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I searched for an English translation of the German term Durchhalteparole, meaning to appeal to a group of followers to hold out (especially in politics), but having the connotation of being a hopeless appeal and having more the purpose to be blind to a coming defeat.

I got 4 different translations. 3 seem to be plain wrong machine translations, and rallying call seems a more common term according to ngrams. Has it the connotation I am looking for or is there a better English idiom for a hopeless call? Actually I am pretty surprised by the low quality and different translations of the German dictionaries as it is a very common German term.

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I really don't know what you expect to glean from your NGrams graph. "Rallying call" is nowhere near the well-worn phrase "rallying cry" would be and the rest of the expressions you listed are flatlining because they would only arise under unusual circumstances. For example, someone might refer to an "appeal to hold out" but probably not in those exact words and then only in discussing the appeal itself –  Robusto Aug 15 '11 at 20:56
    
@robusto the ngram was a bad try to find any evidence at all what translations might be a commmon term with fixed connotation and not only a bad machine translation. According to answers below dictionaries should show Parole zum Durchhalten or nothing imo... –  Hauser Aug 15 '11 at 21:02
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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The best English translation for Durchhalteparole would be "rallying cry", which has a definition very similar to what you described for Durchhalteparole.

From thefreedictionary.com: a slogan used to rally support for a cause; "a cry to arms"; "our watchword will be `democracy'"

As for giving it the connotation of a "hopeless call", I would suggest feeble attempt, which can mean lacking in force, strength, or effectiveness: feeble resistance; feeble arguments (via dictionary.com)

So, to get to the answer of your question, using workers as the targeted audience of the rallying cry: "A feeble attempt at rallying the workers ended when they all followed the instructions of management."

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A rallying call is made up of two parts, rallying and call. You often hear the phrase, rally the troops, -- to rally a group means:

  1. To call together for a common purpose; assemble: rally troops at a parade ground.
  2. To reassemble and restore to order: rally scattered forces.
  3. To rouse or revive from inactivity or decline: paused to refresh themselves and rally their strength.

I don't think that rally has the connotations of a hopeless appeal necessarily. A rallying call would be a call to gather; it isn't a call to hold out. You could, however, say that a political group was rallying to gather strength and then hold out. I don't know if there's a single English phrase that covers all the ground of the German one. With rallying call, you'd need to qualify exactly what was happening.

I think the phrase that better (and more simply) describes the situation is appeal to hold out. It fits better than rallying call because it already states that the group is planning to hold out. Again, however, this does not imply that the call is hopeless.

A longer phrase I would suggest might be blindly appeal to hold out. By clarifying that the group is appealing blindly (that is, unable or unwilling to perceive or understand), you get in at least part of the German meaning.

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So the connotation of hopeless is well-known on Durchhalteparole, thats mainly why you use that term in German. Astonishing that all 4 translations were misleading/wrong. Parole zum Durchhalten would be ok and without connotation, but every dictionary translates above english pendants to Durchhalteparole. You would often say a politician is making Durchhalteparolen, saying he is making blind appeals to hold out is much less intelligible as single word. But your reasoning makes sense, i was very doubtful on rallying call being right use here. –  Hauser Aug 15 '11 at 20:56
    
Maybe english policians are more serious than germans so you dont need that term :) Congratulations –  Hauser Aug 15 '11 at 20:56
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Durchhalteparole sounds like one of those words that can't quite be translated literally. I think the proper English phrasing would depend on context.

Generally, a better phrase that doesn't have the slight positive connotations of rallying call is exhortations to hold out. The verb exhort means to urge or persuade (someone) earnestly.

Unsurprisingly, his exhortations to hold out against superior tactics fell on deaf ears.

EDIT

I see the verb to appeal has been suggested in another answer. This might be a better choice as it isn't as obscure a word and is nearly synonymous. Although if you really want to emphasize the earnestness of the appeal, you could stick with to exhort.

Unsurprisingly, his appeal to hold out against superior tactics fell on deaf ears.

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In many typical contexts Durchhalteparole could reasonably be translated exhortation to continue, exhortation to hold out, or the like, but I don’t think that there really is a single general-purpose translation. Consider this quotation:

"Unsere Ausgangsposition ist zwar sehr schlecht, aber nicht so hoffnungslos wie einige denken", gab Erich Ribbeck vor seinem 24. und wohl letzten Match als DFB-Teamchef Durchhalteparolen aus.

Here Erich Ribbeck is reported as saying ‘Our initial position is indeed poor, but not so hopeless as some think’ before what is described as ‘his 24th and probably last match’ as team manager, and his comment is described as a Durchhalteparole. It isn’t any kind of exhortation, however; he’s simply putting the best possible face on the situation, if only for public consumption. Here I’d be tempted to say that he was whistling in the dark.

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