Words in non-English languages that look English but really aren't?
July 14, 2013 10:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm fascinated by the efforts of Deutsche Bahn to get rid of the "Bahnglisch" that litters the service with expressions that look English but aren't the sort of expressions that any native speaker of English would actually use, and it occurred to me that this sort of thing is common in German outside of DB, and probably all over the world.

There are lots of examples; maybe the best is the term "Handy" for mobile phone, but I remember even in 1981 when I spent a summer studying Germany- in 'West Germany"- that pot smokers were called "Hashies," preppy types were called "Poppers," and I'm sure there are tons of other examples. I'm not just talking about adopting English slang; neither of these examples are terms that any native English speaker would ever use to label either of those groups. I'm sure these abound in other languages too, like "salaryman" and "office lady/oero" in Japanese, but I don't know enough other languages to be very familiar with them. So I ask: first, does this phenomenon- the use of English-ish expressions- have a name? And second, can you give me some examples- including more German ones, of course?
posted by ethnomethodologist to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I think this would be related to loan words:

Changes in meaning when loaned"
Words are occasionally imported with a different meaning than that in the donor language. "
or slightly related to creole languages.

Franglais is a similar phenomenon.

And second, can you give me some examples- including more German ones, of course?

I would translate the phrase:
"english loanwords in german"
into german, and then look up that phrase in a search engine.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:50 PM on July 14, 2013

Yeah, it's really hard to tell where "Ur Doin English Wrong" stops and local slang begins.

I once worked on a Bollywood movie that used the term "fooding" as a budget item where Americans would call it "catering". Fooding is laughably "wrong" to American ears, but these were all fluent English speakers and if they think "fooding" is thing, then I guess it is.
posted by Sara C. at 11:17 PM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I remember from my time in Switzerland and Germany that my friends there would use the word "spread" instead of "stoned," but I've never heard that from any native English speakers. Is this an example of what you're referring to? Like regional English slang in regions that don't speak English natively?

Here in the Philippines, there are a lot of English words that sound hilarious to my American ears, but are totally normal to everyone here. Senate candidates are called "Senatoriables," for instance.
posted by ferdinandcc at 11:19 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

More from German: "wellness" which pretty much covers all pampering/treatment of body and soul eg. sauna, spa treatments, fasts and meditation.

"Wellness is my hobby".

And "Beamer" for a data projector.

"is there a beamer in this meeting room?"
posted by pipstar at 11:29 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The word you're looking for is pseudo-anglicism and the Wikipedia article has a nice list of examples :)
posted by Skybly at 11:37 PM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

My favorite is the Korean fighting! which is a general sort of cheer of encouragement said in isolation. In English of course it's not even the right part of speech.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:49 PM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

'Wellness' and 'Beamer' are used in Dutch, as well. We don't call a mobile phone / cell phone a 'Handy' though.
We say 'pick up' for a turntable (record player).

Bad English, as spoken by some Dutch people, is called 'steenkolenengels', which is then 'Englisized' into 'Stone coal English'. There are several books that consist of examples, one of the most well known ones is 'I always get my sin'.

Further examples depend on whether you're looking for things that people say when they're speaking their own language, or when they're speaking English. Bahnglisch is the latter, Handy is the former.
Which are you mostly interested in?
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:58 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I often hear Dutch people refer to "a campground" as "a camping", which sounds strange to my native English ears.
posted by neushoorn at 12:24 AM on July 15, 2013

"Handy" for mobile phone

In parts of Asia (Singapore and South Korea, I've heard, but perhaps elsewhere as well) they use "handphone" for mobile phones. I wonder if some of the other words you refer to may be the same -- they may not have come to Germany from America or Britain, but via other countries.
posted by Georgina at 12:47 AM on July 15, 2013

We have 'wellness centres' here in the UK - usually spas or holistic treatment centres, so I think that might count as actual English these days.
posted by joboe at 1:01 AM on July 15, 2013

Weird English by Evelyn Ch'ien is a great resource for this. I have a great fondness for the Englishes used by former British colonies that are not located in North America.

If you are looking only for words used in countries that don't use English as one of the official languages but have been thoroughly colonized by American / British English anyway, South Korea, as others have mentioned, abounds in these.

