People Thought Merkel Was Shading Trump, But She Actually Got Mistranslated

Basket of difficult translations.

On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at the G20 in Hamburg about the Paris climate accord deal.

Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images

Last month, President Trump said he would withdraw the US from the deal, the biggest global accord ever signed to cut greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

On Saturday, Merkel confirmed that the other 19 members of the G20 had reaffirmed their commitment to the deal — but she also had some thoughts on Trump's decision to leave the agreement.

Angela Merkel on the US leaving the Paris Accord: "I deplore this"

Here's how the English translation on CNN and other news channels carried her remarks:

You are familiar with the American position, you know that unfortunately — and I deplore this — the United States of America left the climate agreement or rather said, announced their intention of doing this.

One word, "deplore", particularly captured the public's imagination.

Hmmmm why does it sound familiar?

That's cause it reminded some people of a statement Hillary Clinton made during the 2016 election.

Remember this?

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that.

That statement, said by Clinton at a fundraiser in New York City, infuriated many Trump supporters, who saw it as a dismissal of them as terrible people.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Many Trump fans then "reclaimed" the word online, and began calling themselves "deplorables."

Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images

So, some assumed that Merkel had chosen to say "deplore" as a shoutout to the "deplorables":

@ambiej @swbrohoney A) ditto. B) she absolutely used "deplore" on purpose. 😂

Lots of major media organizations reported the "deplore" line.

Including Washington Post, the BBC, The Guardian, the LA Times, CBS, the Huff Post and CNN (and yes, even the fine publication you are reading).

Here's the Guardian:

And the Washington Post:

Sometimes, it was the opening paragraph of the news story, like in this HuffPost story:

Even the CNN chyron got in on the action.


Except, um, it's not what Merkel said.

Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images

Here's what she said in her native German:

"Sie wissen, die USA sind bedauerlicherweise aus dem Klimaabkommen ausgetreten – beziehungsweise haben gesagt, dass sie das wollen."

So the word "bedauerlicherweise" is the one that got translated as "deplore" by the translator. Except, it really means "regretfully" or "unfortunately" or "sad to say."

Ja, ja, we know, German is hard


Based on an updated translation from our friends at BuzzFeed Germany, this is what Merkel actually said: "You know that the US, unfortunately, left the climate agreement – or have said, that they want to."

Pool / Getty Images

And not, as the G-20 translator said: "You are familiar with the American position, you know that unfortunately, and I deplore this, the United States of America left the climate agreement or rather said, announced their intention of doing this."

A German government official confirmed to Buzzfeed News that the updated translation was correct.

So, Merkel did not say she personally deplored that the US was leaving the Paris deal, she just expressed general regret that it had happened.

Nurphoto / Getty Images

So, long story short: translation is tough, particularly when it's being done live and Merkel isn't actually making deplorable jokes.




A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.