In case of pigs and poultry…

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Reader J.W.J. sent in a link to "A brief list of misused English terminology in EU publications", a document to be found on the web site of the European Commission under the heading of "Translation and Drafting Resources". Though perhaps "brief" by the standards of the European Commission, this remarkable document is in fact 33 pages long. Its Introduction begins:

Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words that do not exist or are relatively unknown to native English speakers outside the EU institutions (‘planification’, ‘to precise’ or ‘telematics’ for example) and words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent’ being a case in point). Some words are used with more or less the correct meaning, but in contexts where they would not be used by native speakers (‘homogenise’, for example).

The body of the document includes footnoted examples, with explanations and suggested alternatives. For example:


Explanation: ‘Planification’ does not exist in English, but it comes up quite regularly. The example below comes from a published Court report.

Example: ‘Simplified procedures and better planification should make it possible to even out the caseload under FP6, improving internal control and speeding up processes83.’

Alternative: planning.

Footnote 83 leads here, though unfortunately I get a "504 Gateway Time-out" error for that link. However, a web search for {"simplified procedures and better planification"} locates this alternative link.

Among the many lovely examples of Eurenglish (Euroglish?) on display, there are some for which Brussels bears at most secondary responsibility:


Explanation: There are 1 253 instances of the word ‘comitology’ in EUR-Lex. However, not only does the word not exist outside the EU institutions, but it is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two ‘m’s and two ‘t’s) and a suffix that means something quite different (-ology/-logy means ‘the science of’ or ‘the study of’. It is therefore highly unlikely that an outsider would be able to deduce its meaning, even in context.

Example: ‘The Commission must draft new rules setting out the powers and workings of the bodies replacing the Committees in the framework of the now-abolished comitology procedure, to ensure that the new system operates properly32.’

Alternative: The official term is ‘committee procedure’.

"Comitology" actually has an OED entry, with the first citations well before the 1993 Maastricht Treaty established the European Union:

Originally: the study of the organization and functions of committees. In later use also: committees and their practices considered collectively, now esp. in the context of the implementation of European Union legislation and policy.

1956   C. N. Parkinson in Economist 3 Nov. 395/1   The Life cycle of the committee is so basic to our knowledge of current affairs that it is surprising that more attention has not been paid to the science of comitology.
1966   Times 15 Sept. 1/4   Comitology (the Science of Committee-sitting) is an old method of playing for time.
1974   Amer. Speech 49 215   We need a term for the study of committees, their structure and functioning. How about commitology?

And the (entirely straight-faced) Wikipedia article suggests that even the OED's gloss is too limited:

Comitology in the European Union refers to a process by which EU law is modified or adjusted and takes place within "comitology committees" chaired by the European Commission. Comitology committees are part of the EU's broader system of committees that assist in the making, adoption, and implementation of EU laws.

Anyhow, although the misused-terminology memo seems a bit fussy in spots, it includes many lovely quotations:

In case of pigs and poultry, at least 20 % of the feed shall come from the farm unit itself.’

‘The rights of the operators should be guaranteed through a contradictory procedure with its Flag State, the criteria for the listing should be clear, objective and transparent, and the de-listing process when the criteria are not met any longer should also be foreseen.’

‘An alert mechanism that allows competent authorities to warn other Member States of a serious risk caused by an economic operator to the proper and secure functioning of the Single Market.’

‘This proposal for a new basic regulation is justified because there is a need to precise the objectives of the CFP.’

‘Whereas Article 4 (a) of Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1164/89 (3), as last amended by Regulation (EEC) No 2095/93 (4), lays down, inter alia, that the aid is to be granted only in respect of areas harvested, on condition that normal cultivation work has been carried out; whereas, if the aid scheme is to operate properly, a definition should be given of what is meant by harvest, on the one hand, and on the other only those cultivation practices which seek to valorize almost the whole of the product cultivated should be accepted.’

‘An important part of the system is the role played by the Control and Finance Section which has to visa all transactions before they can be authorised.’



