Glossary-Guide for Translating Husserl

Dorion Cairns and his Guide for Translating Husserl

Minimal biography

Dorion Cairns was born in 1901 in Contoocook, New Hampshire, United States, and died on January 4th, 1973 in New York. He studied at Harvard. From 1924 till 1926, and again in 1931 and 1932, he was in close contact with Husserl at Freiburg. From 1933 till 1950 he was a Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Rockford College, Illinois, and from 1950 in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, New York.

(These biographical data were taken from Edmund Husserl und die phänomenologische Bewegung. Zeugnisse in Text und Bild, Im Auftrag des Husserl-Archivs an der Universität Freiburg im Breisgau herausgegeben von Hans Rainer Sepp. Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber, 2nd. ed. 1988.)

Minimal bibliography.

A more complete bibliography will be found in the section
dedicated to Dorion Cairns on The Husserl Page by Bob Sandmeyer.

The Guide for Translating Husserl
This guide, whose list of terms and translations has been considered in great measure in the GTH glossary-guide (within the field English [Eng]), was published in 1973 with a Preface by Cairns and a note written in March 1973 by H. L. van Breda as the President of the Editorial Comittee of the series "Phaenomenologica", in which, "with deep regret", he announces "the death of Dorion Cairns, the author of this Guide, before printing had been completed", and adds that "he passed away suddenly in New York on January 4th. 1973".

I transcribe hereafter the Preface of Cairns to his Guide (in pages v-vii of the edition referred to:


This multilingual glossary is a guide for translating writings by Edmund Husserl into English. It has been compiled and improved in the course of about thirty years for my own guidance. Its initial purpose and the test it has undergone in use have determined its contents. The translations I have made are far from being limited to those I have published or intend to publish. As I read and translate more, occasions will doubtless arise to include more expressions in the glossary and to improve the lists of English renderings I shall thenceforth use. The glossary is given the present title and submitted now for publication because numerous experts have said it would be useful not only to other translators of Husserl but also to his readers generally.

For a translation of such writings as Husserl's the guidance offered by ordinary bilingual dictionaries is inadequate in opposite respects. On the one hand, there are easily translatable expressions for which numerous such dictionaries offer too many equivalent renderings. On the other hand, there are difficultly translatable expressions that any such dictionary either fails to translate at all or else translates by expressions none of which fit the sense. In following such dictionaries a translator must therefore practise consistency on the one hand and ingenuity on the other. Hence the need for a written glossary such as this one.

So far as possible someone who translates such writings as Husserl's into another language should always render the same German expression by the same expression in the other language, and different German expressions by different expressions in the other language. In many cases he must choose among a number of obvious legitimate renderings and, to insure consistency, record his choice. Accordingly this glossary includes German expressions concerning which the only important problem has been that of ascertaining and sticking to the best uniform rendering. For this reason not all the renderings rejected in this glossary are, in my opinion, "wrong."

When collating my English translations with French translations of some of Husserl's writings, I have recorded in this glossary many French renderings of German expressions. Because, as stated at the outset, the glossary is a guide for translating writings of Edmund Husserl into English, I have however recorded no preference in cases where the same German expression is rendered by two or more French ones.

There follow three separate remarks on this glossary and an explanation of abbreviations used in it.

1. Catchwords in parentheses I have not yet found in Husserl's writings. They are included because they may nevertheless occur there.

2. English words in square brackets or in parentheses are either translations not to be used ordinarily or else parts that may be omitted from a translation.

3. English translations separated by commas (not by semicolons) are usually listed in order of preference.

Urbana (Illinois), octubre de 1972

Dorion Cairns