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Beamer, Dressman, Bodybag
Alexander Wells
19 April 2023
published in Issue Three

On the unexpected joys of Denglisch, Berlinglish & global Englisch

Whenever I leave my Berlin apartment, the first thing I see is a sign saying CHICKEN HAUS BURGER; the second is a café blackboard announcing: « You can’t buy happiness but you can buy CROIFFLE and that’s kind of the same thing. » A billboard advertises an upcoming film as « ein STATEMENT für GIRLPOWER »; one shop promises a wide range of Funsocken. Rather more disturbing — particularly here in Neukölln, a neighbourhood copiously populated by leftie Americans and families from the Middle East — is the Arabic-German barber shop called WHITE BOSS. And when I go downtown to the bookstore where I occasionally host readings, the only good coffee nearby is served by a place unbelievably named PURE ORIGINS.

I am at my desk, red pen in hand, mulling over a question of usage. The German word for pedestrians is Fußgänger. Do Berlin expats know that? Have I ever overheard one say it? If the expats won’t understand it, I can’t leave it in this little news feature about traffic reform.

It’s a strange gig, editing pages for Berlin’s English-language print monthly. We assume our readers know a few German phrases — many have lived here for years — but we cannot assume fluency, obviously, otherwise we’d be publishing in German, or indeed not at all. Using bits of local language in our pages avoids repetition and adds colour; it also helps generate a sense of community — this isn’t just some anglo mag, it’s a mag for Berliners, auf Englisch. It’s a rather ironic way for me to pay the bills. I did German history at university; I moved here to inhabit the land of Goethe, Neu! and Judith Schalansky. And here I am now, making my living — as an editor, occasional translator, anglophone critic of German literature — in the cracks between the languages, materially reliant on the existence of thousands of Berliners and Berlin-watchers who don’t speak the national tongue.

Which is not to say that Berlin’s English-language readers — the natively anglophones plus many whose first language is Swedish, Spanish, Turkish or Arabic — do not know German at all. The Berlinglish they speak is informal English, slightly simplified, full of swears, nightlife slang and loan words — mostly adopted from German. Knowing the contours of this dialect is no small part of my editing work. Taken together, its German-to-English loans register all the points of cultural interface that an expat life simply cannot avoid — Rundfunk, Finanzamt, Anmeldung — as well as some that have made it across on account of their own attractive promises: Spätkauf, Flohmarkt, Falafelteller, Wegbier.

The English spoken by those newcomers who settle here and end up making some German friends and studying the language — it also absorbs subtler influences from German. The other day my friend S., an American Berliner, said that he had noticed his English-language social circle starting to use the word « spontaneously » wrong. When Germans say they’ll organise a social event spontan, they mean they’ll work out the details at short notice. To socialise spontaneously, in English, means something rather different. But S. and I and our Neukölln friends have started using it in the sense of spontan. « OK cool text me Sunday and we’ll choose a place spontaneously. » This error is becoming part of our little language, our ultra-local dialect, just among us.

« OK cool text me Sunday and we’ll choose a place spontaneously. »

Of course, like anywhere else, it’s the movement of language in the other direction that tends to raise hackles. Recently a share-flat ad went viral for demanding that anyone who moves in must use anglicism-free German. The conservative former health minister, Jens Spahn, hit the headlines complaining that there were cafés in Berlin where you could not order without knowing English. When I first arrived in Germany, I too was cranky about Denglisch, complaining to any German I could find about both Anglizismen and the refusal of certain expats to try learning the language. I was determined for them to understand how different I was from those other foreigners, ruining their city and language.

I have since stopped taking Denglisch so seriously. In the highly multicultural, highly Jens Spahn-baiting district of Neukölln, Denglisch has even begun to feel normal, until the moments when it doesn’t. Anytime a language shifts its borders, japesters and salespeople rush into that new space. German social media loves to mock awful Denglisch marketing attempts: « Law is in the air », announced one otherwise German legal academy ad. But when the bilingual puns are good, they’re good — and enhanced by the thrill of belonging. I love this one billboard ad for classic indie radio that reads Everybody hörts (« everyone listens to it »), and I love it not only because I like the pun, but because I feel a surge of pride that I’m in on the joke, that maybe I do really speak German. This is exactly the effect that they’re going for, I suppose, just flipped 180 degrees.

