Change

I attach a picture, taken yesterday in the arrivals hall at Gatwick, of a collection box inviting passers-by to donate their spare change to a charity (there are actually a few such boxes scattered around the airport). In all the languages that I have any knowledge of, the word they've used to translate change is an abstract noun meaning 'modification' or 'transformation' and has nothing to do with small sums of money. Most of the words they've chosen (like German Veränderung) can't even refer to 'exchange' in the sense of changing one currency into another, though the Romanian comes close, and from Italian they have both cambio (which does mean 'currency exchange') and cambiamento (which doesn't). I can't vouch for the non-European writing systems, but presumably LL readers can help.

1. Antonio L. Banderas said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:04 am

No Jap'nese thou.

2. Tal Cohen said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:18 am

The Hebrew word they're showing means "transformation" (nothing to do with money), and… each letter is mirror imaged (not the word as a whole, though).

3. Ellen K. said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:21 am

"Cambio" is probably meant as Spanish, and is actually the correct word in Spanish. Spanish does use the word for both meanings (as well as exchange rate). And it does seems strange to me that Spanish, like English, uses the same word for both, even though those are the only languages I speak.

4. Ronald Kyrmse said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:23 am

The Hebrew says שינוי (modification), with the added twist that (though correctly spelled right to left) each single letter is mirrored!
The correct word would be החלפ.

5. Victor Mair said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:34 am

What we really need to be eliciting from Language Log readers are words for "loose / spare change". I suspect that is not such an easy task for many languages.

6. Dick Margulis said,

July 1, 2019 @ 9:40 am

Cue the joke about the Buddhist monk at a sidewalk hot dog cart in New York.

Monk: "Make me one with everything."

22. Shirley Steele said,

July 1, 2019 @ 11:58 am

About the Hebrew script (aside from the semantics issue): I've had the character-mirroring problem with Hebrew script that I use in my artwork. Although the script is correct when I write my graphics program (the programming language is Processing), when I convert the file to PDF for output, PDF unhelpfully flips each letter. It does the same to Urdu, though not Punjabi, Tamil, Korean, Chinese, or any of the other scripts that I've used. My hypothesis is that PDF somehow can't handle the right-to-left scripts. For those, I have to convert my graphics file to jpeg for output. Jpeg seems ok with it.

23. Ben Zimmer said,

July 1, 2019 @ 11:58 am

The Arabic, تغيير taghyir, means "change" as in "transformation," but surprisingly it doesn't exhibit the same character-flipping as the Hebrew. (See my post "Language is messy, part 2: Arabic script in 'Arrival'" for examples of that all-too-common phenomenon.)

I believe the correct Arabic term for "(small) change" would be فكة fakkah.

24. RP said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:04 pm

"The French should read 'monnaie'… although as for the one word having the two meanings discussed here, it's worth noting that a money-changing place (for bills / billets) is called 'un bureau de change'. "

It's called that in English too, in my experience… although I suppose a non-French-speaker couldn't confidently assume that was the French name for it (it could have been an English coinage like "nom de plume" – perhaps this was why Bush Jr wasn't sure whether "entrepreneur" was the French word for "entrepreneur" – it makes sense if you think about it, since the word could have been coined in English from French elements, or the English word could have developed a different meaning from the French original).

25. efnenu said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:10 pm

The appropriate German word would be ›Wechselgeld‹. ›Kleingeld‹ basically means coins, sometimes specifically the lower-value ones.

26. efnenu said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:13 pm

– I just now realized what the exact context is, sorry. J. Buchholz is absolutely right!

27. Gianluca said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:19 pm

Italian – yes, everybody would understand ‘cambio’ as ‘(money) exchange’ even though the extended form would be ‘cambiavalute’, or ‘currency exchange’.
As per other languages, ‘cambiamento’ means ‘transformation’ or ‘variation’, the act of changing: nobody would use for money exchange.

28. Gianluca said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:22 pm

Regarding the meaning ‘spare change’, ‘cambio’ would still be understood, but not universally. As in French, we’d rather use ‘monete’ (‘monnaie’, ‘money’) or ‘spiccioli’ (‘spare changes’, ‘dimes’).

