The name of this famous work by Mozart is usually rendered in English as "A Little Night Music" (the name of a well-known musical by Stephen Sondheim). But it should really be translated as "A Little Serenade". Nachtmusik is a countable noun in German, and kleine means 'little' as in 'small', not 'little' as in 'a bit of' (that would be bisschen).
"Eine kleine Nachtmusik" was not intended by Mozart as a title; it was simply an entry by him in a personal list of his compositions. It is 'little' in the sense that it is shorter and uses fewer instruments than most of his other serenades.
Can you think of any other examples of popular mistranslations?
A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.
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- Dr. Goodword
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When Nikita Khrushchev visited the US he made headline by saying what was translated as "We will bury you", in English implying something violent. In Russian Мы похороним вас (my pokhoronim vas), translated word for word, is "We will bury y'all" but it is a fairly common expression meaning only "We will survive you".
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