  1. Howard Oakley said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    I am not sure how these weird words arose. Like the UN and its agencies, the EU employs a large number of superb translators, who have far better insight into idiomatic use of the languages that they work in.
    My suspicion is that these are created by politicians and bureaucrats whose first language is not English, and who have no interest in using idiomatic English. Indeed many seem to be using Orwell's Newspeak as a model, as the EU seems in so many respects modelled after 1984 itself.

  2. FM said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 10:22 am

    Most of these look like gallicisms.

  3. Vance Maverick said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 10:35 am

    I agree with FM that the model for these is Romance-language usage (I recognize several from Italian). But I don't really see the problem. EU documents are not primarily addressed to a native English-speaking public (compare, say, a tourist brochure). English is in this case a lingua franca, for use among a group of speakers of other languages. Innovation and importation can't be prevented, and why should they be. And the opinion of us native speakers is irrelevant — it's like asking what Cicero would have made of medieval Latin.

  4. Jeffrey Shallit said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 10:50 am

    "Precise" as a verb is pretty common in the vocabulary of French mathematicians giving talks in English.

  5. GeorgeW said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    ". . . words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent’ being a case in point)."

    Coherent? Huh?

  6. Vance Maverick said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    GeorgeW, it's discussed in detail in the linked doc, with an example of the usage "A is coherent with B" where a native English speaker would prefer "consistent". Not a case of outright misusage, but an extended usage that's rare in the Anglosphere.

  7. Lazar said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    I'm not sure about "actor" – the supposedly Eurospeak definition seems common enough to me in Anglosphere social sciences writing, although I wouldn't use it in the cited example. (Things are further muddled, as the author points out, by the use of "player" to refer to acting folk.) While the general thrust of the paper seems valid, I suspect that some of the issues may be as much a matter of specialized or academic usage as of non-native usage.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    Does anyone have any idea why Parkinson spelled it "comitology"? Gallicism?

  9. Brett said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    @Lazar: "Actor" was one of several that seemed fine to me (as an American) as well. The cited use was a poor example, indeed; however, I would normally only worry about using "actor" in relevant sense because it might sound stilted. We hear in the news about "non-state actors" all the time.

    Other words that didn't sound so bad as example of American English included "agent," "budget line," "mission," and "training course." The ways in which the first three of those terms were being used by the European Commission seemed to be borderline; some usages would probably have looked perfectly correct to me, some inelegant, and some flat-out wrong. I was amused by the claimed redundancy of "training course," however, since in American English (unlike British English), we never speak about training as "going for a course" or being "sent on a course." The "training" in "training course" is required for such phrasings.

  10. Rubrick said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    Of the examples you quote, if I were to place bets on one to become widespread in "standard" English, it would be to precise. It seems to fill a real niche. It's certainly common to need or want to make something more precise, and good transitive forms are lacking (precicisify? precisicate?). And alternatives like "sharpen" or "tighten" are, well, imprecise.

  11. G said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    So would that become "precize" in AE?

  12. Justin L. said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

    I've seen "to precise" in a several essays from French undergrads. I generally suggest "to specify" or "to focus" depending on whether it's based on a closed set or not.

    The list is actually a pretty good dictionary of English/Romance false cognates. But I think it's also pretty vague on the distinction between bad English and technical English–for example, "SMS" and "text" are slightly different from a technical perspective with "SMS" referring to a specific implementation of texting. Same with "GSM" and "mobile/cell phone". Also, they seem to imply that no one in the English-speaking world understands "GPS" when that's the standard term in American English and judging by viewing UK shows with my friends, most Americans have no clue what a "SatNav" is.

  13. Lazar said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    @G: No, that would only apply if it involved the Greek ending "-izare". I'd keep the spelling "precise" on the model of "advise".

  14. Ted McClure said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

    @Lazar: Is "precise" pronounced with a "z" sound, like "advise"?