29. Bart said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:27 pm

To add to the confusion not all the Geld in there is exactly klein. There's a 100-euro note.

30. Sergey said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:45 pm

The funniest translation of the word "change" in the meaning "transformation" I've seen was the translation to Russian as "измена" – "betrayal". Way in 2008 one of the Obama fans produced a series of posters with translation of "Change we can believe in" to a multitude of languages (I suppose, using the machine translation). His Russian version had read "Измене мы можем верить внутри", a not-really-grammatical phrase meaning approximately "Inside we can believe in a betrayal".

31. Andreas Johansson said,

July 1, 2019 @ 12:53 pm

In Swedish, small change is småpengar, lit. "little monies", or växel, which latter has a range of meanings, but "change" isn't among them. The related verb växla can mean "(to) change" however, apparently on the notion of changing gears (växel also means "gear").

"Change" in the transformation sense is förändring.

(This is obviously all quite close to German.)

32. Tobias said,

July 1, 2019 @ 1:14 pm

Agree with J. Buchholz that in German it should be “Kleingeld” — although the 100 Euro note in the picture wouldn’t exactly be “klein”.

Curiously, they also depict a 10 Deutschmark note which 20 years ago when it was still valid also wouldn’t be small change.

Are there other currencies on there which don’t exist any longer?

33. Keith said,

July 1, 2019 @ 1:20 pm

I just took a look at the Greek… "αλλαγι" also seems to be about transformation. Wiktionary gives two example phrases.
Έκανε μια αλλαγή στις ρυθμίσεις. ― He made a change to the settings
Η αλλαγή στη συμπεριφορά του ήταν απροσδόκητη. ― The change in behaviour was not expected

Clearly related to modern technical English words like "allele", "allotrope", etc.

"Ψιλά" looks like a more suitable word.

34. Scott P. said,

July 1, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

"BTW, in Germany and several other European countries where "the bill is always service compris", it's nevertheless customary, in places where the server comes round to collect what you owe, to round up the bill to an even number of euros or whatever the relevant currency is."

The German word I have seen for that is "Trinkgeld"

35. Peter B. Golden said,

July 1, 2019 @ 3:20 pm

Russ. мелочь is "small change"

36. BasJ said,

July 1, 2019 @ 3:22 pm

I wonder why "verandering" is on there twice. One's of course Dutch, but is the same word used in a different (Germanic?) language as well? Or are the Netherlands and Flanders both represented here?

The Polish "zmiana" only has the transformation meaning like most other languages on the sign. It appears fairly often in the media these days with the current government calling their programme "dobra zmiana" (good change). The correct word would be "drobne" (small), with either "monety" (coins) or "pieniądze" (money) implied, I guess.

37. Gregory Bryce said,

July 1, 2019 @ 3:43 pm

Laura Morland,
I typed "May I have my change in coins?" into Google Translate and for French was given, "Puis-je avoir ma monnaie en pièces?"

I had the impression that monnaie itself was the general term for coins in Canada, though I recognize pièces as well.

The problem is more than the fact that (1) exchanging one currency into another could be called "changing one's currency" in English, though "currency exchange" sounds more normal to me..

It can mean (2) to break a larger denomination into smaller denominations, though I would usually use "break."
"Can you (ex)change a toonie [2 dollar coin in Canada] for/into loonies [1 dollar coin]?"

It can also mean (3) the difference between the price and the currency proffered, as in the joke.

And it can mean simply (4) loose coins. Would Canadian French have different words for all of these?

