Misused EU English – or not? and opinions on English grammar

Jeremy Gardner’s A brief list of misused English terminology in EU publications (PDF file) of January 2012 was recently widely blogged and tweeted – someone must have stumbled across it.

KATER NOTE: updated link 2017:
Misused English words and expressions in EU publications

He 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 of the words on the list (which is quite long) are words taken from other languages and transmuted into ‘English’. A good example is a list of spoken-language words which are actually not discussed further but mentioned in passing:

Finally, there is a group of words, many relating to modern technology, where users (often even native speakers) ‘prefer’ a local term (often an English word or acronym) to the one normally used in English-speaking countries, which they may not actually know, even passively (‘GPS’ or ‘navigator’ for ‘satnav’, ‘SMS’ for ‘text’, ‘to send an SMS to’ for ‘to text’, ‘GSM’ or even ‘Handy’ for ‘mobile’ or ‘cell phone’, internet ‘key’, ‘pen’ or ‘stick’ for ‘dongle’, ‘recharge’ for ‘top-up/top up’ etc. The words in this last list have not been included because they belong mostly to the spoken language.

I always have to remind myself to say ‘satnav’ for ‘GPS’ when I’m in England. And one of the aims of the list is to inform new staff about the meaning of terminology used in EU legislation (foreseen instead of provided, for instance).

Anglo-Saxon is a bugbear for me too, since I was described in the prospectus of our college in Erlangen as teaching ‘Anglo-Saxon law’.
Shall: here is a very useful point on legal English which I’ve had to point out myself in the past: shall is used in legislation or contracts, but not when informally summarizing them, that is, it is not used in this legal meaning in everyday English:

Explanation: In the third person (he/she/it/they), ‘shall’ should only be used if you are writing legislation or contracts or are quoting directly from them (in inverted commas). It should never be used when paraphrasing legislation or quoting it indirectly.
Examples: ‘The seven members of the board are selected from among experts possessing outstanding competence in the field of statistics. They perform their duties in their personal capacity and shall act independently100.’ ‘Competent authority : The central authority of a Member State competent for the organisation of official controls (sic) in the field of organic production, or any other authority to which that competence has been conferred. It shall also include, where appropriate, the corresponding authority of a third country (sic)101.’
Alternatives: must, should, is/are, is to/are to, can, may (as appropriate).

So-called is another word I avoid. Some Germans say they avoid sogenannt too, but judging from the texts I translate that is not universal.

Mark Liberman at Language Log has now taken up this list and pointed out that some of the words are not as much EU inventions as the list would claim.

In case of pigs and poultry…

He finds the memo ‘fussy in spots’ but largely OK.

Along the same lines, there was recently an article in the Guardian entitled Grammar rules everyone should follow. I read it through and agreed only with some of it. I found the attempt to enforce a distinction between that and which particularly irritating.

2. That/which

“Which is appropriate to non-defining and that to defining clauses,” HW Fowler wrote in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926). “The dog that ran in front of my bike had floppy ears.” “The dog, which had floppy ears, ran in front of my bike.” It’s often a fine distinction, and was very possibly invented by Fowler, but it can nonetheless be useful. As with dangling participles, it’s about saying what you mean.

This time, Peter Harvey has done the dissection work in English and the Guardian.

3 thoughts on “Misused EU English – or not? and opinions on English grammar

      • Here’s a recent one from a friend working in singapore

        Me: Who can tell me what a ‘be verb’ is? Student 1: Justin?
        Student 2: I know! The animal with the big teeth that chops wood! Lol

        I also have awesome pictures from published books not just bad grammar on signs and t-shirts.

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