    @Brett: Concerning "training course". I'm hearing the combination less, but in the other direction. In a new position in 2005, I was asked to "give a training". It took me a while to figure out that this means to present a class on a specific subject. I thought it originated with "human-relations-speak", but now I'm not sure. I recently joined the civil service in the U.S., and hear it consistently (or perhaps coherently). In both position I've been supporting teachers (law professors and park rangers) and "a training" is only used for classes for employees, never for presentations by the teachers to students/visitors. In the civil service environment, a "training course" or "course" is a succession of classes grouped as a unit, often presented together. A "training" is usually singular and fulfills some requirement (for example, equal opportunity) or teaches some specific skill (for example, interpreting geology for lay people). But Brett is right–I never hear of anyone here "going for a course".

  15. Piotr Gąsiorowski said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    Préciser is a pretty old Wanderwort (cf. German präzisieren, Polish precyzować), but the weirdest thing about it is a single English attestation from 1475 (in the morality play Mankind, line 833):

    The justyce of God wyll as I wyll, as Hymselfe doth preche:
    Nolo mortem peccatoris, inquit, yff he wyll be redusyble.

    Since it could be expected to rhyme with wreche (two lines earlier), it's often emended to preche or precysely teche, but all the manuscripts have precyse, so who knows?

  16. Piotr Gąsiorowski said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    Oops, I emended it myself. For preche, read precyse

  17. Lazar said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    @Ted McClure: My linguistic intuition tells me it should rhyme with "advise" – that, at least, would make it seem more like a well-established verb and less like a transparent verbing of the non-verb "precise".

    Oh, and in my previous post I should have said that the Greek suffix is "-izein", with "-izare" being the Latinized version. "Precise" is from the Latin verb "precidere".

  18. peter said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    The Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naes, introduced the notion of "precisation" – the act of making an argument more precise – in his 1947 book "En del Elementaere Logiske Emner" (Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, translated into English as, "Communication and Argument: Elements of Applied Semantics", Allen and Unwin, London, 1966). So the idea behind the verb "to precise" something has been around in English awhile. Searching JSTOR for "precisation" yields an English-language paper in the journal Synthese by Laura Grimm entitled, "On the application of the concept of precisation" and published in 1953, for instance.

    English lacks a good antonym for the verb "to abstract". IME computer scientists tend to use "to instantiate", philosophers and theologians "to reify", but neither is adequate for all occasions.

  19. Lane said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    1993 and Maastricht are a red herring – most of this would have preceded Maastricht in the European Community that begat the EU. I know I was hearing "comitology" in the late 1990s in grad school studying European politics, and it was already well-established.

  20. Justin L. said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    @ Peter: What about "concretize"?

  21. Lazar said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    @Justin L: Going strictly by the Latin etymology, I think it could be "concresce". Of course, I was disappointed when people said that Leo DiCaprio's somnolent character was incepting rather than inceiving.

  22. Thomas Widmann said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

    It would be interesting to know whether any of these EU neologisms are used also by native speakers of English working in the EU, in which case I guess they should possibly be added to standard English dictionaries.

  23. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

    Parkinson (who is the author of the famous Law) was certainly being satirical when he wrote that: indeed all the early citations seem to have a satirical tone to them. It would be interesting if this originally satirical term had passed into serious use; but it seems more likely that the serious use has a distinct source, coming from a root in other European languages.

  24. Avinor said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

    There is a lot of good advice in that list about incorrect English usage due to influence from French and other languages.

    But there is also the case where British and general international lingua-franca usage simply differ. SMS and GPS are much more likely to be understood internationally than 'text' and 'satnav'. 'Badge' is a well-known term in the aviation world, for example (probably American in origin). As a non-native speaker, I'm not sure I would have understood the suggested "service pass".

    It is also inevitable that an institution as large as the EU will develop its own terminology/jargon (e.g., 'college', 'third country'). Of course, these will need to be explained to outsiders, but this is a use and not a mis-use of English. This happens in various (native) English-speaking contexts as well. Who would understand the Canadian 'allophone' without explanation?

    Complaining about 'Anglo-Saxon' being used to refer to the English-speaking world in general is like complaining about 'yankee' being used for any American, including southerners. Just a matter of (outside) perspective.

    The author of an EU text will have to decide whether he has 1) an EU-internal audience, 2) a general international one, or 3) one of native speakers in the UK and Ireland. The requirements are very different. I don't see any benefit of imposing distinctively British usage on 1) and 2).