I can certainly understand the novelty factor. Growing up in Australia, I took to learning German with inexplicable vigor. There was no particular reason, personal or geopolitical, to do so. My friends from football said it was easy, and then I liked the teacher, and then I liked the language. Nobody in my family had a foreign language; nobody I knew, except my teacher, spoke German. I read a quote dubiously attributed to Charlemagne: « to learn another language is to possess a second soul. » Generally an inhibited person, I was able to open up in oral exams — perhaps I lacked the linguistic guile to dodge difficult questions. I watched music videos online, endangering my otherwise closely guarded indie credentials by enjoying some genuinely silly German pop. Doing so in a foreign language meant a curious alchemy took place: I was incapable of finding anything kitsch. Cologne-area dad rock, no problem. When the YouTube algorithm forced soap opera heartthrob Jörn Schlönvoigt’s attempted pop crossover Das Gegenteil von Liebe on me, I slurped it right down. I even took a liking to Germany’s premier comedy a cappella group, an aging quintet by the name of Wise Guys.

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a harbinger of linguistic doom with a cute ironic twist?

Recently I pulled up Wise Guys again because I remembered they had a song called Denglish — poor bastards, I thought, worrying back in 2006 with no idea of how anglicised their world would become. It’s a cheeky little number that sends up both Denglisch’s faux trendiness and the heavy-handed backlash against it. (One line goes: « Und gib, dass Microsoft bald wieder ‘Kleinweich’ heißt. ») I thought it would be perfect for this essay — a harbinger of linguistic doom with a cute ironic twist. But when I listened it through, I found that their mid-2000s anglicisms were mostly stale now, and rarely ever used at all.

At the moment, German newspapers describe any kind of drama as ein Shitstorm: who knows if that is here to stay. What leads a loan word to travel? Is it the fantasy of foreign places, the thrill of the exotic? Or is it a culture’s perception of its own shortcomings? Preeminent recent anglicisms in contemporary German — words like recycelt, Streamlining, queer, Smash, Gender-Wokismus, cringe, Slay, Sneaker-Release, Content-Manager — hint at a varied and vivid set of contact points.

Being an English native speaker in Berlin means wading daily through a sea of linguistic nonsense. « Be Coffee My Monkey » orders one café; another says « Make Coffee Love Magic ». At one of those cafés you might overhear Germans saying things like « das ist ein Gamechanger! » and « Hast du’s geliket? » and « Oh my God was für ein Fuck-My-Life-Moment ». On bad days, I worry that English has turned primarily into a status symbol — a tool of pure Habitus, a means for young elites to signify their cosmopolitanism and savviness. On days like that, it’s also hard to avoid the feeling that English — the language I inhabit, the tool I use to pay the rent and tell my wife I love her — is like too little butter spread out across too many bits of toast.

In her novel Flights, Olga Tokarczuk wryly marvels that there are countries out there where people have English as a mother tongue. Other Europeans might speak English when they travel, but they always have their own languages tucked away for private use. Anglophones, by contrast, have nothing to fall back on: « How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures — even the buttons in the lift! — are in their private language, » she writes. « Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them — they are accessible to everyone and everything! »

In the battle of the languages, then, this absolute anglophone triumph might be as Pyhrric a victory as a victory can be. Ease of access means seeing the worst of yourself plastered everywhere; it’s a privilege, sure, but a source of embarrassment and solitude as well. If das Grindset is what winning looks like, then count me tired of winning.

« A poor little sausage was I,
When I in German sing, oh my… »


« M(e)y English Song », by Reinhard Mey (1985)

At my local café, they do great coffee, Aussie style. Just imagine my horror when I figured out why. In one of Flights’s airport scenes, Tokarczuk bemoans the horror of encountering your compatriots abroad: Olga mate, try being an Australian in Europe! Nevertheless, in what can only be described as a fearless act of radical anti-neocolonialism, I insist on speaking German when I’m there. So do the baristas. There’s no chance — my accent being as it is — that they haven’t seen through me. My coffee order of choice doesn’t help in that regard. « Hallo, » I say each time, « uh, ein Flat White bitte ». « Ein Flat White, Kuhmilch? » the Aussie barista asks. « Ja, Kuh. » Hearing us both butcher the language of Goethe and Schiller while absolutely nailing the pronunciation of « flat white » would surely leave Jens Spahn begging us to please, please just speak in English. But that, mein lieber Jens, is something that I simply will not do.