38. Victor Mair said,

July 1, 2019 @ 4:20 pm

"verandering" is on there twice, then there's also "veränderung"; none of the three has an initial capital

39. Sameer ud Dowla Khan said,

July 1, 2019 @ 5:55 pm

The word परिवर्तन (in Devanagari script) represents a Sanskritic word borrowed into many modern Indo-Aryan languages for the more abstract meaning of 'transformation' or 'revolution'. For example:

*Hindi परिवर्तन /pəɾiʋəɾt̪ən/: change; alteration; variation; interchange
*Marathi परिवर्त्त /pəriwərt̪ːə/ or परिवर्त्तन /pəriwərt̪ːən/: revolving, revolution
*Nepali परिबर्तन /pʌribʌrt̪ʌn/ or परिवर्तन /pʌriwʌrt̪ʌn/: revolution; transformation; change, novelty; improvement

And in closely related languages with non-Devanagari scripts:

*Assamese পৰিবৰ্ত্তন /pɔɹibɔɹtːɔn/: the act of making the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone
*Bengali পরিবর্তন /poɹibɔɹt̪on/: exchange; barter; change; alteration; modification; transformation; a change in circumstances; metamorphosis; conversion; rotation…
*Gujarati પરિવર્તન /pəriʋərt̪ən/: a change
*Oriya ପରିବର୍ତ /pɔribɔrt̪ɔ/: exchange, barter; another condition, change; the end of a yuga; a thing given in exchange; the end of the world; revolving, revolution of a planet…

In none of these languages does it seem that the meaning of 'coins (in exchange)' or 'small sum of money' is included as a possible translation. That more specific, concrete meaning is translated in these languages with words roughly meaning 'broken', 'ground (up)', or 'particle'.

From 'break':
*Bengali ভাংতি /bʱaŋt̪i/ or ভাংটা /bʱaŋʈa/
*Oriya ଭଙ୍ଗାଣିଆ /bʱɔŋɡaɳia/
*Punjabi ਭਨੱ /pə́nː/ or ਭਾਣ /pɑ́ɳ/

From 'ground to dust':
*Gujarati પરચુરણ /pərtʃurəɳ/ (also 'petty, miscellaneous')
*Sindhi پَرْچۇڻِ /pərtʃuɳɪ/

From Persian خرده /xʊrdə/ (modern /xorde/) 'bit, particle':
*Marathi खुर्दा /kʰurd̪a/
*Sindhi خُرْدو /xʊrd̪u/
*Urdu خرده /xʊɾd̪ɑ/

From other sources:
*Assamese খুচুৰা /kʰusuɹa/
*Bengali খুচরা /kʰutɕɹa/ (also 'retail')
*Hindi छुट्टा /tʃʰʊʈːɑ/ (<'loosened, let free') or चिल्लर /tʃɪlːəɾ/
*Marathi मोड /moɖ/ (<another root for 'break')
*Nepali चानचुन /tsantsun/ (also 'approximately')

None of these are related to .

40. Cynthia said,

July 1, 2019 @ 6:06 pm

In (Brazilian) Portuguese:
“Mudança” (used in the sign) means change only in the sense of transformation. It can also mean moving (to a different house).
“Câmbio” means exchange (just in the sense of foreign currency) or a car’s transmission (because it changes gears).
“Troco” is the change you get when you pay for something with a bill larger than the amount you’re paying for. Literally its meaning is close to switch.
I think the closest thing to small change is “trocado”, which can also mean exact change (when you don’t need “troco”).

41. ycx said,

July 1, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

The Chinese 变更(biàngēng) is unsurprisingly every bit like the other languages already discussed.

It has the bonus interesting fact that both of these individual characters have the meaning of "change/transformation". See

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%8F%98#Chinese

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%9B%B4#Chinese

42. Stephen Hart said,

July 1, 2019 @ 6:21 pm

"donate their spare change to a charity"

What charity? Did I miss something, or is there no indication in the photo of who gets the money?

43. John Swindle said,

July 1, 2019 @ 6:51 pm

Modern Standard Mandarin for "change" in the sense of "loose change" might be língqián 零钱/零錢.

44. John Swindle said,

July 1, 2019 @ 7:07 pm

I suspect the words "verandering" and "verandering" represent Dutch and Afrikaans, respectively, because if they were the other way around they'd represent Flemish and Dutch. There's a French saying.