    Where do you stop, should EU texts use pounds, feet, inches, and a 12-hour clock in order not to confuse the poor native speakers? :)

  25. Felix said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    Just as religions should prefer a good separation from state to avoid having the state take them over, it seems English should prefer not becoming the lingua franca of a bureaucracy to avoid having said bureaucracy take it over.

    Too late!

  26. AntC said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

    @Andrew (ntso) all the early citations seem to have a satirical tone to them
    I'm fascinated by the idea that the first appearance of a neologism should be satirical. What does it say about our poor monkey brains' ability to apprehend the satire without having seen a 'straight' usage?
    There's got to be a research project right there!?
    [No surprise that the target of the lampoon should adopt the term straight-face (-laced?). vide The North Korean regime's re-broadcast of U.S. spoofs. vide Blake's great satirical Jerusalem getting adopten as a nationalist anthem.]

  27. G said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    The writer claims that "Cabinet" (in the political sense) is "usually pronounced ‘cabinay’ by English speakers." Must admit I've never heard that! (And a quick review of 'The Thick of It' clips doesn't support the assertion.)

    Among the other rules, the proscriptions against "concerning" (as an alternative to "with regard to") and "in case of" (non-compliance, for example) strike me as peeving. And I've certainly read enough examples of people "defining a policy" that it feels quite natural.

    That recasting sentences that use these phrases often leads to better, less stilted English is another matter.

  28. Ethan said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    @GeorgeW, @Vance Maverick,
    "Coherent" used to mean "in agreement with" is at first blush consistent with its technical meaning in physics. But this interpretation leads to the amusing conclusion that two things described as being coherent are therefore able to interfere with each other.

  29. franzca said,

    May 12, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

    A fascinating EU-ism he doesn't include in his list is "approximation", as in the "approximation of the methods of taxation" to mean harmonization. This is hard-wired into the EU — see the Treaty on European Union at — but nonetheless baffling to anybody else, particularly in the context of tax rates.

    Unlike most of the items in the list, it doesn't seem to be a direct borrowing from other languages — "rapprochement" is used in French, "Angleichung" in German.

  30. Dr. Decay said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 2:53 am

    Yes, Gallicisms. I rapidly scanned the 33 page document, and the vast majority of the examples seem to be direct transplantations of normal (bureaucratic) French phrases and their meanings. "Comitology" was new to me but I immediately thought of the French for "committee", which has no double letters.

  31. Sockatume said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 3:48 am

    Shades of "microspeak".

    I don't know whether that says more about international cooperation or corporate insulation.

  32. Pete said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 4:46 am

    I also came across this document a few weeks ago and found it fascinating. It's a rare example of what you might call "good prescriptivism". When it says such-and-such a word or phrase "doesn't exist in English", it invariably means just that – saying such-and-such will mark you out as a foreigner and people may not understand you.

    How refreshing to see genuinely helpful advice based on real English (and real mistakes), rather than Simon Heffer-style gotchas.

  33. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 6:27 am

    G: the writer is saying that 'cabinet' when used to refer to the private office of a Commissioner is pronounced 'cabinay'. This is distinct from the standard English political use, which is of course pronounced 'cabinet'.

    'In case of non-compliance' seems to me to be correct, since it can be understood as 'if non-compliance takes place'. 'In case of pigs and poultry' seems wrong, though. ('In the case of' would be all right.)

  34. H said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    @Howard: Dammit. The boat carrying the telescreens and Ingsoc and Miniluv must have sunk in the Channel.

    I'm surprised there's no mention subsidarity; a word admittedly borrowed from Catholicism, but nonetheless an overwhelming case of EU dialect (albeit a practice used as rarely as possible).

  35. RP said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    Some of the criticisms people are making of this paper show that not everyone has read its author's introductory remarks. He explains that many EU documents need to be comprehensible to the general public and also that British and Irish English is the most desirable target variety because Britain and Ireland are in the EU, whereas the US isn't. I'm not sure there is a lot to be said for encouraging jargon unnecessarily. Even if all this paper's suggestions are followed, I'm sure the average EU document will still contain plenty of challenges for the general reader. I think there are probably entire institutions that are relatively little known or understood. And there are certainly common examples of EU jargon that aren't included in the paper – for example, "subsidiarity", "qualified majority", "communautaire", "acquis", "non inscrit"… So I don't think people here should be so very worried that EU jargon is going to be abolished. There is no risk of that.

