There is a lot of noise in the question Is "befriedet" correctly translated to "pacified" here?

In the comments, a meta-discussion has started which belongs here. I think, the point of discussion can be stated as follows:

How should we deal with questions and discussions which are mostly about the interpretation of legal terms in German?

4 Answers 4


The generated noise has several reasons:

  1. The core of the question concerns a legal term where knowledge of standard German has limited benefit. Nevertheless this part has been answered in a satisfying way.
  2. The reason for asking was a pretty bad machine translation with quite a few other issues (Note that the original question title was Was does "pacified" mean in this translation?, which shows some inherent weakness of the question.)
  3. Some, who answered or commented reacted quite energic to reactions (of which some were concise and good, some less so) of others.

I'm not convinced, that the first reason was responsible for the major part of the noise. Even getting the legal aspect somehow sorted out would not have made a big difference in my opinion.

  • It's really a matter of perspective. From outside, maybe from a linguistical point of view, the difference might seem quite unimportant, e.g., whether a word means legally protected or enclosed. For an accused person, however, it decides whether he/she goes to jail for entering an estate without a fence. Therefore, there is abundant juridical literature on definitions, and some call it hairsplitting. Of course nobody must adopt that juridicial style of thinking, but in a question about the meaning of a law, it seems adequate to me to take it as an answer's basis. Jul 12, 2021 at 21:26

I would say it depends:

Questions that cannot be answered on German SE

Everything on the subsumption level, e.g.:

  • Is a tree line a Befriedung in terms of § 123 Abs. 1 StGB?

That would be an innate legal discussion.

Questions that should be asked and answered on German SE

Questions on definitions (especially termini technici) should be okay regarding the legal context just like for any other specialization, however. Indeed, one might say that these belong to the juridicial scope as well, but equally one can hold that jurisprudence uses linguistic means here! As jonathan.scholbach put it: "Any legal discussion is ultimately a question about the semantics of the law text." Hence, legal definitions take place in the realm of semantics; and where could questions about semantics of a German (law) text be answered if not here?

On the other hand, obviously, such an answer must show the interaction between the original semantics of an phrase and its legal alternation. In the case of befriedetes Besitztum, that would include a depiction of the general meaning at the time the law was made (this is basically a question of linguistical change) and how the term is understood in the legal context today (which is plain semantics). In order to do so, it is not necessary to be a legal professional, but it is important to be aware of how such technical terms are handled in the legal context—they have one specific meaning that is assumed to be known.

An example for such a technical term: Diebstahl is legally defined (§ 242 Abs. 1 StGB) as:

eine fremde bewegliche Sache einem anderen in der Absicht [wegzunehmen], die Sache sich oder einem Dritten rechtswidrig zuzueignen […]

If we look up zueignen in DWDS, we find:

  1. (Jura) sich widerrechtlich etw. aneignen, etw. widerrechtlich in seinen Besitz nehmen

But despite the tag (Jura), this is not what zueignen means in § 242 Abs. 1 StGB! In the legal context, Zueignung = Enteignung + Aneignung. That means taking something into one's posession (in Besitz nehmen) and acting like its owner (Aneignung), while planning to give it back, is no (!) Zueignung and hence no Diebstahl, despite it satisfies the DWDS definition.

Thus, a hypothetical question like What does Zueignung mean? is indeed a question of semantics; but due to incompleteness, a dictionary like DWDS wouldn't be the right source. But that DWDS doesn't give the right answer does not in turn mean the question is not about semantics! It's just about specific semantics, but not unlike other questions about technical terminology, no matter if physics or art.

If dictionaries like DWDS, Duden etc. doesn't suffice in regard of the technical meaning, what sources can be used then? Again, one doesn't need to be a lawyer and turn to scientific literature since there are multiple reliable, yet easily accesible sources that reproduce legal sources like commentaries and case law. I would like to turn to the original question about befriedetes Besitztum again and give some sources as an example:

  • First, one can look up when the term entered the law. That is nothing else than looking up when a novel or a newspaper article in question was published. In case of § 123 StGB, it has been there since the very first version of 1871/1872. With that knowledge, contemporary dictionaries (here the DWB) can be consulted. These enable to give correctly give the baseline meaning at that time.
  • Also Wikipedia could help to get an overview and maybe links to authorative sources. In the article about Hausfriedensbruch, one would find a first hint: "Befriedete Besitztümer sind Bereiche, die in äußerlich erkennbarer Weise durch Umgrenzungen gegen willkürliches Betreten gesichert sind." This should be treated like first evidence for this term's meaning in the legal context. Then the references can be checked or other sources like judgements can be searched for more reliable evidence.
  • Since the asker asked for English synonyms, one could refer to the English translation published by the German Ministry of Justice. This particular translation, e.g., was produced by a German professor of (comparative) criminal law at an English university and former judge at a German court. Hence, this translation is scientifically founded by a scientist who personally knows the German legal system, the English language and the differences between national law systems very well, and precisely for that reason such a source is reliable enough without previous knowledge.


