EU English
October 3, 2017 1:32 PM   Subscribe

When everyone's using it as a second language and very few as a first, some odd usages crop up, to wit: "The Committee urges the Commission ... to precise which period before confinement is meant. Without further precisions, this could lead to support for poorly justified financial instruments." Mental Floss has 11 examples from EU documents, including to precise (meaning: to make precise), dispose of (to use), important (significant), opportunity (opportuneness), punctual (periodic), actual (current), eventual (possible), expertises (expertise), planification (planning), comitology (having to do with committees), and actorness (the quality of being a party which is taking an action). If that's not enough for you, the European Court of Auditors has prepared a glossary (PDF) with explanations that will assist you in translating EU English to standard English and vice versa.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (51 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
The explained usages of Precise/Precisions, Dispose of, Important, Opportunity, Punctual, Actual, Eventual and Planification follow usage for the relevant Spanish terms exactly.
posted by signal at 1:36 PM on October 3 [10 favorites]


Ha, those are all Frenglish examples :)
préciser
disposer de
important
opportunité
ponctuel
actuel
éventuel
expertises
planification
comitologie
acteur

It's a good list of French business-speak too. Il est important de préciser qu'on dispose d'une opportunité qui n'est pas que ponctuelle pour actualiser nos éventuelles expertises en français afin de planifier des comitologies dont les acteurs seront au fait des derniers usages ;)
dear god i just wrote that without even needing to think
posted by fraula at 1:37 PM on October 3 [44 favorites]


Quite a few of those also work in Portuguese. "Dispose of" sounds like "por ao dispor", "punctual" like "pontual" (which also carries both meanings - on time and periodicity) while "actual" and "eventual" are the same as described.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:40 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, in Spanish some English-inherited usage has creeped into the language, for example 'salvar' (save) which in pre-Microsoft language meant to save as in save a life, whereas now it also means to put away for the future, esp. to save a computer file, per a false-friend translation in some versions of Office which used 'salvar' instead of 'guardar'.
posted by signal at 1:40 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Also in Portuguese

Precisar
Dispor
Importante
Oportuno
Pontual
Atual
Eventual

Et
Cetera
posted by chavenet at 1:40 PM on October 3


On posting, what lmfsilva said.
posted by chavenet at 1:41 PM on October 3


Most of them are easily understandable (expertises, actual) and/or kind-of charming (planification, actorness), but "opportunity" to mean "opportuneness" and "eventual" for "possible" could lead to some problematic misunderstandings, and "dispose of" for "use" makes my head hurt!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:42 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


It's an interesting inversion of the many English words that have made their way into many other European languages.
posted by dilaudid at 1:43 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Another EU-specific invention, actorness means something like "the quality of being a party which is taking an action." Though it makes for strange English, it is a rather more efficient way to express a concept that the EU discusses a lot.

"participation"?
posted by polecat at 1:47 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


...and "eventual" for "possible" could lead to some problematic misunderstandings

There's already broad sometimes contradictory usage of terms across say British and American English. For example, "to table" something in British means to bring it forward as a topic. In American English, it means the exact opposite - to postpone.

So as long as the terms are defined (thank you, glossary) this is just another English - possible even a rapidly emerging one.
posted by vacapinta at 1:48 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


In Singapore, Malaysia, and occasionally India, businesspeople use the word "revert" in a novel way:

"Please revert with the appropriate advice on how to proceed"

In American English I'd say "reply" but "revert" is a sort of business-formal usage that's taken root.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 1:48 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


"participation"?

Not really, actor is used in policy a lot and doesn't have the same connotation as participant, and this probably goes over to actorness vs participation I would think.
posted by biffa at 1:52 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


for example 'salvar' (save) which in pre-Microsoft language meant to save as in save a life,

Same thing in Greek - the word used had no meaning other than rescue before computers. To be honest it sounds kind of clunky in English too, something like "store" would have made a lot more sense. Are we sure we have Microsoft to blame for this?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:53 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Esperanto, anybody?
posted by briank at 1:56 PM on October 3


I, for one, would certainly like to dispose of these new forms.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:57 PM on October 3 [10 favorites]


In one of William Gibson's 90s novels set in the (then) near-future, translation programs exist but aren't all that accurate (think a somewhat better Google Translate), so people doing cross-border interactions have developed a kind of pidgin English/other language hodgepodge for international exchange that's geared towards these imprecise translators. I wonder if we'll end up with something like that.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:57 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Yep these are pretty much all Romanticisms that make perfect literal sense in French. I wonder if this process will intensify when Britain is gone and Ireland and Malta are the only native English-speaking countries left.

Also this thing happens all the time and is only noticeable in this case for the direction of transfer (to English vs from English).

One of the best cyclists of all time (Sean Kelly) grew up not that far from me and is now a commentator. He has a strong rural west Waterford/south Tipp accent but he competed in the days when French was overwhelmingly the language of the peloton (vs a much bigger Anglo influence now). His commentary is littered with words like 'bonifications' (bonus seconds awarded for winning a stage in a stage race).
posted by kersplunk at 1:58 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


Just like I can only read "grimdark" as "gridmark" I can apparently only read actorness as acorness or squirrel high priestess of acorns
posted by bleep at 2:00 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


Legal English is so French-dependent to start with ... it's sort-of interesting to see another wave of Romance language words coming in, especially when there's already a Legal English term from the medieval French usage ("dispositive") but it's being used in a different way in the new EU legal English ("dispose of")!