  36. Eorrfu said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    @franzca: wouldn't most educated people understand rapprochement before some other term considering that the only reason I spelled it right was it was in my phone's predictive dictionary.

  37. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    Complaining about 'Anglo-Saxon' being used to refer to the English-speaking world in general is like complaining about 'yankee' being used for any American, including southerners.

    Well, first of all, from the accuracy point of view it would be more like using "yankee" to include both Southerners and Canadians. Anglo-Saxon, in English, just never has been a term for (English + Scottish + Welsh Irish + American + Canadian + Australian) in the way that "yankee", like it or not, is indeed established as a term for "American" in some varrieties of English.

    And then there's a big difference of register. I suggest you probably *would* object to the use of "yankee" in official documents. I think you'd be surprised if the SCOTUS used it as a designation for a certain subset of states, or if a foreign diplomat accredited to the USA used it as to refer to the entire USA except in (spoken) jest. In contrast, the German equivalent of "Anglo-Saxon" (angelsächsisch) is a perfectly normal and acceptable word in formal registers. So, for example, it is commonly used to designate the countries that have common-law legal traditions, or certain common conventiuons in the business world.

    So, people with a German-speaking background who are writing official communications may indeed benefit from the tip that "Anglo-Saxon" in English a) does not suggest to English speakers the meaning they intend it to have and b) is likely to irritate some of their readers.

  38. Bob Ladd said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:26 am

    I agree with the commenters who say that most of these are just gallicisms or (more generally) Romance-isms. In fact, I think the emphasis on the EU and bureaucracy in the comments misses an important point – this is just Euro-English. Obviously, the EU is a rich source of Euro-English, but for the reasons that Vance Maverick cites above, not because bureaucrats or the EU are intrinsically evil or stupid or uncaring. It's just a case of non-native speakers of the lingua franca doing the best they can.

    Non-bureaucratic examples of Euro-English are common. One from linguistics: In papers about "focus" written by non-native speakers, it's not unusual to see the verb focalize, built directly on the French model. One from academia generally: most speakers of other European languages are convinced that the English word for a computer data projector is beamer. (I suspect enough native speakers have now run into this word that it will soon become the native word.) And one from the UK Border Agency, hardly a bastion of EU bureaucracy: the signs at the immigration desks at every airport in Britain say passport control, which is now so common even in native English that it almost sounds normal, but if you think about it, it must come from from the French (German, Italian, etc.) meaning of control. In native English they're checking passports, not controlling them.

  39. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    The entry for jury implies more or less that "jury "in English only means a jury in a court of law. That leaves out the meaning of a panel of judges of a game or competition, and I think it is in this meaning that it has (re-)entered German as a loan word.

    "Panel" is one of those very polysemous words in English that non-native speakers may shy away from using, and therefore I don't find "jury" for a selection panel for a job all that strange, really.

  40. RP said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    Another place where English usage has been influenced by French – and here the terminology is official and unlikely to change – is in the multiplicity of "presidents". People often complain that Europe has too many presidents (President of the Commission, President of the Council, President of the Parliament, and the rotating Presidency held by nation-states). This comes down partly to the fact that the French word "président" has a broader meaning than the English "president". To take the President of the European Parliament, for example, it would have been far better to use one of the following terms – "Presiding Officer", "Chair", "Speaker". Probably too late to change it now, though.

    A good example of this difference in usage is that Italy has various "presidente"s – such as the "Presidente" of the Republic and the "Presidente" of the Council of Ministers (or Chair of the Cabinet). In English it is sensible to reserve the word "President" for the former post and to call the latter "Prime Minister". Describing Enrico Letta as the President of anything is likely to cause misunderstanding among English-speaking readers.

