Impressum - getting it right

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One of Germany's biggest mysteries - and most common linguistic fallacies

Warning: there is no such button on an English-language website as an 'Imprint'. If you use Imprint on your website you immediately put yourself into the league of "weird websites" as far as native English speakers are concerned. Because they won't know what it means.

Question: why is it that so many German websites have a button in the English version leading to a mysterious page called the "Imprint"? You never find this button in other areas of the world. In fact in the US and UK if you saw an "Imprint" you wouldn't have a clue what it meant. Perhaps something to do with branding? Or the logo? So what is this Imprint thing all about?

Contents

Mistranslation in magazines

Before the days of the Internet, the German word Impressum originally refered to the publishing details in a magazine. It still does. If you want to know who the publishers are, the editors, contact details etc there is often a page in magazines just for that. In the US and UK this normally has no header above it. You stumble across it by chance when flicking through the pages. In Germany this list has Impressum above it - and it's often indexed on the contents page. In English magazines the page has no title!

So the correct translation of Impressum in a magazine would be Publishing Details.

In technical terms (for the real printing experts), this would be a masthead, but most other people would not be too sure what this refers to.

Mistranslation by a leading German dictionary

So, we have established that the technical meaning of Impressum or masthead outlined above - in a magazine - is commonly understood in the printing industry but not really outside of that business. But to make things more complicated, a masthead more commonly refers to "The title of a newspaper or periodical as it appears across the first page, front cover, or title page of each issue." [Source: Dictionary.com]. It's a kind of nameplate. So as you are not refering to this in a magazine, avoid the word masthead and simply use Publishing Details.

Origin of the word Imprint on websites

But there is another word for 'Impressum' or masthead that is also common in the printing industry: imprint. According to Dictionary.com this is "The name of a book's publisher printed on the title page or elsewhere, usually with the place and date of publication." [1]

So, dictionaries being dictionaries, they have to include words like this for translators. Grab a dictionary from your nearest bookshop and that's what they say. Impressum = Imprint.

Misuse on German websites

A widespread misinterpretation that has unfortunately become common practice.

So this is why you see Imprint on the English language version of lots of German websites. It's a literal translation of a printing industry term. Even though it's totally meaningless to 99.99% of native speakers. (If you're not German, a bit of info for you: the (German) impressum is basically about the website, who published it, address, etc. In fact it is obligatory for any website in Germany of a business or commercial nature.)

It's been like this since the 80s, when somebody in Germany was stuck for a word and reached out and grabbed his or her German/English dictionary. The phrase has stuck and has become common practice, in the sense of "that's the way we've always done things". Practically everyone is now convinced that native English speakers know what the Imprint button is for. The ones who have thought it through properly, including leading internet agencies (who, quite coincidentally, use us to do all their English website copy), have now worked this one out and write a more appropriate word.

So if the Impressum area of a website is about getting all the legal details of the website and the company exactly right, surely the word used to describe these finer details should be exactly right. In German and in English. In which case, Imprint doesn't fit the bill.

Solutions

Technically speaking you could leave the "Impressum" out in the English version as it it is only needed for legal reasons in Germany. But it's probably better not to. So if you have to put it in, englishtalk suggests the following:

  • About
  • Legals
  • Statutory declaration (at a push)

But what about the disclaimers and liability (Haftung), or data protection (Datenschutz)? Well, call them precisely that. Under the button saying Legals, have a section called Liability and another called Data Protection.

AVOID these terms on a website

  • Imprint
  • Masthead

Check your website

If your website already says Imprint on it (where the German button says Impressum), we would like to suggest that your company takes a look at US and UK websites, originated by US or UK companies, and see how they phrase this button or area of the website. We can guarantee it won't say Impressum.

And if you have any other questions, you can always give us a call. We'd be happy to talk you through this in more detail. Or suggset a better word or phrase for your website. After all, our expertise is English advertising.

englishtalk recommendation

About or Legals

References

For a German explanation of the word Imprint see wikipedia

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