A Tricky Tourist Trap

Yesterday, I mentioned that I expect other languages to have an increasing influence on English due to the fact that there are more non-native speakers of English in the world than native speakers. I’ve already noticed this happening a lot with one specific word. Let’s see if you can guess what it is:

A question: what adjective you use to describe a place that’s very popular with tourists? Think about it, and then find my thoughts below this picture of a puppy and a kitten:


OK. If you’re a native English speaker, you might have said that you could say a place is a popular tourist destination, or even a tourist trap, or maybe that it’s popular with tourists. But, there isn’t really a single adjective you could use. Touristy maybe, but that’s quite informal and has negative connotations.

If you’re a non-native speaker though, you may have simply said touristic. But is touristic an English word?

If you’re a native speaker, you might say that it’s not, because you’ve never heard of it, and it sounds a little awkward. If you’re a non-native speaker, particularly of a Romance language, you might argue that you have heard people use it, and it doesn’t sound awkward.

For the record, I think it’s safe to say that touristic is now an English word. It’s recognised by a lot of major dictionaries, but it’s interesting that none include an etymological note. And that’s because the word’s only recently begun to be accepted into the language, and it’s due almost entirely to its use by non-native speakers.

This is something I’ve noticed a lot in English teaching. Someone wants to refer to their hometown perhaps, and say that a lot of tourists visit it. They know the word tourist, they know that adjective forms of words ending in -ist often add -ic, and they know that Romance languages often have a similar adjective (touristique, turistico, turístico, turísticas). Touristic therefore just makes sense.

But of course we native speakers have never really used it. We usually just make compound nouns like tourist destination or tourist visa. Because the word tourist is quite new (1772), no adjective form developed organically over the centuries. And because it’s quite easy to make compound nouns in English, we never really needed to come up with one.

That’s all well and good for us, but compound nouns don’t come easy for speakers of lots of other languages, Romance languages in particular, so they’re going to reach for an adjective instead, as is more common in their language. And that’s why it’s common for two people to use English as a lingua franca, and happily use the word touristic, assuming it’s a word we use too.

But who knows, perhaps we’ll start using it in the future. It’s already in dictionaries, and it could be useful, and it would be consistent with word-formation patterns in general in English. It’s an interesting glimpse into what’s probably going to be the much more global future of English.

10 thoughts on “A Tricky Tourist Trap

  1. Enjoyed your interesting article and the question you pose.
    I’d have no problem with touristic as an adjective, though it wouldn’t strike me as a noun to replace “tourist trap.” As you say, the “ic” renders it an adjective. And you wouldn’t say “a touristic trap” because “tourist trap” has become an idiom. (For me, that expression carries the sense of cheap souvenirs and/or attractions.)
    I think “Rio (for example) has high touristic appeal,” would work as an alternate to “Rio appeals to a lot of tourists.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tourific gets 8,400 results on a search using a Major Search Engine, but probably has associations of ‘terrific’ (in its modern, positive sense). touristic is more neutral, and gets 13,700,000.

    Liked by 1 person

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