Roy Gutman’s Witness to Genocide raises the specter of Janet Cooke. Although the author of Witness to Genocide, the 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning “dispatches” on the “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia, speaks American English, from the many awkward phrases in “his” book one might infer that someone other than Mr. Gutman wrote at least parts of it.

Foreign language teachers have fun haranguing their pupils about those treacherous look-alike but mean-different words. The French call them “false friends,” or faux amis. Take the word “preservative,” for example. This refers to chemical additives that retard spoilage of foods. Elsewhere in Europe, “preservatives” are condoms. At table once in an Alpine village, I had to interpret for an American lady who had just nonplussed her Italian hosts with her recipe for homebaked bread. Meaning to say “I use only natural ingredients,” she actually said “I never use preservatives.”

Let us examine a few samples from Gutman’s book.

Page xiii: “I learned this . . . on meeting released prisoners in Britain, some at the Karlovac in southern Croatia.” This whole sentence, though grammatically correct, is wooden, foreigner’s English. What is more, the use of the definite article is typically Slavic. (In the Slavic family, only Bulgarian and north Russian dialects have a definite article.) We say The Hague, yes, but not the Washington for the city, as opposed to an eponymous bar or ship; or we use the restrictive construction “this was not the Washington that I left in 1956.”

Page xxxv: “Tampered elections . . . ” The perfect participle of this verb is not used attributively, but predicatively. With apologies to those brought up to believe that prepositions are nothing to end a sentence with, our elections are not tampered but tampered with.

Page 20: ” . . . two armored tanks crashed into the main square.” The Italians and French would do this, too; char arme and carro armato. Oklopno vozilo. The idea of “armored vehicle” lurks behind this one. Serbo-Croatian has borrowed the German krachen (verb) and Krach (noun), which do not mean what they look like in English. Our crash, literally used, refers to a noisy collision of speeding vehicles or other objects, but in German a wall can fall mit einem ein Krach or “with a crash, bang.” In English, those tanks would only have (noisily) crashed into each other in (not into) the square. Any tanks that Gutman saw would have roared into that square.

Page 30: “Watchmen” is used where guards would be proper. Guards watch the military perimeter, while watchmen guard the factory at night.

Page 41: Men marched “arm to arm.” An English speaker would have written shoulder to shoulder. “Arm to arm” is a look-alike, a faux ami of the Serbo-Croatian rame uz rame. Rame really translates as “shoulder.” Mistranslation of the French would yield elbow to elbow, literally translating coude à coude. Moreover, this locution evokes the solidarity of veterans, for example, marching in a parade on Fifth Avenue or along the Champs Elysées.

Page 51: “Genitals plucked out.” A speaker of idiomatic English knows that our eyes are plucked out, our genitals cut off.

Pages 55 and 57 (yes, twice): “His back was blue and red from the blows.” English-speakers have backs that are beaten black and blue.

Page 72: “In front of my eyes,” a literal translation of pred mojim ocima. In English, we use the archaic preposition before in the phrase “it happened before my very eyes,” and in prose about concrete situations we prefer “in front of (the house).”

Page 74: “The soldiers. . . hung him by his neck, legs and hands,” instead of hands and feet or arms and legs. Serbo-Croatian underspecifies the limbs. Ruka and noga are respectively “arm/hand” and “foot/leg.” Serbo-Croatian speakers add specifying terms as needed.

Page 137: ” . . . hangars where grain was stored.” Grain is indeed warehoused in hangari in Yugoslavia. In English, of course, hangars are for airplanes.

Postscript: According to the Yugoslav press agency Tanjug (January 28, 1993), Bosnian Serb soldiers captured a British mercenary, Robert Allen Lofthouse, along with “his diary and other documents [which] indicate his connections with an American agent code named 2-IG. 2-IC’s true identity is Roy Gutman, an undercover agent working as a Newsday correspondent. Until the mid-1980’s, Gutman worked for the Reuters bureau in Warsaw.” Is this official Serb propaganda or further confirmation that Roy Gutman is something other than a journalist?