(In fact someone languagey should write an essay on exactly that issue, where a word came into English from French via Legal English, hung out for 1,000 years in English being relatively static because of its mostly-formal use, while changing in living French, and then coming into specialized legal English a SECOND time from French via the EU, with a totally different meaning!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:05 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


Whenever I had to read EU legal documents, I poured the alcohol in advance. The combination of general bureaucratspeak and the jargon is enough to crush the soul.
posted by praemunire at 2:19 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


There's a similar process where English has words derived from both a Latin word (which was formal and more rigid) as well as the equivalent Norman word, which had had some more time to kick around. I can only think of synonyms off the top of my head, but I wouldn't be surprised if you had some divergences in there.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:28 PM on October 3


It's a good list of French business-speak

I came in here to write exactly what fraula wrote (although I never would have written it so well). French business-speak is a labyrinth unto itself, but once you learn it you can rattle off incredibly sophisticated blocks of text that don't say anything, but that require an hour of study just to figure out that they don't say anything. It's very useful in cases where delay is the best strategy.

With Brexit, more and more business of the EU will be done in this very specialized dialect of French, and English will have more and more of a secondary status as a translated language.
posted by fuzz at 2:32 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


It could be worse. They could also have taken the German habit of verb at the end of the sentence beputting.

geputting?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:33 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


It could be worse. They could also have taken the German habit of verb at the end of the sentence beputting.

That's a perfectly sensible place for it to be put.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:37 PM on October 3 [16 favorites]


These are mainly mild innovations, given that English is pretty given to new coinages anyway. I don't think any native English speaker would have real trouble understanding what 'comitology' or 'expertises' meant. I bet the business community in the US (or Singapore, or India) has come up with way more non-standard newspeak over the same period. If anything, it's a tribute to the standard of English teaching in EU schools that we haven't lots of much weirder stuff IMO.
posted by Segundus at 2:46 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


That's a perfectly sensible place for it to be put.

I did hear that one German delegate complained to the simultaneous translator that she seemed slower than those for English or French.

"That's because I have to wait till the end of the sentence before I know what the fuck you're actually saying," she replied.
posted by Segundus at 2:49 PM on October 3 [24 favorites]


Comitology has a specific legal meaning in the EU context.
posted by roolya_boolya at 3:07 PM on October 3


Ray Hudson can't stop calling goals "magisterial." Wow that Messi goal was one that is like a magistrate might score.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Il est important de préciser qu'on dispose d'une opportunité qui n'est pas que ponctuelle pour actualiser nos éventuelles expertises en français afin de planifier des comitologies dont les acteurs seront au fait des derniers usages

Occorre precisare che disponiamo di importanti indizi dell’opportunità di una puntuale verifica dell’attuale iniziativa, affinché eventuali expertises relativi alla sua pianificazione tengano conto del protagonismo comitologico.

(That last word is the only neologism in there.) So, false friends do a new patois make - nice!
posted by progosk at 4:09 PM on October 3


Ray Hudson can't stop calling goals "magisterial." Wow that Messi goal was one that is like a magistrate might score.
mag·is·te·ri·al
/ˌmajəˈstirēəl/
adjective
1. having or showing great authority.
"a magisterial pronouncement"
synonyms: authoritative, masterful, assured, lordly, commanding, assertive
2. relating to or conducted by a magistrate.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:15 PM on October 3


Shouldn't comitology have two m's?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:17 PM on October 3


The Allusionist podcast episode that covered this is fun.

Most of the words picked out in the FPP are Romance-traceable - I wonder whether much German vocab has seeped into EU English. Would be an interesting linguistic counterweight to the political balance as usually perceived.
posted by progosk at 4:27 PM on October 3


One of my favorite expressions is from Indian English: "Do the needful." Conveys so much meaning in few words – we all know the bullshit involved, but I do trust your judgement and don't want to know the details, and lets reconvene then.
posted by zeikka at 4:39 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


I would have assumed comitology was about comets. "Committee" has the emphasis on the "mit", but "comitology" reads like it should have the emphasis on "com".
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 4:52 PM on October 3


Or that it was concerning or studying comity, which is an actual legal concept.
posted by praemunire at 5:06 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


"comitology" reads like it should have the emphasis on "com".

Everyone speaks with an accent so the stress will vary, but that is how it's generally pronounced: COM-it-OL-o-gy. Though I've only ever heard it referred to as "the comitology process", and never just "comitology" on its own.
posted by cardboard at 5:39 PM on October 3


I hear "do the needful" a lot...to me it always sounds like the latest dance craze.
Also, it would be one thing if German simply put the verb at the end of the sentence. Instead, it vides it and puts the first part at the end di.
posted by uosuaq at 6:06 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


  Please revert

That's very old formal British business english, too. Up there with “… begs to intimate”.