45. Francisco said,

July 1, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

Small change is "trocos" in Portuguese, but it would sound a bit pejorative in context. "Donativos" would be more dignified and idiomatic. "Mudança" is completely unsuitable, even in the sense of money exchange.

46. Daniel Hill said,

July 1, 2019 @ 8:23 pm

My Lebanese wife says that the Arabic (top right of the image – there's another word in Arabic script which she suspects is Farsi) translation – taghyeer – means something like exchange or transform. The correct word for small cash, at least in the Lebanese vernacular, would be frata.

In Australia we often refer to a collection of coins (very common since our smallest note is \$5) as "shrapnel". Also, Qantas call their version of this program "change for good" which supports the suggestion that the pun is intended…

47. Athanassios Protopapas said,

July 2, 2019 @ 5:45 am

Unsurprisingly, the (correctly spelled) Greek word "αλλαγή" also means alteration/modification and cannot be used to mean either small change/coins (ψιλά, κέρματα), return of excess payment (ρέστα), or currency exchange (συνάλλαγμα).

48. cliff arroyo said,

July 2, 2019 @ 7:04 am

It's been pointed out that the Polish word zmiana is only used in the sense of 'transformation'.
Since this was described as being in an airport with pictures of different types of money my first thought was that it should be "wymiana walut" (currency exchange though the place where currency is exchanged is called "kantor"). While small (or pocket) change would be "drobne" the money you get back while paying by cash is another word 'reszta'.
Stores in Poland are notorious for being short of petty cash and they'll always ask if you have drobne so they wont' have to give as much reszta back…

49. Ralph Hickok said,

July 2, 2019 @ 7:30 am

To me, "loose change" means coins. I keep currency in my wallet and coins in my pocket, as I suspect most people (at least most males) do.

50. Rose Eneri said,

July 2, 2019 @ 9:00 am

This conversation reminds me of one of the simplest and coolest ways to get people's loose change. There was (still is?) a device in a shopping mall in the far NE of Philadelphia, PA (either Neshaminy or Oxford Valley Mall).

The devise was about 6 feet (2 meters) around and 4 feet high. It was formed of smooth plastic in the shape of a wide cone with a small hole at the bottom. A person placed a coin standing on its edge in a slot at the top of the cone and the coin rolled around the perimeter of the cone. The coin gained speed as it rolled around the cone and slowly descended down the walls toward the hole at the bottom. By the time the coin got to the bottom of the cone, it was travelling VERY fast around the more narrow part of the cone. It was really fun to watch as it demonstrated principles of momentum, gravity, etc.

I put many a coin down this "gravity well/black hole" and enjoyed it every time, although I think the devise was installed for profit, not for charity.

51. Robert L Greene said,

July 2, 2019 @ 9:59 am

Same deal as an old post I did about sign reading "welcome" very badly in about 10 languages – in fact, the diversity of ways they got it wrong was even more interesting than here, for those of you who are connoisseurs of this kind of screwup.

https://www.economist.com/johnson/2013/07/01/mottakelse-to-new-york

52. Terry Hunt said,

July 2, 2019 @ 10:21 am

@ Rose Eneri: these devices (usually a little smaller) were until recently popular in UK Charity shops (Thrift stores), where one usually saw small children begging their parent for coins to put in them. To my perception they were/are rarely used by adults on their own account, and I suspect are falling out of favour because of their low return on the space they take up.

53. Peter Taylor said,

July 2, 2019 @ 1:26 pm

What we really need to be eliciting from Language Log readers are words for "loose / spare change".

The two main options in es-ES are metralla (shrapnel) and chatarra (scrap metal).

54. Philip Taylor said,

July 2, 2019 @ 2:36 pm

Robert L Greene's post regarding a sign reading "welcome" very badly in about 10 languages prompts me to ask if those more knowledgeable than I can identify any problems with the multilingual "welcome" sign that I designed and typeset for my wife's hotel in Cornwall.

