There are many English words which are used commonly in other languages. That’s quite understandable when one considers how widespread the learning and use of English is.
Most of the words are pretty straightforward, everyday words: parking, ok, jeans, dancing camping etc.
Sometimes though, the words used are strictly correct, but the tone doesn’t really translate well. Cool is a word used in other languages just like in English, but then there’s the French hypercool. Yes, technically it’s possible to put the two together in English, but doesn’t it sound terrible? It’s so cheesy, so extreme that it’s hard to be taken seriously. While it sounds better in French, one could never use the word in earnest in English.
But recently I came across the strangest example of taking English words and using them in another language in a way that would be technically correct but quite bizarre in English. That’s the German word for the contraceptive pill: Antibaby Pille.
Yes, Antibaby Pille.
You can see the logic behind it, and in an awful way it does make sense. But it sounds so negative, so harsh, that it could never work as an English word!
It just goes to show that a language is more than just combining words based on their meaning. The precise words we choose, and the tone and feeling they help to create are crucial. This is especially the case with translation. Anyone who’s done even the simplest bit of translation will know the pitfalls of direct translation, and not being aware of the deeper connotations of words.
Words like hypercool and Antibaby Pille (I can’t stop typing that) perhaps also show us the cultural differences behind the use of loanwords. Even though these words can be created in English, they wouldn’t really work because of their tone. And yet in French and German respectively, they’re fine. Why? It probably has a lot to do with the sounds of the French and German languages, and how well the sounds of these words fit in with them. But maybe it also says something about the way languages shape the way we think. English can be indirect to the point of being obtuse at times, and this can make the language seem quite polite, and perhaps even the people too, as a result. Antibaby Pille, then, would never work in that context. But maybe German is generally more direct, and the word therefore raises no eyebrows among German speakers.
Whatever the reasons, we’ll probably see more and more English words enter the vocabularies of other languages, and it’s interesting to notice which words become commonly-used, and why.