Having been on a couple of European technical committees, and memories of my dad's work in Brussels, remind me of how words very quickly become accepted as having a common group meaning. So many new gerunds …
posted by scruss at 7:29 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


"dispose of" for "use" makes my head hurt

I guess the phrase, "at [one's] disposal" sort of can match up, but it's like trying to work a duplo piece in with legos.
posted by fleacircus at 7:54 PM on October 3


As an academic, who occasionally edits things written in English by French- and Dutch-speaking folks, the thing that kills me is when they use the word "scientific" (and related words) to refer to what in the US we might called "academic" or "scholarly." Like, someone will refer to the "scientific literature" on some aspect of 19th-Century History (when they mean the specialized, scholarly sources). I have to explain that scientific does not have the same broad application as scientifique or wetenschappelijk.

Another thing that I notice, especially with things written by Dutch-speakers, are the use of compound adverbs like thereof, whereby, heretofore, etc., that are (relatively) rare in modern English but which are exact (and formally correct) translations of Dutch terms that are more commonly used in that language.
posted by dhens at 8:58 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


This is completely merdiffic.
posted by Termite at 11:11 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


If we're bringing in French usage, can we have 'patient' as a verb? (Meaning 'be patient, wait a bit') I like that one.
posted by Segundus at 11:28 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Ha, those are all Frenglish examples :)

Or, Frenglitalish? they do look like very common false friends when translating from Italian, then again Italian has many roots in common with French so who knows who’s to blame here.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:53 PM on October 3


That's pretty hilarious. It somehow explains why so many native English speakers (such as this one) are confused or annoyed about the EU and its weird foreign-influenced (mostly gallic-influenced) pidgin. The frustration of Jeremy Gardner (who wrote the Misused English words and expressions in EU publications guide) is palpable ("Fiche is a useful word, but it is French", [Financial envelope] "is often defended tooth and nail by people who should really know better simply because it is believed to be in one of the sacred texts").

The irony is that these misuses make EU texts much more palatable for native francophones and other speakers of romance/germanic languages. In fact, many words that Gardner complains about ("informatics", "actor", "operator") don't have straightforward English translations. Native franco/hispano/lusophones have been struggling for decades to translate "valoriser/valorizar", and at one point, well, you just give up and write "to valorise" because none of the alternatives Gardner proposes is correct. A lot of it, of course, is just meaningless important-sounding business-speak anyway so nothing of value is actually lost. A side effect is that it's becoming prescriptive: not only these uses are enshrined in EU law and directives, but they show up in popular on-line dictionaries (Linguee for instance) that use bilingual sources such as EU texts.
posted by elgilito at 2:27 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


My boss in Canada once asked me (Dutch) and my German-speaking colleagues why we insisted on calling the projector in the meeting room a "beamer". We had no idea that was NOT the correct English word for it! It looks English, it sounds English, but it's not.
posted by easternblot at 3:44 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


I'll add this to the reference pile for the next time I'm asked to 'proofread' a thesis by a non-native speaker.
posted by mushhushshu at 5:23 AM on October 4


If we're bringing in French usage, can we have 'patient' as a verb? (Meaning 'be patient, wait a bit') I like that one.

I just got back from France and was struck by the ubiquity of patienter everywhere, particularly at ATMs and bank card readers which universally asked me to patientez as well as with some service staff.

There's something a little different from just "please wait" or attendez that I like about it.
posted by andrewesque at 6:53 AM on October 4


I used to see this everywhere but living in Belgium it has now so infested my own language I no longer really notice it. Doing bioinformatics, 'informatics' wasn't such a weird leap, but the thing that still really gets me is specific to my lab. We have a lunchroom/meetingroom/breakroom that has for decades been known in both Dutch and English as the 'Concertation' room despite that not being a real word in either Dutch or English. Its just what the professor who used to run the lab ten years ago imagined the place would be called in English.

Also missing hilarity are:
Reconciliation, which in French and EU English inexplicably refers to the work/life balance.

Articulate, which inexplicably refers to coordination between groups in French
posted by Blasdelb at 7:24 AM on October 4


Ray Hudson can't stop calling goals "magisterial." Wow that Messi goal was one that is like a magistrate might score.
mag·is·te·ri·al
/ˌmajəˈstirēəl/
adjective
1. having or showing great authority.
"a magisterial pronouncement"
synonyms: authoritative, masterful, assured, lordly, commanding, assertive
2. relating to or conducted by a magistrate.


He doesn't mean it like that. He means to say majestic i.e. kingly. "Authoritative" is rarely used to describe a goal, nor is commanding, assured or "lordly." Not even masterful.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:29 AM on October 4


Yes, somewhere around half of English vocabulary is Latin ("Romance") in origin, and a lot of that via French - probably through the exact same mechanisms we are seeing here. I mean, there's no reason 'préciser' didn't enter English in the middle ages while 'spécifier' did, which is why we now say "to specify" instead of "to precise". This is great!
posted by smokysunday at 12:30 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I went back to school this fall, and one of the first things I learned was a new-to-me sense of "doubt" (n.) meaning "a request for clarification."
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 8:59 PM on October 4


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