Just in case the embedded link does not work, the link in plain text is http://the.westberryhotel.com/images/Involute-002.pdf

55. Joke Kalisvaart said,

July 2, 2019 @ 2:40 pm

As in German, there are two possible words in Dutch: 'wisselgeld' for the money you get back after a transaction or 'kleingeld' for random small coins.
I'm not sure what's best in this context, but 'verandering' certainly isn't.

56. John Swindle said,

July 2, 2019 @ 7:55 pm

@Phillip Taylor: "Aloha" is a friendly greeting and should be fine. "Welcome" signs in Hawaii often say "E komo mai." For discussion search for "e komo mai or e kipa mai?"

July 3, 2019 @ 12:42 am

@Philip Taylor: Very impressive. My impression is that "Welcome" signs in Romanian and Catalan generally use the plural forms ("bine aţi venit" and "benvinguts" respectively), just like the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Sardinian forms you've used, but I don't think anyone would say the singular forms on your sign are incorrect. They're certainly not in the same Lost In Translation league as R L Greene's sign, or the Gatwick "change" box.

58. Philip Taylor said,

July 3, 2019 @ 6:43 am

My very sincere thanks to John Swindle and Bob Ladd for their kind suggestions for improvements to the "Welcome" involute, and (in advance) to any who may make suggestions in the future. In the meantime I have replaced the PDF at the above-cited URL as the previous version, I suddenly realised, was not the most recent version (i.e., not the one actually displayed as a large (circa 1m square) Dibond print in the hotel reception area. Lest anyone be concerned that the central mandala image has been "stolen", we own the original, which we purchased at
Swayambhunath on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

59. Rodger C said,

July 3, 2019 @ 8:40 am

Truffaut's L'argent de poche, whose protagonist is a boy of about twelve, was rendered in English as Small Change. A neat pun, if you've seen the film.

60. Jonathan Smith said,

July 3, 2019 @ 12:42 pm

@Philip Taylor For what it's worth, certain visitors will note the lack of a traditional Chinese character version — here you wind up making a political statement any which way you slice it unfortunately. You could also consider the fuller 歡迎光臨 / 欢迎光临 which strikes me as more likely for such a context in the Sinosphere…

Come to think of it if you want a single "Chinese" greeting you could mix the two sets to give something like 歡迎光临, annoying everyone :D

61. Example said,

July 3, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

But if it said small money correctly in all the languages, isn’t there a high chance people will mistake it for a machine that gives small change from larger notes and then be upset when their large notes are gone? Seems like writing “small money” on the box is exactly what they *shouldn’t* do – especially if they’re not able to write further instructions in all languages… Transformation is the much safer option.

62. Philip Taylor said,

July 3, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

Thank you for pointing that out, Jonathan. I thought that I had used the traditional form (as a point of principle) but I see that the linked PDF uses the simplified. I then re-compiled from scratch and found that the generated PDF does indeed have traditional hanzi, so it looks as if I may still have uploaded an out-of-date version — I shall check the Dibond carefully when I go into the hotel tomorrow. Perhaps in a future version I will use both traditional and simplified, but not combined !

63. Philip Taylor said,

July 4, 2019 @ 2:06 am

(Update). Confirmed —the second version of Involute-002.pdf was also not the final version. I have replaced it once again, and the latest version definitely uses traditional characters rather than simplified.

64. Keith said,

July 4, 2019 @ 3:57 am

@Philip Taylor

Very impressive.

I have just one little niggle: there's a tilde missing between the (Ancient?) Greek "Ἀσπαζόμενα" and the following (Kazakh?) "Қош келдіӈіз".

65. Philip Taylor said,

July 4, 2019 @ 7:51 am

Thank you Keith — 'twill be corrected in the next iteration, D.v./insha'Allah. The source currently reads (in part) :

Sveiki atvykę ~ % Lithuanian
Ἀσπαζόμεθα % Greek (Ancient)
Қош келдіңіз ~ % Kazakh

so there is definitely an accidental omission of a tilde in the Greek.

66. James Wimberley said,

July 4, 2019 @ 9:21 am

I suppose there are travellers for whom a 100-euro note (in the images at the bottom of the sign) counts as spare change, but they can't be many.

