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...and, at the end of the article, a humorous bit on why
English is such a problem to learn.
© Copyright 2020, R. Fleischer

Most of the time there are few problems with native language documents translated into other languages and then published by factories that made a product.  Once in awhile a factory goofs. One such goof is from the math-challenged person who translated the BMW correct torques specified in Nm incorrect values in Ftlbs.  It then appeared in many BMW factory publications.

Sometimes there are problems with spelling and/or sound, that can make something even be the opposite of what was meant.  The German "Auf" is such a situation.  Many more times, the problems are the actual meaning.

We usually order by part number or perhaps from a sketch or we describe where it goes/fits/etc.  Almost all the time, this works quite well.  Not always.

There are a few instances where languages have caused some serious confusion (besides politics and personal relationships!).  There are situations where something is not described in your language properly, only in German, in literature pertaining to our motorcycles.

Sources for this article included past articles in BMW MOA ON magazine;  a posting by Joe 'Cuda' on 20 January 2001 to the Airheads LIST; my own input; and, corrections supplied to me by Hans-Jürgen of Germany.  Further corrections were made on 3/29-30/2012 from additional input by Joe, and I made some of my own corrections at times, in later years.

I did not take nor use 100% of everyone's suggestions, primarily due to COMMON USE in the USA; thus, any quibbling about things on this page can be blamed on ME!

In some instances on this page I have used ASCII code to display showing how the German's might show letters and words in PRINT.  It is possible that some things will look totally weird on YOUR computer; and, possibly print something not like a German letter.  Computers vary in display, depending on how you have set certain preferences, and the language settings in particular.  I have found this happens more often with the dieresis marks (umlauts) which are the double dots (a pair of dots, located over a vowel).  The purpose is to soften the sound. An example of these letters are the following, which, again,  MAY NOT show up properly on YOUR computer. It is possible for these to display correctly, or partially correctly, or not at all, depending on your computer AND even differently in different programs or keyboard settings in your computer.

ë    ö    Ö    ä    ÿ    Ü      
In the rest of this article you will find this:   ü

For a site for German, English, French, and Spanish translations, etc.:   That site, on the left top side, has a place to click for translations, and explains things IN least it did, some time ago.

For simpler explanations, use Google translations.

You may find that some spellings are different.  An example:   ü   is shown as  ue.   
EXPLANATION:  Germans have different ways of showing spelling in print form.

Another example would be flüße which is the same word for river as fluesse.  That funny looking "B", which is not a B at all, it is printed like  ß pronounced as if it was SSS.

I can only hope YOUR computer displays these characters as I intended.

EI sounds like EYE
IE sounds like the ee in tree.

AUF:   You might see this printed or embossed or cast onto your fuel tank petcocks.  It does not mean the position for fuel OFF.  It means ON. The translation is also  "OPEN", or "offen".   An amazing number of people have, at one time or another, thought AUF meant FUEL OFF.  SAME for the choke.  If your petcocks are marked with "auf", that does NOT mean fuel is off (look up auf in German, but do it thoroughly).  In German, it has several meanings (including 'laying on', as on a table), but as an adverb it does mean ON.   I will bet few of you remember what 'adverb' means.

In the older Clymers book on Airheads, early-on in the book, where it shows the basics of checking out the bike, & how to start the engine, etc., there is a sketch/photo of the Airhead clamshell type of air cleaner housing, with the 'choke' (enrichener) lever on it. Clymers PROBABLY (I am guessing here) mistakenly took AUF from some long-ago BMW diagram/sketch, and decided that AUF meant OFF ....after all, they look like they should sound close to the same, when spoken.  They also might have taken the idea from markings. Thus, quite a few folks wondered why their Airheads were so hard to start, and after starting, why they ran so lousily. They were using the choke backwards. I well remember some instances of that in old inquiries, and I also remember someone asking "how" he could have attached his bike's cables and carburetor levers backwards! Clymers kept publishing the wrong information. Clymers (which sent copies and pre-publication copies to ME ...  for editing of Classic K bikes and Airheads ...  which I ended up refusing to do, for various reasons) finally re-wrote the entire section of the manual.

BMW GmbH:    Often translated by Americans as BMW Company.  It is not exactly so.  BMW means Bayerische Motorenwerke, that is, the Bavarian Motor Works.   GmbH stands for Gesellschaft mit beschränker Haftung ....a company with limited liability ....sort of the way LLC or Corporation is used.

BMW AG:    Aktiengesellschaft means that it is a company that issued shares of stock.

Bitte, Danke:    Please, thank you.  Bitte also means You Are Welcome.  Bitte comes from bitten,' to ask for'.  Joe explained about dankeshoooon (pronunciation) to mean Thank ya kindly, from schön, which means pretty.

Bremse:    brake

DIN:    Not a single German word, and certainly not the same as the English word for loud confusing noise; and, also not the numerical exposure index for photographic exposure (similar to ASA as used in the USA).   DIN as used with our German motorcycles is an abbreviation (acronym) for several German words.  Deutsches Institut fur Normung.  You can use it also to be  Deutsche Industrie Normen.  It is the group that developed Euro standards for things.   Sometimes DIN is almost slangly used as "Das ist Norm".

DUNKEL:    dark colored.

ESEITE:    this side, or this end.