On days I don’t spend fretting over the soul of both German and my native tongue, I can find great pleasure in Denglish — in seeing, that is, my own language made camp. (One is tempted, here in the city of Brecht, to speak of « alienation effects ».) It can even be re-enchanting. And sometimes the anglicisers have a point! One would much rather talk of race than Rasse, a word that Germans use for dogs. The fact that baby sounds a million times cuter than Säugling must be a boon for the German parent-child bond. As for Finger Food: Hell yeah, brother! Food for your fingers!

Related as they are, German and English are easily sutured onto one another — but this is a recipe for misunderstanding. I have learned to automatically correct false friends (intensiv means « intense » not « intensive »; a großes Thema is a « big issue » not a « big topic »). Sometimes, slips between the languages dramatically shift the tone. The German word Insel means « island », not « incel », and while I’m very much aware of that, it’s still uncanny to see a shop called COMPUTERINSEL — « I thought they all were, » quipped my wife — or signs pointing to Museuminsel one direction and Fischerinsel the other. (Which way, Western man?) When you are used to encountering « Praxis » in the humanities-grad-school context, it is a thrill to encounter a dental Praxis, or to hear a German say they have Handball Praxis. For anyone who’s spent time in New York, where Yiddish has brought Germanic vocabulary the long way around into English, the German word Schmuck — which means « jewelry » — has substantially different connotations, rendering the sign Schmuckgalerie on Berlin jewelry stores particularly striking.

I like how English loan words jam the rules of German grammar. I once read a discussion thread on a forum where people argued whether fighten — preferred by many German boxing fans, for some reason, over kämpfen — should take the past-participle gefightet, gefighted or gefaughtet. Certain German verbs are separable, which means you split the two parts in some sentence structures or in past-participle form. (Ausbeuten: ausgebeutet.) But do you separate imported English compound words? Once you start saying downloaden for « to download », you have to consider whether the past form is gedownloadet or downgeloadet. More recently I spent fifteen minutes of my only given time on God’s green earth trying to work out whether Queerbaiting would be separable when conjugated.

Du baitest queer.
• Sie baitet queer.
• Niemand hat die Absicht, queerzubaiten.
• O Harry Styles, bitte, baite mich nicht queer!

Linguistically speaking, anglicisms in German take a range of different forms. One kind involves straight loan words: das Hobby, die Ladys. Another is called a calque — an English phrase that has been translated unidiomatically into German. In this case, all the words are still German, but they’ve been bent out of shape. Germans often say das passierte in 2002 not das passierte 2002, an imitation of English grammar. It used to be an error to translate « That makes sense » as Das macht Sinn — but now it’s German.

My favourite kind of anglicism is the Scheinanglizismus. Many languages across the world have these « pseudo-anglicisms », which consist of English phrases that are used in that language but don’t actually make sense in English. An overhead projector is called a Beamer here; a photo shoot is, rather alarmingly, a Shooting. During lockdown, the practice of working from home got dubbed das Homeoffice, much to the bafflement of Berlin’s UK contingent. A male model used to be called a Dressman, in a doublepseudo- anglicism: it’s the English verb « dress » tacked onto the elegant rump of « gentleman ». Best of all were short-lived attempts to market the messenger satchel to Germans as Bodybag.

These phony anglicisms have captured my imagination. My first instinct, upon arriving in Berlin, had been to take a stand against rapacious English in defense of plucky old German. But Bodybag, Beamer and co. have helped me to leave my humourlessly monoglot preconceptions behind. Dressman strikes me less as a point scored by English against German, and more as the construction of a whole new thing. Why consider languages as rivals, after all? You can borrow from one language and not lose your own. And while the specific matter of Denglisch clearly reflects broader inequalities and homogenising processes, it seems to lie downstream of all the really odious stuff. For one thing — unlike wealthy Anglo expats not trying to learn German, which I still think stinks — Denglisch appears to be largely self-inflected. If people here want to alienate their parents by talking about Influencer*innen and Relearning and Management, that seems primarily German-vs-German; if local marketers want to go around calling mobile phone contracts a Handyplan, well, I shan’t feel too guilty for finding that hilarious.

