What’s a Beethovenmobile? When a “van” Isn’t a Station Wagon


Language is a funny thing. Translations can be particularly amusing.

Since I am a collector of classical recordings, I received an e-mail from a Japanese website offering a large set of discs conducted by Wilhelm Furtw√§ngler. Furtw√§ngler conducted lots of Beethoven, so I wasn’t surprised to find numerous performances of his music in the table of contents. But, I didn’t immediately understand why Beethoven’s name was listed as “Ludwig Station Wagon Beethoven.”

After a few seconds, the answer came to me. The Japanese translator must have taken the actual name “Ludwig van Beethoven” as it is written in Japanese and, using one of the translating devices available on the web, attempted to convert it into English. Thus, the “van” (as in a type of motor vehicle) became “station wagon.”

Is it any wonder that we humans have misunderstandings? One thing is for sure: I’ll never be able to look at a mini-van in quite the same way again.

The painting above by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) is of Beethoven ca. 1820. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.