  41. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    I found this very interesting, because I'm a copyeditor for a company that specializes in helping non-native speakers/writers of English prepare scholarly writings for submission or publication. I have seen many of these usages in documents written not only by Europeans but also by Asians and others.

    I will add a couple that don't appear in the "Brief List."

    "Account for" is very commonly used to mean "explain," as in "Section 2 of this paper will account for the research methodology, Section 3 will account for the questionnaire design, and Section 4 will account for the survey findings."

    Along the lines of "planify," "testify' is frequently used to mean "test," as in "Further research is required to testify these findings."

  42. RP said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 8:26 am

    Terms such as "Anglo-Saxon capitalism" are found to some extent in British writing (e.g. ) – though I think probably much less commonly than in French. But if one were writing an official EU document then I think it would be better to avoid it. I suspect most documents need to be fairly formal and reasonably exact.

    Interestingly, Scotland's Herald newspaper has carried an article (by a Scot, I think) calling Britain as a whole (and not just England) an "Anglo-Saxon" country ( ). But it remains doubtful whether it is appropriate for EU officials to use the term "Anglo-Saxon" in this way.

  43. Brett said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    @RP: Despite what you may think, I at least did read the front matter. I didn't say that the author was wrong to include words that were Americanisms (as opposed to calques from foreign languages). It was merely interesting that a number of the usages he mentions are characteristic of native speaker English. Moreover, it's not clear whether the author recognizes which usages are actually American; I doubt he would have included the marginal criticism of "training course" if he were aware that it is standard in the American dialect.

    @Bob Ladd: The example of "beamer" is interesting. I don't know if it will become a native English word, but it certainly seems to be part of standard technical German now. When I was giving a talk at a major German research facility, I had to figure out the controls for the AV equipment in the seminar room. The various buttons (for the lights, screen, etc.) were all labeled in German, and the one for the projector was labeled "beamer." I later discussed the word with several of my hosts, and they all knew already that it (like "handy" for a phone) was not actually an English word.

    You're right about "passport control" too. When I first encountered the term, I noticed that it was odd and decided it must be a calque from French. Yet having seen it so many times now, the oddity of the term "control" had been completely forgotten.

  44. RP said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 9:20 am


    I am not sure if he is objecting to the term "training course" per se or (as I think might be the case) just certain instances of it. I'm not sure if it's common for the word "training" to be necessary (since "course" on its own is often clear), but as a British speaker myself I don't find anything odd or unidiomatic about the phrase "training course".

    However, in the particular example he gives, I think it perhaps sounds slightly odd to include the word "training", since the term "training programme" earlier in the sentence already makes it absolutely clear what kind of course is referred to.

    "The development of a vocational training programme for internal auditors
    in the Commission was completed, including a training course on fraud prevention,
    developed by OLAF107."

  45. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 11:56 am

    I second RP that this is a very useful list to have, since from the outside of the EU institutions it's sometimes hard to guess what is a correct insider word for something and what may just be interference from other languages.

  46. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    For what it's worth, there are many examples of a satirical or humorous usage being taken up straight-faced by the relevant professional community.

    In an unrelated example, I was amused to note recently that among paleontologists, the current technical term for a spiked tail club in dinosaurs is 'thagomizer.' This stems from a 1983 Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson which depicts a class of neolithic students with an instructor pointing to a diagram of a dinosaur, and the caption, "This end we call the thagomizer, after the late Thag Simmons."

    I have no illusions that this term was taken up ignorant of its humor value. Rather, it was simply adopted in good humor and has persisted for the sake of utility, because it is a word that succinctly names a particular feature which the community found useful to describe. Due to the popularity of the comic, it was immediately and widely understood within the paleontological community, and that gave it an edge in adoption over all competing terms.

    A similar process may be at work in the EU committee world. A satirist may have coined a term but the term is adopted by the community, fully cognizant of its origin, because it is a word which that community finds useful.

    Language must in large part be coined by language-using entertainers. Novelists, satirists, comedians, playwrights, cartoonists, etc, who have the attention of the community are in the ideal position to perpetrate and promulgate new coinages in that community.