The longer I live between languages, the more I realise that language is roomy; people’s minds, and lives, are roomy. If homogenization has a kryptonite, it is not the closing of borders but the survival of plurality. Here in Berlin, a cosmos of authors make hay in the linguistic collision zones. The Japanese-born novelist and translator Yoko Tawada describes language in botanical terms — in her work, it evolves and grows as if in cracks between the paving. Uljana Wolf’s recent essay collection Etymologisches Gossip is powered by puns, associative threads and philolo-riffs taken from German as well as English. Ulrike Draesner’s poetry sequence Doggerland, meanwhile, recreates that ancient Anglo-Germanic land bridge through a polyphonic mixture of German, English and their shared linguistic ancestors. I went to see her live and it was unforgettably unsettling.

D                 AUSDEUTSCHEN                                       E

spannen     um zu äußern (outer, utter) dass                 stretch
                    stretch etwas (t-hing) ihnen (pleases) gefällt
                    weil es hängt oder eine angel ist (hinge)
                    geben sie viel (leave it) auf

My first taste of English as lingua franca came in 2011 during my first visit to Berlin, the first proper period of time I’d spent in a non-anglophone country. I spent the whole summer in the company of fellow NGO interns and Erasmus students, a big horde of us who came in from all over Europe for two giddy months. We all spoke English together — a specific, trans-European kind of English. I did not even notice it until once, while chatting on the phone to my brother in Australia, I said: « Your mate Ben, he plays very well the guitar, no? »

Misused English in the EU: Aids / Anglo-Saxon / Anti- / Badge / Comitology / Dispose (of)

Global English has been theorised extensively. In 1995, French businessman Jean-Paul Nerrière coined the term « globish » to describe a « decaffeinated » version of English spoken by non-native businesspeople abroad. In the wake of Brexit, a public debate broke out over what it meant for English as a European language — and as an official EU language — now that the UK would not be around to maintain its standards. (A remarkable act of Republic-of-Ireland-erasure, but ah sure look it.) A well-publicised report was released by Jeremy Gardner, former senior translator at the European Court of Auditors, enumerating a list of standard deviations from British English norms common across the continent: an overuse of gerunds (« I am coming from Italy »), understanding « actual » to mean « current » instead of « real », and so on. Some suggested that « Euro English », English without the English, was actually a pidgin.

English, as the American author Leslie Dunton-Downer observes in The English is Coming! (2010), is not just a language with more loan words than « native » ones — it is also a language with more non-native speakers than native ones. My relationship to the language is probably less typical than that of the bloke who named his barber shop WHITE BOSS. Per capita, English now belongs not to me or Mr. Gardner, but to those who’ve gone and learned it. In her collection Hardly War (2016), the currently-Leipzig-based poet Don Mee Choi writes: « I am a foreigner who writes in English / Because English is a foreigner like me. » English as a foreigner: it’s quite an attractive idea. Perhaps being a native speaker of English means learning to be at home in something that everyone else has a claim on — like having grown up in Stratford-upon-Avon or Las Vegas (or, I suppose, East Berlin).

More misused English in the EU: Incite / Global / Note / Of / Sickness Insurance / So-called / Training (a)

I always used to think that lingua franca meant Latin, but I’ve come to learn differently. The original Lingua Franca was no official elite language but instead a pidgin used for trade around the eastern Mediterranean from around the eleventh century throughout the early modern period — or, more accurately, an array of different pidgins, which mixed elements of Latin via Italian with bits of Arabic, Greek, Turkish and other languages. Lingua Franca, as Dunton-Downer notes, was not a « standardized or codified language » but instead a spectrum of dialects that varied according to location, purpose, and time. I wonder if this might be a healthier way to think about English (and German) today. The loan word, the calque, the bilingual pun: they are all signs of a shared set of references. Thanks to international football fandom, I know the phrase cross and inshallah better than most English proverbs. For those of us who grew up with the internet, in Europe and beyond, web culture has generated its own international Kulturnation: an online German 32-year-old and I will both, for better or worse, understand what is meant by « emu lesbian finally milkshake ducked », while neither of our mothers would have a clue. Young Germans’ use of anglicisms is most basically the natural consequence of hanging out online. But just as globalisation renders some things more (superficially) similar, it also generates new kinds of locality. Berlinglish is a sign of having lived here with variously open eyes and ears. It is a minor, local English — an English set up to be shared.

When I edit for the magazine, one German word I never take out — and occasionally add in — is Wahlberliner*in: Berliner by choice. It’s a lovely made-up word for anyone who’s decided to live here without having been born here. Occasionally I feel guilty to include it: I don’t think it really passes the Wegbier-expat editorial usage test. But I like it, sentimental as I am, and perhaps it wouldn’t hurt our readers too much to go look something up for once.

