What image does your letterhead give your customers?

Problems sometimes arise with the English version of the letterhead because there is no ISO equivalent of NS 4129 "Kontordokumenter og blanketter. Utforming". This may explain why the bottom of letterheads of respectable Norwegian companies and organizations sometimes have strange headings like "post address", "street address" and "visiting address" which may raise some eyebrows around the world. As all too many have "address" misspelled as "adress", and instead of Norway, their address ends in Tananger, Tromsø, Rælingen or Ålesund, this cannot exactly help their international image.

It is clear that the layout of letterheads differs around the world, but the equivalent heading to "besøksadresse" is uncommon. Most organizations that have addresses with the street name and the post code, use no heading. An example is BBC World Service, Bush House, Strand, London WC2B 4PH, UK. If you decide to opt for a Norwegian/English combined letterhead, the best translation of "postadresse" is probably "postal enquiries" and the heading "besøksadresse" could be translated as "offices" or "location". This way you can avoid giving signals of dubious corporate morality such as "street address", "visiting address" and, I have even seen, "gate address".

If you just want just an English letterhead, I suggest this model:

National Institute

of Technology

Akersveien 24C

NO–0131 OSLO


Postal enquiries:

P.O.Box 2608 St. Hanshaugen

NO-0131 OSLO


Note that in ISO 3166, two-letter country codes are proposed so that NO should be used instead of just N as the country code. If you look in Postadressebok for Norge, 2000-10-01 it states: "I samsvar med denne anbefaling ber Posten Norge BA om at dersom det brukes landkode foran postnummer i postadresser til utlandet, så skal Standardiseringsforbundets Alpha 2 kode (ISO 3166) benyttes (Norge=NO, Danmark=DK, Finland=FI, Sverige=SE, osv."

Tricky words

bottom line, basic question

Bottom line (Norw. sluttsum, det vesentlige) in accounts, this is the final total on a balance sheet or financial document: "The bottom line is the annual surplus". In more general business English, the bottom line is also used to mean what is the price of something or what is the basic issue, the most important thing: "The bottom line is, will the market pay extra for this safety feature?"

Basic question (Norw. det vesentlige) means the fundamental issue or the bottom line in the last sense. Basic question, basic issue, fundamental issue, the crux of the matter are all alternatives to the rather overused bottom line.

Enlightening English

An American businessperson in China was trying to get a better deal and said: "The bottom line is the bottom line". The depths of this statement puzzled the translator who informed his Chinese client that: "The line is on the bottom, never on the top".

The Municipality of Trondheim introduced rubbish recycling a few years ago and sent a list to households about what to put in each bin. In the English version, instead of writing "pet litter" or excrement from household pets, the translator first chose the medical version of Norw. avføring, and then misspelled this medical term, faeces. As a result, this brochure tells us which bin we can put our "animal faces" into.