67. Frank L Chance said,

July 4, 2019 @ 3:03 pm

The Chinese might be taken in Japanese with yet another meaning of change, i.e. to change planes or flights. The proper term for pocket change would be kozeni 小銭, quite literally small coins. Based on the other words on the sign, however, I would have expected them to come up with ryōgae 両替, to exchange one currency for another, also used when changing a large bill (e.g. ¥10000) into small ones (e.g. ten ¥1000 bills).

68. JIA said,

July 5, 2019 @ 1:38 am

The Chinese translation is wrong. For small sums of money, it should be 零钱 in Chinese.

69. Moonfriend said,

July 5, 2019 @ 9:25 pm

For completeness, the Persian word /tabdili/ also conveys transformation.

70. Bruce said,

July 7, 2019 @ 2:57 am

Philip wrote

"Lest anyone be concerned that the central mandala image has been "stolen", we own the original, which we purchased at Swayambhunath on the outskirts of Kathmandu"

Well, did you purchase the physical instantation, or also the intellectual property rights including reproduction in alternate formats? If I were you I would check the end-user licensing agreement that you agreed to, especially the clauses around alteration and adaptation.

71. Philip Taylor said,

July 7, 2019 @ 3:01 am

Bruce. Thank you for your question. There was no end-user licencing agreement; we purchased the work of art outright.

72. Bruce Lin said,

July 7, 2019 @ 3:02 am

I quite enjoyed the knowledgeable commentary and amusing remarks in the thread. Thank you to all commenters!

It seems the charity in question is possibly the Air Ambulance of Kent Surrey and Sussex, one of Gatwick's three charity partners in the current two year charity contract term.

Donations are equivalent to £80,000 a year so perhaps there are indeed a few 100-Euro notes in there.
https://www.aakss.org.uk/news/news-hub/news/1131/gatwick+airport+passengers+raise+%26pound%3B20%2C000

Which makes it economically attractive to steal the plastic change containers:
https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/31/someone-stole-gatwick-airport-charity-globe-foreign-currency-7275419/

73. Bob Myers said,

July 7, 2019 @ 11:43 am

No, 変更 in Japanese does not mean to change flights, which would be 乗り換え.

74. Andrew Usher said,

July 7, 2019 @ 11:26 pm

Bruce and Philip:
But does purchasing an artwork automatically include rights to reproduce and adapt it? Not that you'd get into trouble for this one, but I think those are often considered to remain with the author in the absence of explicit agreement.

75. Philip Taylor said,

July 8, 2019 @ 2:32 am

A fair question, Andrew, and not one that I had previously considered. I suspect that the issue is further coloured by the fact that the mandala embedded in the involute is not, of course, a copy of the original, but a copy of a photograph which I took (in natural light) of the original after purchase. So it would seem to me (who has no legal training whatsoever) that there are two separate questions : (1) is it legal for me to make a photograph of a piece of art that I own ? And (2) can I then legally incorporate an instance of that photograph into works of art of my own ? (I am regarding the "Welcome" involute as a work of art — I think that it legitimately qualifies as such). Unfortunately I have lost the contact address of the art dealer in the temple complex from whom I purchased the mandala, otherwise I would write to seek clarification.

Incidentally, since asking for comments on the original involute I have generated a further iteration including all corrections/suggestions o far made, adding a further tranche of languages (there are now 175), and moving a few around so that there should now be no location where two "exotic" scripts occur juxtaposed (that is, each instance of an exotic script should now be horizontally separated from any other instance by at least one instance of a Latin-based script). The new version is at http://westberryhotel.com/images/Involute-003.pdf

76. Bloix said,

July 11, 2019 @ 8:59 pm

In a 2017 photo of a currency exchange booth at Ben Gurion Airport, here https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/israel-news/1298835/ben-gurion-airport-money-changer-police-custody.html
we can see the English "Exchange" in large letters,
and in smaller letters behind the workers at the counter, we can just make out the Hebrew – which is the noun permutation of the verb that Ronald gave: החלפה