  47. Belial said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    The better term for this, I think, is EUnglish. "It's English, Jim, but not as we know it!"

  48. Matthew said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Comitology is from comity not committee and as such is reasonable (and not mis-spelt).
    An overreachism by an EU critic perhaps?

  49. Alex Blaze said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

    I hate to say it, but it really does seem like the French bare a disproportionate amount of the blame here. It's probably both language education (they were still refusing to hire real teachers for a lot of English teaching positions, instead paying less than minimum wage to foreigners who wanted to spend a year in France), and the close resemblance a lot of French vocabulary bares to English. "Precise as a verb," for example, won't be picked up by any spell-checkers, and a French person might get away with it enough in spoken English with native speakers that they might actually think that it's grammatical.

  50. Howard Oakley said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

    Ray, if you think that EU committees could possibly manifest humour, you obviously have not spent long enough sitting through EU committee meetings.
    They don't even appreciate jokes about the Englishman, the Frenchman, and the German…

  51. un malpaso said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    @Rubrick, JustinL: I'm on board for the verb-ization of precise. (I would pronounce it with a final /z/ like incise, to help differentiate it from the noun, but that's just my preference.) Let's try to make it a trend. If we get it into corporate meeting rooms, we could have people peeving at it within weeks!

  52. Rubrick said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

    @un malpaso: I think if we want our juggernaut to succeed, and our preferred pronunciation is with /z/, we should just spell it that way: "precize". Whether the emphasis should be on the first or second syllable should, I feel, be left to the user.

    Viva la revolucion!

  53. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    They don't even appreciate jokes about the Englishman, the Frenchman, and the German…

    Those were used up by around 1950.

    Nowadays you could have an Estonian, a Malteser and a Bulgarian, for example.

  54. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 13, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    Verbs in '-cise' from the root meaning 'cut' (e.g. 'circumcise') are always spelt with an s.

  55. Mr Punch said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    President(s) – While it is true that English-speaking countries tend not to have a multiplicity of political presidents, American corporations often do, for various subsidiaries, functional areas or (e.g., in banking) geographic jurisdictions. Even in government, the US has presidents of the national and state senates (and House speakers), although most lower elective bodies have Chairmen (or variants) instead.

  56. RP said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    That's true, Mr Punch. As you perhaps imply, US and British usage tends to diverge here: the equivalent position to a US corporate president is, in the UK, the chairman of the board, while instead of university presidents, the UK normally has vice-chancellors. However, there are a few exceptions, as well as some organisations that do have presidents.

  57. Olof said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    I am particularly amused to see 'reflection group' called out as being puzzling. I recognize it as a very specific term in symmetry theory, and I chuckle at the thought of someone encountering its definition in a dictionary without the proper context, as most of the words in the definition ('group', 'set', 'reflection', 'discrete', 'space' ) have a corresponding technical meaning different from the common sense of these words.

  58. MsH said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

    To me a GPS and a satnav are two different things. A GPS (global positioning system) only tells you where you are, a satnav tells you where to go next. If you install a satnav app on your phone, you must switch on GPS (which the phone already had) for the satnav to work. Otherwise it won't know where you're starting from. My phone has GPS, but no satnav.

    I didn't know that in AE the sense of GPS was extended.

  59. Brett said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

    @MsH: I think in American English, "GPS" has exactly the same meaning you describe. However, the standard expectation is now that a GPS unit will have a navigation function. This was not the case when I bought my first GPS transciever, about a decade ago, but thanks to Moore's Law, it cost of the added functionality seems to have dropped to essentially nil. "Satnav" I have heard, but I don't think it's standard in American English. However, it's meaning is pretty transparent, although I would have guessed it was probably a trade name rather than a generic term.

  60. Ken Westmoreland said,

    May 15, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    Ben, calling a Maltese a Malteser is a sure way of making a Maltese Cross!

    This is the price that native English speakers have to pay for English being a lingua franca, and it's a two-way street, with English infiltrating other languages.

