. The jargon terms are 'collectionism' and 'syllogomania', but I preferred 'the urge to hoard'.

Lebensraum. 'Personal environment' or (of course) 'personal space'. (The political sense is hopefully a fossil.) Der Tod des Lebensgefährten hat eine neurotische Störung im Selbstwerterleben zur Dekompensation gebracht. 'The death of her life-partner had been offset by a neurotic disturbance in (the experience of?) her selfesteem.' ('Decompensation' is usually a medical term, but not here.)

Bezugsperson. 'The person one relates to'. An English coinage is desirable.

Asozialität. (yuck). 'Unsociable behaviour.'

. . . Sie lässt sich aus der Wohnung des Bruders herausklagen, um aufdiese Weise leichter an einen eigenen Besitz zu kommen. 'She had herself evicted by court order from her brother's house, and in order to obtain a new property (more easily).

(Ausklagen for Einklagen, 'sue, prosecute'. Thanks to Sabine Nice.)

Thymoleptisch. Obsolete word. 'Psychotropic'.

Versteinerung. Petrifaction, 'state of rigidity'. (Diogenes the philosopher in the latter part of his life abandoned all normal social habits and lived happily (?) in a tub. As the average life span increases, so does the syndrome.) The subject of the syndrome lives in a state of rigidity.


Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 73.