In All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul remarks

Then I become quiet. "Pardon me, Herr Doctor, I will keep still but do not chloroform me."

After the doctor threatens to chloroform him when he thrashes around in pain during surgery. This doctor was just introduced in the last paragraph:

It is all right. The surgeon pokes around in the wound and a blackness comes before my eyes. "Don't carry on so," he says gruffly, and hacks away. The instruments gleam in the bright light like marvellous animals. The pain is insufferable. Two orderlies hold my arms fast, but I break loose with one of them and try to crash into the surgeon's spectacles just as he notices and springs back. "Chloroform the scoundrel," he roars madly.

The book says nothing about "Herr Doctor" and a quick Google search reveals that this is German for "the Doctor." If the entire book was translated to English (it was apparently originally written in a German newspaper), why were these two words the only ones not completely translated?

I haven't seen any other place in the entire book where there are German words (except for possibly last names).

  • 3
    Whose translation is it?
    – muru
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 6:33
  • 1
    Herr Doctor is German for Mister Doctor (literally), but in context, I would translate it as "Pardon me, Doctor, Sir, I will keep still [...]". Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 7:38
  • 1
    Looks like A. W. Wheen, published in 1929. Presumably an Englishman, by his use of "wireless-men" and "Territorial" (for "Landsturmmann", roughly equivalent to US "National Guardsman"). There is another Herr, in Chapter 7: "I did not see you, Herr Major." My off-the-cuff impression is that translators often leave a few commonly understood foreign words untranslated like this, maybe to remind the readers that it is a translation; Wheen actually seems to do very little of this. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 4:12
  • 2
    It's often the case that titles are kept when translating, e.g. from English to French: Il fut un temps où la Grande-Bretagne était dirigée par Sir Winston Churchill, et ce fut l'âge de la résistance et de la gloire. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 18:42
  • Related: Translation: Why are parts of the original language kept?
    – CDR
    Commented Mar 14 at 14:42

1 Answer 1


'Herr' is a German Honorific (words that are used when addressing a person that can indicate and connote a great variety of different qualities) that is used to convey the highest level of respect. In English, honorifics serve a similar purpose but don't carry the same importance in conversation as they do in a language like German or Russian, where using a more diminutive honorific can be considered a serious affront.
In this scene Paul wishes to avoid the use of chloroform on him at all costs, and so he gathers himself and implores the Doctor in the most respectful and polite way. By including 'Herr', the translator allowed the text to communicate how Paul wished to extol and flatter the Doctor into forgoing the use of chloroform in a more robust way than if the text simply read "Pardon me, Doctor, I will..".

  • Welcome to the site! This is a good explanation of why "Herr Doctor" was included; I'd just suggest adding that there's no good translation into English that preserves the exact meaning and naturality of the original ("Mr Doctor" or "Sir Doctor" wouldn't really work), and also that "Herr" is a word most English speakers would recognise (since the OP apparently didn't).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:34
  • In general, translations don't always know what to do with titles/adresses like this. In the other way around German translations of, e.g. film dialogue still call people "Mister Smith" rather than "Herr Smith", and a mixture like that would seem odd. The same problem happens when deciding between formal and informal adress, since English doesn't have a distinction for that. Of course there's other ways around, like "dear doctor" or whatever, but "sir doctor" might seem odd to an English speaker indeed. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 17:25
  • However, I'm not so sure it couldn't just have been left away in the translation, since I doubt it was done for specific emphasis of honoring in the original text, where a simple "Doktor" would not have sufficed anyway, as the only possible way to adress the doctor is either "Herr Doktor" or "Doktor Whatsyourname". So the original was likely more driven by necessity than Paul deliberately showing respect for the doctor. it's ultimately a matter of choice from the translator, I guess. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 17:25

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