    In Maltese, people use Italian loanwords to translate English terms, which would make no sense in Italian. For example, the British English expression 'industrial action' is rendered as azzjoni industrjali, which in Italian would be vertenza sindacale, not azione industriale Alternatively, in Maltese you can use strajk ('strike')

    The use of the term 'Anglo-Saxon' in other languages to mean 'English-speaking' is usually pejorative, used in the same way as 'neoliberal' is to mean 'free market'.

  61. Ted said,

    May 15, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    Ken, in the US a Maltese (used as a noun) is a small dog. It can be used as an adjective, but only to describe crosses and falcons.

  62. Ken Westmoreland said,

    May 15, 2013 @ 5:08 pm


    As ever, separated by a common language!

  63. George said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 2:56 am

    Re 'beamer', I've heard the term being used by South African native speakers of English. For me (Irish), a 'beemer' is a BMW car.

    Re 'control', I have spent so much time living in a French-speaking environment that I now use 'control' spontaneously, in English, in its French sense. This post suddenly made me realise why my health insurance company started asking me all sorts of probing questions about undeclared pre-exisiting conditions when I submitted a claim for 'melanoma control'. I had just done a check-up on some moles (as Irish people living in the sun really should do from time to time, whatever their state of health). These darn word things actually matter!

    And don't get me started on the whole 'Anglo-Saxon' business. God knows how many hours of my life I wasted back in the days when I naively thought I could change people's language usage by the power of patient explanation.

  64. mollymooly said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 10:47 am


    The writer claims that "Cabinet" (in the political sense) is "usually pronounced ‘cabinay’ by English speakers." Must admit I've never heard that!

    to expand on the response of Andrew (not the same one), with help from Wikipedia:

    Cabinet (government) is pronounced like Cabinet (furniture), but Cabinet (European Commission) is not.

  65. Jeremy Gardner said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    approximation – eternally grateful. It is going in.

  66. Jeremy Gardner said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    @MsH. satnav. That is my impression – do we want to talk about modems and routers, sticks and dongles too?

  67. Jeremy Gardner said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    Just a little PS. Company policy: our declared target readership is the average "interested but non-expert reader who is not necessarily familiar with the detailed EU or audit context in the UK and Ireland". There is no point being answerable to the taxpayer if he/she can't understand you and people in other member countries have their own versions.

  68. Francois Lang said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

    "Planification" is definitely a mainstream French word, and a nominalization of "planfier", which means simply to plan or to make plans.

  69. jeremy gardner said,

    May 16, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

    @bob ladd
    From OED, definition of control:

    [with modifier] the place from which a system or activity is directed or where a particular item is verified:passport control

  70. Nick Lamb said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    If a document will, by the nature of the method by which it's created, contain jargon, and yet it is intended that the document should be understandable (even if rarely read) by the layman, such as a journalist – then a good solution is to automatically include an appendix which defines the jargon. We can assume that it's relatively harmless to accidentally provide a definition for a piece of jargon when, in fact, the document uses that word only in its common sense, so we can just search the document for our list of jargon words and include the possibly relevant definitions without worrying too much about false positives.

    For example in a report on a ferry accident the automatic system can see the word "port" is used, and automatically insert a definition which explains "port" and "starboard". In the event that the report actually uses the word port only to mean "a town next to the sea" no fluent English user will be confused by the unnecessary definition. Likewise if a report on some incident involving computer networks mentions the word "switch" we can automatically provide a definition which explains what a network switch actually is, and if in fact the report only mentions light switches and toggle switches there's no harm done.

  71. Jeremy Gardner said,

    May 17, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    I try to distinguish between 'jargon' and 'wrong'. Admittedly it is a fine line. Furthermore, we are not aiming at journalists at all. For jargon, I provide the appropriate advice (at least I do in the latest versions), for 'wrong', I propose 'right'. Most of the terms fall into the latter category.

  72. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 24, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    God knows how many hours of my life I wasted back in the days when I naively thought I could change people's language usage by the power of patient explanation.

    I don't entertain illusions of being able to influence general usage. But I can cover things like this (if there's a risk of irritating people or being misunderstood) in my notes to clients and then it's their business if they want to stick with it. As an editor or translator, I just want to make sure I've done my job to advise people on anything relevant to their message.

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