Denglish, Franglais, Swinglish – Does your trainer wear baskets?

Years ago, working in a bilingual environment of English and French, I experienced some amusing situations due to crossed linguistic wires. I shall never forget the look on my French boss’s face when I informed him that the postman had left a pink slip in our letterbox. To me, this was a note on a small piece of pink paper informing us that we should collect a parcel too big to fit into the mailbox. To my boss, it suggested sexy underwear – a slip being the generally used word for panties or briefs.

This same boss was also most solicitous of an English visitor to our offices, who apologised for being late since he had been held up at the airport. My boss, most impressed by the British sang-froid, offered him a cognac to steady his nerves after such an ordeal and marvelled that the man was so calm.  The visitor, while enjoying his unexpected cognac, was rather bemused by this very hospitable welcome and it took a few minutes before it was made clear that the hold up did not involve masked bandits.

Driving along French country roads, you may see signs warning you of “BALL TRAP”. Yes, you should beware, it could indeed be dangerous: you are in a clay-pigeon shooting area. In French holiday resorts, you may be directed in a parking to an area for camping cars. The sense is clear but few French will accept that these are not the standard English terms for car park and motor home.

Many English words have crept into other languages, sometimes keeping one of several meanings, sometimes assuming totally different connotations. Sometimes, there are words that look and sound English, but are comprehensible only in the foreign language. Many native speakers of English may be unaware of the existence of this pseudo-English, so here are some extreme (invented) examples from German and French (I don’t have space here to look at other languages):

German:
The talkmaster in his smoking looked like a dressman as he chatted with the shootingstars.
The twen wearing a pullunder put his handy in his bodybag.  

 French:
After her relooking, which included a peeling and a brushing, but not a lifting, the recordwoman gave up her baskets and jogging, and moved into an apart of grand standing in a building. She is now a people.

Rendered into native-speak English, these mean:

The talk show host in his dinner jacket (or tuxedo) looked like a male model as he chatted with the successful newcomers.
The young man in his twenties wearing a sleeveless pullover (sweater vest) put his mobile phone into his shoulder bag.
(No use telling a German that a body bag is anything but a fashion item!)

After her makeover, which included a body-scrub and a blow-dry but not a face-lift, the female record-holder gave up her gym shoes and tracksuit, and moved into a luxury apartment in a skyscraper. She is now a celebrity.

I have also seen notices in a Swiss youth club addressed to “Teenagers aged 12 and under”. The teenagers themselves were collectively known as “Teenies”. Again. no use trying to tell the Swiss anything. Swiss teenies will continue to play flipper or babyfoot (table football) undeterred rather than taking on a McJob..

Want a longer list of English words that have been Germanised, such as checken, highlighten, googlen, hotten, jobben – and the latest I have noticed on facebook: liken? Then take a look at this site  Or this, for an idea of how all-pervasive English is. Learn Denglish. Or Franglais. Or Spanglish, Swinglish or  – in Singapore – Singlish ….

(and how my spellchecker loved this post!!)

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3 thoughts on “Denglish, Franglais, Swinglish – Does your trainer wear baskets?

  1. Lovely – and it gets even more complicated when you also consider the pronunciation of the pseudo-English terms/English… no Swiss will understand if you ask for a “steak”, you have to say “steek”, despite X years of Dallas and “J.R.” on German TV, they still insisted on calling him “Gee-Ar” and the Bernese (again like other Swiss) can’t say “bus” but only “burs” (and “curp”), the Coop becomes the Gawp, a coach is always known as a “car” (while a bus is always a “Poschtauto”…or just ÖV!) – these just a few which came up after reading this over breakfast ;)).
    Und nun werde ich meine “Fotone öploade…”!

  2. Hi Catherine. I’m playing catch up with my reading lately. This post is right down my alley, so I’m saving it in order to savor it this afternoon when I get home from church. I hope you’re having a good day.

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