Frühzündung:   Spark advanced.   F dot flywheel mark on pre-1981 bikes.   Z line clutch carrier mark on 1981+ bikes.   The mark is seen via spark triggered strobe light aimed at the timing port near the Airhead oil dipstick by raising the RPM slowly until the timing no longer continues to advance, this point is about 2000 RPM on the EARLY STOCK ATU on  /5 models, and about 3000 RPM on models after the /5 ATU changes. There are a number of mechanical advance versions, so if your /5 maximum occurs at 3000, don't be alarmed.

Farben:    Colors.   Color legends are included, with English translations, on BMW schematics.  For paint, HELL means light and DUNKEL means DARK.

Fernlicht:   high beam; far away light.  Fern means far or being far away.

Getriebe:   transmission, or gear unit

Getriebeseite:   this end goes to the transmission or gearbox

Gummikuh:   Usually considered to be applicable to BMW Airhead motorcycles.   Literally it means Rubber cow.   Often seen in conjunction with a description about handling of old BMW Airheads, as in BMW Airhead motorcycles feeling like there is a rubber hinge in the middle.  Wikipedia may have slightly different interpretations, and history of such.

Heiß:   Hot.   Pronunciation is not what you may think, so see explanations above this entire alphabetical list (see beginning of this article).

HELL:  light color

Hinten:   Rear.   As used in parts catalogs,  hinterrad meaning rear wheel, from rad meaning wheel.

Kalt:   Cold.

Kurbelwelle:   crankshaft.

lampe:   lighting device, the lamp itself.

licht:   light output, the light beam.

Links:   LEFT, or left side, and the item may be marked L.

Motorrad:   Motorized wheel, motorcycle.

Nockenwell:   Camshaft.

OBEN:    TOP, topside.

OT:     Top Dead Center for the piston(s).  That point, exactly, when the pistons are fully outwards. OT, in German, is Oberer Totpunkt, more correctly translated as the top dead point.

Rad:   wheel.

Rechts:   RIGHT SIDE or RIGHT.   The item may be marked R.

Reifen:   tire.

S, or Spaetzündung:   this mark on the flywheel or clutch carrier outer edge, is the Static timing point, no RPM or very low RPM, the minimum advance; that is, late or retarded.

Scheisse:   feces, but means more like we would use the word or exclamation SHIT!! That is, in exclamatory talk.

Schlimmerverbesserung:   A fix for something that turns out to be worse.  An example would be BMW's original change for the early 80's, of the valve seat material.

Schraube:   screw.

Speichen:   wheel spokes

Über:   over, above, across.   An interesting use of the word is the Americanized uber, it means an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person, or thing.  Uberbabe, etc.   The company Uber, operates independent taxi drivers in America.

Unterbrecher or unterbrecherkontakt.   Literally means under-breaker, or interrupter, and for us it means the mechanical ignition points in the old mechanical points systems.   Impulsegeber would be used for the electronic pickup device (Hall element, etc) in the more modern ignitions.  You are unlikely to see that word.

Ventil:   valve, as in cylinder head valves, also used for the valve in the tire or wheel.

V:   Vorn; front.  As used in parts catalogs, example is Vorderrad, meaning front wheel. Vorn, often shown as just a V in parts catalogs, means FRONT as an adjective; whilst Vorderansicht is as noun.

Z:    This mark on 1981+ motorcycles clutch carriers is seen at the engine timing hole near the oil dipstick. It is used to determine maximum ignition advance, via spark triggered strobe light, by raising the RPM until the timing no longer continues to advance, this point is ~ 3000 rpm.   See Frühzündung.

Zeit:   time

ZU:    found on some fuel petcocks.  It means CLOSED (OFF) or without fuel.  On the petcocks it is probably best thought of as an adjective, and means SHUT or CLOSED.   Zu is very complicated to fully understand if you are learning German.   See AUF.

Zündung:   ignition; also means Attention! and ignite.

Zündkerzen:   spark plugs

Zündzeitpunkte:   ignition point, place, timing. See Unterbrecher and Impulsegeber


Additional reasons English is hard to learn:
1. There is no egg in eggplant; no ham in hamburger; neither pine nor apply in the pineapple; French Fries were not invented in France.
2. Boxing rings are square.
3. A guinea pig is not from Guinea nor is it a pig.
4. The plural of tooth is teeth.
5. People recite at a play, yet play at a recital.
6. Park on driveways and drive on parkways.
7. A house can burn up at the same time it burns down.
8. You fill in a form, by filling it out.
9. English was invented by people, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which isn't a race).
10. Writers write, but fingers don't fing.

I could probably list 1000 reasons German is hard to learn!


01-26-2008:  Minor clarifications.
02/04-2008:  Edited, updated, thanks to Hans-Jürgen of Germany.
02/29/2008:  Edited to reflect sources for this article.
06/06/2011:  Clean up a bit.
03/29/2012:  Expanded section on AUF.
03/30/2012:  Add dual explanations in some translations, re-arrange the order of some commentary.
09/29/2012:  Add QR code; clean up presentation; add language button; update Google ad-sense code.
05/05/2013:  Add English section. MINOR other changes; especially re-arrange so will display better on somewhat smaller screens.
07/15/2014:  Update DIN.
07/06/2016:  Update scripts, H.L., metacodes, numerous layout changes & minor improvements in explanations.
01/03/2018:  Remove excessive colors, fonts, html, etc.  Clean up article.  Add 10pxl margins.
11/27/2018:  Clean-up, and improve explanations for a few things, such as ZU.
01/02/2019:  Minor cleanup.

© Copyright 2020, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Thursday, July 15, 2021