My favorite is 커닝하다 or cunning ("to do cunning" literally) which means to cheat on a test. Koreans also use some German loan words (via Japan) that have been morphed into local lingo. 알바 or alba is the shortened version of arbeit and is used to refer to part time jobs that high school or college students take such as bartending, gas station attendent, etc.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:13 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

...a Bollywood movie

I think Indian English vocablary is a great example of what you're looking for, although it doesn't exactly match your parameters, as Sara C. pointed out. And then there's Canadianisms that sound wrong to USAian ears, like a "line up" when standing in line.
posted by Rash at 1:15 AM on July 15, 2013

Another great Konglish one is skinship, which should absolutely become a native-speaker English word.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:54 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yup, loanword (in fact a calque of German Lehnwort) is the generic term here. (And calque is a French loanword for a word whose meaning is the same but transformed into local word parts.)

It's become a real issue for English, which as the world's dominant trade language, now has only 25% native speakers. All the rest speak it as a second language, whether or not it's an official one in their country or not.

And then there's Canadianisms that sound wrong to USAian ears, like a "line up" when standing in line.

True, but that's just dialect -- New Yorkers say they wait "on line" for a bus or a bagel.

But in a real sense, so would be the Filipino English word Senatoriable. I think this belongs more in the dialect category than loan word, because English is an official language there with equal status to Tagalog. That's not quite the same thing as German speakers incorporating a few words or trying to use words with a sort of international outlook, which is what Bahnglish seems to be about.
posted by dhartung at 2:27 AM on July 15, 2013

Welsh is peppered with English words, if only because it was a dormant language for decades and then was revived in the past 30 years, making it hard for new words to arise.

I thought the phenomenon of Franglais was thanks to the Academie Francaise not being too quick to officially approve new French words, but then I'm not a French speaker myself.

preppy types were called "Poppers,"

'Preppy' doesn't exist in UK English either really, so perhaps this is more of a regionalism - just as in different parts of the UK the same fashion subculture are known as 'chavs', 'neds', 'townies', 'spides' etc. US school series and movies have made people aware of the term, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone say it in the UK - they'd use 'Sloane' or 'Hooray Henry' or possibly 'public school wanker'.
posted by mippy at 3:03 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: (English native speaker living in Germany):

Every time I start work in a new project I find new local favourite English usages having entered the jargon because somebody said it once, didn't get corrected, and everyone else assumed it must be correct.

The latest example: "looping" or "looping in", used to for bringing a new person into an email conversation by adding them to the CC list. i.e. bringing them into the loop. Example:

"Hello colleagues,
Looping Hans from Environment Support.
In response to your request please find attached blahblah..."

Other good ones are English verbs used with German grammar, which is bizarre when the word appears to be separable in the perfect tense. E.g.

(present) upgraden, (perfect) upgegraded
(present) downloaden, (perfect) downgeloaded
(present) hardcoden, (perfect) hardgecoded

however since the prefix -re is not separable in German, it also apparently isn't in Denglish:

(present) relaunchen, (perfect) gerelaunched

Many projects have their local favourite tech-y words: reviewen, deployen, removen, recovern, disablen. I've also seen "manageable" in all seriousness translated as "managebar", which is just hilarious. There are perfectly good German words for all of these concepts, they just sound more dynamic and thrusting in English.
posted by illongruci at 3:09 AM on July 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

My favorite German one is Pullunder, the shirt you wear underneath a pullover.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 4:27 AM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

See also the list of pseudo-anglicisms in Wikipedia.
posted by elgilito at 4:46 AM on July 15, 2013

In colloquial Mandarin Chinese, high means happy (no drug connotations), and man (as an adjective) means manly (in a good sense).
posted by yonglin at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2013

French has appropriated a whole load of English words ending in "ing" and uses them in ways that a native speaker of English who doesn't speak French wouldn't fully understand.

Some examples off the top of my head (collected when I lived in France 15 years ago, so may be out of date):
Le smoking: dinner jacket/tuxedo
Le footing: jogging
Le brushing: never did work out exactly what this means but it happens at the hairdresser and isn't just hair-brushing
Le parking: car park
posted by altolinguistic at 5:28 AM on July 15, 2013

Best answer: What the OP is looking for is not just loan words, it's loan words that are used very differently from how they're used in the original language.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:30 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also from German. "oldtimer" and "youngtimer", describing vintage cars.