Semantics remains semantics and semantics is on-topic on this site, even if it is the result of legal discussions. However, it is important to be aware of the existence of technical terms (in general, not only in law) and to account for them by referencing applicable sources instead of taking any general dictionary definition for granted despite it conflicts with the legal meaning. To do so, however, one doesn't need to be a lawyer, since the required legal information can be found in general reference works or on other sites designated for the general public.

  • The claim Duden and DWDS are wrong should be brought before the makers of the dictionaries. I see it that way: There is no conflict of the DWDS and Duden definitions of "befriedet". The legal protection is the outcome in plain language of the way in which the "be-" or "einfriedung" is done. In German: Eisenbahnstrecken, Wasserstraßen, Zusatz- und Arbeitsflächen z.B. do not necessarily need an "einfriedung", I found out. Sure, the english translation is important, but it doesn't invalidate the answer.
    – user41853
    Jul 10, 2021 at 11:57
  • Nur mal der Vollständigkeit halber: §242 StGB beschreibt in dem Land in dem lebe, Hochverrat. Das hat überhaupt nichts mit Eigentum zu tun. Ihr seit alle so Deutschland-fixiert, dass ihr gar nicht mitbekommt, dass Deutsch auch noch Amtssprache in vielen anderen Ländern ist, die völlig andere Gesetze haben. Schaut mal über den Tellerrand und gesteht euch ein, dass der deutschsprachige Raum nicht nur aus Deutschland besteht. Denn dann beantwortet sich die Frage, ob juristische Themen in einem Sprach-Forum erlaubt sein sollten, ganz von selbst. Aug 9, 2021 at 14:17
  • @HubertSchölnast Die Unterstellung der Deutschlandfixiertheit weise ich zurück: 1. Die ursprüngliche Frage bezog sich auf den Wortlaut der derzeit in Deutschland gültigen Norm, der jedoch über 75 Jahre älter als das heutige Deutschland und Österreich ist; 2. die verschiedenen Gesetze werden nunmal beide als StGB abgekürzt. Wenn man in der Antwort auf eine Frage, die das deutsche StGB zitiert, dessen amtliche Abkürzung StGB verwendet, dann ist das nicht Länderfixiertheit, sondern kontextabhängig. Ich habe darüber hinaus mehrfach auf das gleichnamige StGB der DDR hingewiesen. Aug 14, 2021 at 13:30

I think it's quite simple:

In most cases Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy (South Tyrol) do not have the exact same texts in their laws. In the case of the example this means, that Austria and Switzerland can have different definitions of the Term »befriedet« in their laws. Maybe, some terms even doesn't exists in the laws of some countries. (For example: The word »Vorfahrt« does not exist in Austrian laws, and »Matura« does not exist in the laws of Germany.) Sometimes the laws are even different from state to state. Bavaria has different laws than Hessen for example. If you have to know the specific differences to be able to answer a question, we have a juridical discussion that is off-topic on German.stackexchange.

Rule of thumb:
If you are absolutely sure, that the answer that you have in mind for Germany must be exactly the same in South-Tyrol, then the question is on-topic. Otherwise it depends on the specific laws of nations and then it's off-topic on a board that is explicitly dedicated to a language spoken in many different countries.


We should consider them off-topic here and forward them to better suiting SE sites, if possible.

Technically, it is (obviously) true that German legal language is a part of German language. However, this is not a convincing argument to include these questions here, since it would render all legal questions to be questions about German language: Actually, any legal discussion is ultimately a question about the semantics of the law text. But of course we want to differentiate between legal questions and linguistic questions for the means of this forum. This forum does not have legal expertise, and it would be unexpected unexpected to find legal expertise in a forum about language.

Hence we should exclude questions and discussions where the legal uncertainty prevails over the linguistic uncertainty.

  • 3
    Then the conclusion would be to close the question as off topic. That feels wrong. The question is about the German language, it has good answers.
    – DonQuiKong
    Jul 9, 2021 at 10:06
  • The question itself isn't off topic and imo has exactly three good answers. But I consent with the notion that pretending to possess the right to interpret the law is off topic. It could have four good answers if someone had added the semi-official translation that floats around in a comment, or had tried to work with their colleagues to add it instead of attacking them.
    – user41853
    Jul 9, 2021 at 10:31

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