- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 19/08/2011
- False friends, French, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish
In Budapest, all of the 24 hour shops advertise themselves as ‘Non-stop’. A Hungarian friend of mine said, in English, something like ‘don’t worry, I’m sure there’ll be a non-stop we can go to’. Apparently in Hungarian these shops are referred to as ‘non-stops’ (using the English words), and, logically enough, my friend assumed this was a borrowing from English. It isn’t. As far as I know, there is no case when you would use ‘non-stop’ as a noun rather than as a sort-of-adjective (as in non-stop train, non-stop complaining etc.). We would just say ’24 hour shop’.
This made me think about a relatively common phenomenon in some Latin languages, of using a word which looks English to the untrained eye, but which does not exist in English as it is spoken by a native.
Words of this kind are commonly formed by taking the gerund (the ‘-ing’ form) of a verb and turning it into a noun. Take lifting, which in Spanish or French means a facelift (‘hacerse un lifting’) – few English speakers would know what you were talking about, but it is (again, logically enough) assumed to be a direct borrowing from the English. Likewise parking (in English you park a car in a car park, but parking is always a form of the verb, never a place) and camping, to mean a campsite. A friend tells me that in French a loop-the-loop is called un looping. Then there is the curious footing which in French means jogging, despite the fact that ‘foot’ is only ever used as a verb in standard English in the phrase ‘to foot the bill’, which means ‘to pay for something’.
French is a goldmine for words like this. When you go footing, you wear un jogging, a tracksuit, and les baskets, trainers. Consider the noun shampoing: it comes from (and means) shampoo, from which the second ‘o’ was dropped and the inexplicable ‘-ing’ added; it is now pronounced as if it was a French word, something like ‘champoin’. A similar thing happened to smoking in Spanish, in which language (as in French and Italian) the word is used to mean a dinner jacket (UK) or tuxedo (US); it is often written as it is pronounced, i.e. ‘esmoquin’.
The Spanish low-cost airline Vueling had based its entire marketing strategy on satirising this tendency. Even the company’s name is a fusion of the Spanish vuelo, flight, and the specious English ‘-ing’. Its marketing copy is always written in a macaronic mixture of English, Spanish and other European languages: Llévate el big premio! Flying hoy means más frecuencia! Now tasas, cargos e impuestos included!
I want to return to this theme in a later post. In the meantime, we’d love to hear any more examples of pseudo-English words in other languages…
UPDATE: I have noticed that in Italian there is a group of English words which they use as such, changing only the vowel ‘u’ to ‘e’ as in ‘egg’: club (as in nightclub) becomes cleb, bluff (as in gambling) becomes bleff and flash (as in flash) becomes flesh.