In Norwegian, "healing" means using alternative medicine/complementary therapies, such as "healing hands", Reiki or "prayer healing".
posted by iviken at 5:44 AM on July 15, 2013

French has appropriated a whole load of English words ending in "ing"

There's also "le shampooing", which describes shampoo as a physical substance, not the act of doing anything with it.
posted by vasi at 6:36 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

An interesting example of that kind of word is "skinship". It was created in Korea, and eventually adopted by the Japanese, and now it's infiltrating the US via anime. It means something like "physical intimacy that enhances emotional bonding".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

"shokku" in japanese, comes from english "shock" but it means something different enough to be pretty confusing at times. It means the NEGATIVE feeling you get when you just realized something bad .. for example, if you didn't get in to your #1 choice for college you could say "shokku".. japanese has a lot more of these that are slightly off.

in sports in japan there are a lot "sankusu" from "thanks" means "wow great we got a free one cus the other team messed up" if for example the other team accidentally kicks the ball out of bounds on their own. (but this term is not at all rude)
posted by crawltopslow at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2013

also you would probably likereborrowed words words that for example start in english, go to japan, and come back to english, usually meaning something different
posted by crawltopslow at 7:08 AM on July 15, 2013

"le brushing" = blow-drying your hair
posted by matildaben at 7:16 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some more Korean:
Korean: English gloss
talent: TV star
circle: club
punk (빵구): flat tire

There is a whole bunch more on this Korean site. Scroll to the bottom to see the Korean written in English, then the actual English.
posted by tickingclock at 7:23 AM on July 15, 2013

Ooo! Ooo! I ran across one just today in a Portuguese translation project: "data show," which a native English speaker would call a multimedia or digital projector, or just a projector.
posted by drlith at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a common thing in Japanese, where it's called 和製英語 (wasei eigo, "made in Japan English"). Interestingly, カンニング (kanningu) is exactly the same as in Korean: it means "cheating." "Character goods" is actually a useful concept that we don't have a good expression for in English: basically any product branded with a character, like Hello Kitty. Along the same lines, "original goods" is pretty much anything branded with a company's logo.
posted by adamrice at 8:13 AM on July 15, 2013

Response by poster: Great work, folks, and correct, not just looking for loanwords but words that English speakers don't (and likely would never) use. BTW "Shampooing" is the German word too.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2013

I think Indian English vocablary is a great example of what you're looking for

Enough Indians speak English either fluently or as a first language that this is actually a pretty insulting approach to Indian English.

It's just a different dialect, like Australian English, Canadian English, etc. It just happens to take a lot of awesome creative license. Which I think is a feature, not a bug.
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Hebrew for a "ride", as in "to hitch/give someone a ride", is tremp, apparently from English tramp. "Can I give you a tramp to the station?"
posted by zeri at 10:41 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few from Argentine Spanish:
heavy: dangerous (i.e. neighborhood, situation)
shopping (n): a shopping mall
dark (adj): goth
feeling: something like "vibe" (not "emotion" in the same sense)
posted by dr. boludo at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2013

Also, "estón" and "rolinga" are both used here as nouns and adjectives to describe members of a youth subculture based around identifying with the Rolling Stones and local bands that have followed their style. It's not so much a misuse, though, as a use to describe a subculture that doesn't really have an Anglophone-world contemporary counterpart.
posted by dr. boludo at 11:17 AM on July 15, 2013

A friend tells me that some Indian English speakers use "pricey" for "hard-to-get", as in "He likes you, he's just acting pricey."
(Not disagreeing with Sara C.: this is English, just not my dialect. And I think it is awesome.)
posted by aws17576 at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2013

Gringos without Borders: "My favorite German one is Pullunder, the shirt you wear underneath a pullover."

Native German speaker here: A Pullunder is not the shirt you wear underneath a pullover, it's actually a pullover without sleeves, which I believe is called a sweater vest, slipover or slip-on in English.
posted by amf at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Native German speaker here: A Pullunder is not the shirt you wear underneath a pullover, it's actually a pullover without sleeves, which I believe is called a sweater vest, slipover or slip-on in English.

I have seen some translations that call it a vest but to me it's more like a t-shirt or tank top.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 7:22 AM on July 17, 2013

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