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Der Fisch beginnt am Kopf zu stinken.

English translation: alternative "The buck stops here"

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11:46 Dec 5, 2004
German to English translations [PRO]
Idioms / Maxims / Sayings
German term or phrase: Der Fisch beginnt am Kopf zu stinken.
I am looking for help with this idiom.
It comes up in a paper on organizational consulting, in a section emphasising why top management need to become personally involvement in change processes.
TIA Angie
AngieD
Local time: 18:05
English translation:alternative "The buck stops here"
Explanation:
The link below, which also uses this phrase as its title, says the saying comes from the Greek. From an editorial rather than a translation perspective, it seems too harsh to me if the author is aiming to persuade people at the top to take action, but it all depends on the context, of course. It certainly is memorable.

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Note added at 4 hrs 15 mins (2004-12-05 16:02:01 GMT)
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i.e., \"The Fish Stinks From the Head Down\" is the title of the article. The author explains it by mentioning the \"FDR\" (Franklin D. Roosevelt) saying \"The Buck Stops Here,\" which is usually attributed to Harry Truman.
Selected response from:

Terry Gilman
Germany
Local time: 18:05
Grading comment
Thanks everyone, all your answers really helped and I was able to work Kieran's/Textklick's suggestions into the following paragraph. Ian, I had already used "Leading by example" for another idiom in the same chapter!
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
3 +4the rot starts at the topKieran McCann
5The fish starts rotting at the headZareh Darakjian Ph.D.
5A fish rots from the head down
Franz Kubaczyk
3alternative "The buck stops here"
Terry Gilman
3Leading by example is the only wayxxxIanW
3The rot should be dealt with from the top
Textklick
2responsibility for problem-solving begins at the top
Jonathan MacKerron


Discussion entries: 1





  

Answers


12 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
The rot should be dealt with from the top


Explanation:
A bit free ;-)

(Your comment implies that it is not the fault of management, but rather their duty to get things sorted).

HTH

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Note added at 26 mins (2004-12-05 12:12:31 GMT)
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> Angie: Right. Maybe \"Rot from the top should be dealt with at the top\".

Maybe a bit \"lässig\" ;-)





Textklick
Local time: 17:05
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in category: 32
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57 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): +4
the rot starts at the top


Explanation:
a bit more outspoken than the previous offering but perhaps a phrase that could be used in its own right


    Reference: http://www.redensarten-index.de/suche.php?suchbegriff=fisch&...
Kieran McCann
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:05
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in category: 8

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Ken Cox: Excellent as a general translation, but perhaps not entirely appropriate in this context (there's not necessarily any rot). Perhaps 'change starts at the top'.
7 mins
  -> Thank you: you could be right, but the original implies that there is indeed rot at the top: see link

agree  Shane London: Yes. I think this best fits the way the German affects the reader. 'Stinken' implies some rot to my mind.
1 hr
  -> Thank you

agree  Klaus Herrmann: Yep. A more explicite version of the German saying is "Der Fisch *fault* am Kopf zuerst".
1 hr
  -> Thank you

agree  Meturgan: Not with Kenneth Cox; wenn es beginnt zu stinken there must be some rot.
8 hrs
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1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 2/5Answerer confidence 2/5
responsibility for problem-solving begins at the top


Explanation:
watered-down version

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Note added at 2 hrs 8 mins (2004-12-05 13:55:01 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

\"top-down problem-solving approach\"

Jonathan MacKerron
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 63
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2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
Leading by example is the only way


Explanation:
Obviously a very free take, but that's what it seems to be saying. Or alternatively "Leading by example" or "The art of leading by example"

xxxIanW
Local time: 18:05
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 83
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4 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
alternative "The buck stops here"


Explanation:
The link below, which also uses this phrase as its title, says the saying comes from the Greek. From an editorial rather than a translation perspective, it seems too harsh to me if the author is aiming to persuade people at the top to take action, but it all depends on the context, of course. It certainly is memorable.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 4 hrs 15 mins (2004-12-05 16:02:01 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

i.e., \"The Fish Stinks From the Head Down\" is the title of the article. The author explains it by mentioning the \"FDR\" (Franklin D. Roosevelt) saying \"The Buck Stops Here,\" which is usually attributed to Harry Truman.


    Reference: http://www.bartongoldsmith.com/articles/fish.htm
Terry Gilman
Germany
Local time: 18:05
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 4
Grading comment
Thanks everyone, all your answers really helped and I was able to work Kieran's/Textklick's suggestions into the following paragraph. Ian, I had already used "Leading by example" for another idiom in the same chapter!
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
The fish starts rotting at the head


Explanation:
We should not miss the point... In other languages as well (e.g. Armenian) we do not
give the meaning of a "saying", we just say it as it is "The fish starts rotting at the head".

This is not supposed to be explained... it looses its impact. This is the proper translation.
This saying is not unique to German. It is found in other languages as well, and in those
languages it is said exactly as it is written: no interpretaion needed!



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Note added at 4 hrs 17 mins (2004-12-05 16:03:55 GMT)
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As for the meaning, if one wants to know, there is one and only one acceptable meaning:

Corruption starts at the top. This is the meaning implied in all of the languages where
this saying is used.

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Note added at 6 hrs 5 mins (2004-12-05 17:51:42 GMT)
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If I am not mistaken, this saying started in the Turkish language, probably about a
century ago or earlier.. It was used to refer not to responsibility, but to corruption
(probably in government). It may be that it is used inappropriately in the original
German document.

Zareh Darakjian Ph.D.
United States
Local time: 09:05
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in ArmenianArmenian
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3561 days   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
A fish rots from the head down


Explanation:
I do not know why nobody here suggested it before but this is the regular saying in (UK) English. (Look it up at google.co.uk)

Example sentence(s):
  • Within days of each other, Britain's two top lawyers have been exposed as adulterers, proving that, just as a fish rots from the head down, so, too, does the legal system.

    Reference: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fish-rot-from-the-head-do...
    Reference: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3637792/Bri...
Franz Kubaczyk
Germany
Local time: 18:05
Native speaker of: Native in GermanGerman
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