« Denglisch », by Wise Guys (2006)

Oh, Herr bitte gib mir meine Sprache zurück
Ich sehne mich nach Frieden und ’nem kleinen Stückchen Glück
Lass uns noch ein Wort verstehen in dieser schweren Zeit
Öffne unsre Herzen, mach’ die Hirne weit

Ich bin zum Bahnhof gerannt und war a little bit too late
Auf meiner neuen Swatch war’s schon kurz vor after eight
Ich suchte die Toilette, doch ich fand nur ein « McClean »
Ich brauchte noch Connection und ein Ticket nach Berlin
Draußen saßen Kids und hatten Fun mit einem Joint
Ich suchte eine Auskunft, doch es gab nur ’n Service Point
Mein Zug war leider abgefahr’n - das Traveln konnt’ ich knicken
Da wollte ich Hähnchen essen, doch man gab mir nur McChicken

Oh, Herr bitte gib mir meine Sprache zurück
Ich sehne mich nach Frieden und ’nem kleinen Stückchen Glück
Lass uns noch ein Wort verstehen in dieser schweren Zeit
Öffne unsre Herzen, mach’ die Hirne weit

Du versuchst mich upzudaten, doch mein Feedback turned dich ab
Du sagst, dass ich ein Wellness-Weekend dringend nötig hab
Du sagst, ich käm’ mit good Vibrations wieder in den Flow
Du sagst, ich brauche Energy. Und ich denk: « Das sagst du so... »
Statt Nachrichten bekomme ich den Infotainment-Flash
Ich sehne mich nach Bargeld, doch man gibt mir nicht mal Cash
Ich fühl’ mich beim Communicating unsicher wie nie —
Da nützt mir auch kein Bodyguard. Ich brauch Security!

Oh, Lord, bitte gib mir meine Language zurück
Ich sehne mich nach Peace und ’nem kleinen Stückchen Glück
Lass uns noch ein Wort verstehn in dieser schweren Zeit
Öffne unsre Herzen, mach’ die Hirne weit

Ich will, dass beim Coffee-Shop « Kaffeehaus » oben draufsteht
Oder das beim Auto-Crash die « Lufttasche » aufgeht
Und schön wär’s, wenn wir Bodybuilder « Muskel-Mäster » nennen
Und wenn nur noch « Nordisch Geher » durch die Landschaft rennen 

Oh, Lord, please help, denn meine Language macht mir Stress
Ich sehne mich nach Peace und a bit of Happiness
Hilf uns, dass wir understand in dieser schweren Zeit
Open unsre hearts und make die Hirne weit
Oh, Lord, please gib mir meine Language back
Ich krieg hier bald die crisis, man, it has doch keinen Zweck
Let us noch a word verstehen, it goes me on the Geist

Close
« M(e)y English Song », by Reinhard Mey (1985)

I think that I make something wrong,
  I once must make an English song,
    ‘Cause in my radio everyday
      I hear them English music play
        And all the radio people stand
          On songs they cannot understand!

So I sing English now that‘s really animally strong
  And you can hear my English song all day long
    Out your loudspeaker at home or riding in your car
      All over this, our land, wherever you are
        From the SFB to the WDR
          Oh baby, oh yeah

A poor little sausage was I,
  When I in German sing, oh my —
    I could not English, but quite cool,
      I learned it at the Folks High School.
        Now my producer says me: « Well,
          What do we now for records sell! »

So I sing English now that‘s really animally strong
  And you can hear my English song all day long
    Out your loudspeaker at home or riding in your car
      All over this, our land, wherever you are
        From the SFB to the WDR.
          Oh baby, oh yeah

You reach the German music-freak
  Now only if you can English speak,
    And if you will a song outbring,
      You better should it English sing!
        And people flip out, say I you my friend,
          Even if they only railway station understand!

So I sing English now, that‘s really animally strong
  And you can hear my English song all day long
    Out of your loudspeaker at home or riding in your car
      All over this, our land, wherever you are
        From the SFB to the WDR.
          And you can even me
            On TV see:
              Sometimes at ZDF,
                Sometimes on ARD,
                  Oh babe, oh yeah!

Close
Outtakes from Misused English words and expressions in EU publications (2016 edition) by Jeremy Gardner, former Senior Translator at the European Court of Auditors.

