(Pun intended.)

So, I've been reading Kafka's translations into English, and one of my favorites is still "A Crossbreed". What puzzles me though is the use of articles in the last paragraph. It reads:

Perhaps the knife of the butcher would be a release for this animal...

So, I did not really understand the use of two the's (also, hope it's an appropriate way to pluralize "the" ): does this mean that there is some specific butcher with some specific knife? Is it allusion to God?.. So, Kafka being Kafka, I checked the original (the same link as above), and it reads:

Vielleicht wäre für dieses Tier das Messer des Fleischers eine Erlösung...

Now, my knowledge of German is pretty much zero, but I know that "die" is one of the forms of the definite article in German, so we can say that the translator(s) just "retranslated" (as in, "relayed") Kafka's word, i.e. it's not their addition or interpretation.

So, my question is still: why "the"? What is the grammatical / semantical reason here? Also, am I right in interpreting "a release" meaning that it is just one available way, i.e. "the release" would be more fatalistic? Possibly, it is more of a literary interpreation question, but grammar is a tool to express it, after all. If you also understand German, it would help even more, I think, because it is possible that the definite article has some pecularities in German that I am not even aware of.

P.S. Now, having re-read my question, I would also appreciate if you correct my usage of articles in it if there are any mistakes. That story made me realize how lacking my knowledge of article usage is. Thank you for your time.

  • It looks like a fair translation of the original.
    – mdewey
    Dec 12, 2020 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


A more idiomatic translation would have been 'the butcher's knife'. It doesn't refer to one particular butcher; one use of the definite article is to indicate a representative member of a profession or occupation.

It's like being in the dentist's chair.

He has been under the surgeon's knife.

I don't know about German, but in English 'a [merciful] release' implies that death is welcome to someone whose life is a burden to them.

  • Thank you. It's still confusing, after all this time, because there are examples like, "my mom is a teacher," and then there is this. One that still blows my mind is this pair: "A circle has 4 sides" and "The elephant is a majestic creature"
    – Vladimir
    Dec 12, 2020 at 20:04

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