Aids

Explanation
The word « aid » is usually uncountable (...) in the meaning covered here (=assistance, which is also uncountable) and should only be used in the singular. With an « -s », it is commonly used to refer to a disease (AIDS) or to devices that help you do something (e.g. « hearing aids » or « teaching aids »). Significantly, of the 3,232 examples of the word « aids » included in the British National Corpus, nearly all those used to mean « assistance » come from EU sources.

Example
« State aids — Decisions to propose appropriate measures pursuant to Article 108(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union where the Member State concerned has accepted those measures ».

Alternatives
Aid, subsidies.

Anglo-Saxon

Explanation
In English, the term « Anglo-Saxon » is generally used to describe a member of any of the West Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) that settled in Britain from the 5th century AD. Also, particularly in America, it is used to denominate white people, usually of the Protestant faith (« WASPS »), thus excluding large swathes of the population of that country. It follows that there is no such thing as an Anglo-Saxon country, or, as in the example below, an Anglo-Saxon agency or Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon language ceased to exist in the 12th century (I am ill-informed about Brussels, but the last known speaker in Luxembourg was St Willibrord, 658739). This term is particularly inapplicable (and, I gather, irritating for those concerned) when used to describe the Irish, Scots and Welsh, who partly base their national identities on not being descended from the Anglo-Saxons (everybody seems to have forgotten about the poor Jutes), and verges on the ridiculous when used to include West Indians or people like the incumbent US president, who, in EU terminology, would be the leader of the Anglo-Saxon world.
Example
« The Anglo-Saxon group of agencies reflect (sic) the previous dominance of Anglo-Saxon capitalism which was not disrupted by two world wars and the specific operational issues relating to Asian economies.»
Alternatives
« English-speaking » when referring to the countries or the people, « British » and « American » (« Australian » or whatever) when referring to agencies, capitalism etc. The term may, however, be used if you are talking about something like the (presumed) « Anglo-Saxon conspiracy » and you will often find it used ironically in this way in the British press (usually in inverted commas). However, it has negative connotations and should be avoided in any serious writing.

Anti-

Explanation
The UK has a fraud office and a serious fraud office. It also has a national crime agency, drug squads and vice squads. In the EU, on the other hand, we have the Scandinavian sounding OLAF (the European Anti Fraud Office), anti-crime policies, anti-drugs trafficking, anti-cyber crime investigation and the like. Have perhaps EU authors and readers been labouring under the misapprehension that the above-mentioned UK bodies are actually involved in perpetrating crime because they have no anti-?

Examples
« A number of actions to meet these threats have been outlined within the framework of the Commission anti-cyber crime policy ».
« For example, the rapid exchange of information between VAT anti-fraud units in different Member States and the development of common risk analysis models were considered by stakeholders as important tools for the early detection of carousel fraud. »

Alternative
You can usually drop the anti-.

Badge (badge, to badge)

Explanation
Although the use of the word « badge » to mean « service pass » seems to have gained currency in the English speaking world, it can still not be used to describe a lunch card or the little tag you use to clock in and out at work. Generally speaking it must be something attached to or worn on your outer clothing. There is also no verb « to badge » in this context, and therefore no « badging ». On a brighter note, the little signs saying « badger » at the Court entrances afford some harmless amusement for English-speaking staff.

Examples
« Until the badging systems have been harmonised (entry and flexi-time), there is a flexitime badge reader in the cafeteria hall ».
« New topping up system for your children’s badge at the European School’

Alternatives
« Tag » for the clocking-in device, and « clock in/out » for the verb. In the school example above, the object is actually a « lunch card ».

Comitology

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. Fortunately, as the quote below shows, the procedure has been abolished. Unfortunately, the term seems to have survived.

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 properly ».

Alternative
The official term is « committee procedure ».

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Dispose (of)

Explanation
The most common meaning of « dispose of » is « to get rid of » or « to throw away »; it never means « to have », « to possess » or « to have in one’s possession ». Thus, the sentence « The managing authority disposes of the data regarding participants » does not mean that it has them available; on the contrary, it means that it throws them away or deletes them. Similarly, the sentence below does not mean: « the Commission may not have independent sources of information », it means that the Commission is not permitted to discard the sources that it has.

Example
« The Commission may not be able to assess the reliability of the data provided by Member States and may not dispose of independent information sources. »

Alternatives
have, possess, xyz is/are not available to [the Commission].

Close
More outtakes from Misused English words and expressions in EU publications (2016 edition) by Jeremy Gardner, former Senior Translator at the European Court of Auditors

Global

Explanation
In English, as in other languages, « global » can mean both « worldwide » and « overall », but sometimes it can be a little confusing in the latter meaning. This became clear when an internal email was sent « to everybody » announcing that there would be « a global power cut ».

Alternatives
If there is any ambiguity, prefer « general » or « overall ».

Incite

Explanation
To incite means to ‘encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behaviour)’ or to ‘urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way’. You cannot therefore, except in some Alice-in-Wonderland parallel universe, incite someone to buy a car, use organic farming techniques or comply with a regulation.

Examples
« Although the slow charging stations have lower unit costs, the relative short ranges of EVs imply that the charging infrastructure needs to initially develop with a sufficient density to incite consumers using [= to use] such vehicles, and thus ensure utilisation rates that lead to a reasonable payback period ».
« Such activities shall not incite consumers to buy a product due to its particular origin. »

Alternative
Encourage.

Note

Explanation
In the EU’s administration, the word « note » (dictionary definition = « a brief letter, usually of an informal nature ») seems to have invaded the semantic fields of both « memo » (« a written communication, as in a business office ») and « letter ». Many of these « notes » are anything but brief, and none of them are informal.

Example
« An information note from Vice-President Kallas and the President, addressed to the College under the title, Review of security policy, implementation and control within the Commission, which covered physical security as well as security of information, was adopted in 2008 ».

Alternatives
Memo, letter.

Of

Explanation
Many of our authors seem unsure of the rules governing English prepositions, possessive constructions and noun-noun compounds. They therefore tend to use « of » as an all-purpose preposition in the place of « from », « by » , « in », « on », « at », etc., giving us « previous reports of the Court » instead of « previous reports by the Court’, « communication of the Commission » instead of « communication (letter?) from the Commission », « EC reports of the projects » instead of « Commission reports on the projects » etc. Moreover, phrases with « of » are often used instead of possessive « -s » constructions or noun-noun compounds (the reports of the Court/the Court’s reports, communications of the Commission/Commission communications). This type of error can lead to ambiguity even where it is not grammatically wrong; for example, in the phrase « the system of control of the Commission’, is the Commission being controlled (audited?) or is it doing the controlling?

Sickness Insurance

Explanation
As the correct term is health insurance, presumably one would take out « sickness insurance » if one wanted to stay in bad health. I am afraid we are stuck with the paradoxical « joint sickness insurance scheme », but the term should be avoided in other contexts.

Example
« A national authority may refuse authorisation to receive treatment in another Member State only if treatment which is the same or equally effective for the patient can be obtained without undue delay from an establishment with which the insured person’s sickness insurance fund has an agreement. »

Alternative
Health insurance.

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So-called

Explanation
This is a risky term to use; although some dictionaries allow the meaning « commonly known as », others, like the Collins dictionary, emphasise that its use casts doubt on the veracity of the term it introduces = « called (in the speaker’s opinion, wrongly) by that name ». In the example below, it implies that the author wishes to cast doubt on the fact that the system is really transitional. Furthermore, to cite the American heritage dictionary, « quotation marks are not used to set off descriptions that follow expressions such as so-called and self-styled, which themselves relieve the writer of responsibility for the attribution ». This use of « so-called » followed by quotation marks is very common in EU texts (second example) and should be avoided.

Examples
« The EESC notes that the so-called transitional system for the application of the minimum standard rate of VAT, set at 15 %, which was adopted back in 1992 and is due to expire on 31 December 2010, needs to be extended ».
« With dimensions of approximately 8,5 × 30 × 23 cm, designed for monitoring the respiratory and anaesthetic gases of a patient under medical treatment (so-called « Gas Analyser Module »).

Alternatives
Often, as in the two examples above, « socalled » is superfluous and the other term can stand alone. In other cases we can say « known as » or « this is called ». Occasionally we may use inverted commas, though here too there is a risk that they will be misinterpreted.

Training (a)

Explanation
This is one of a series of gerunds used creatively but incorrectly as countable nouns (a training, a screening, a prefinancing, a planning), which is not generally possible in English. Training in English is a process (the process of being trained) and it should not be used as a synonym for a « (training) course ».

Examples
« Workers posted by a TC company (its principal place of business is outside the EU/EEA): contract services suppliers; ICT (including for the purpose of a training) »

Alternatives
Course (language course / I am on a course / I am doing a course), workshop (attending a workshop), presentation, talk, etc.

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