Parking in the Zoning

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to write about English words which are used in French in a slightly different way to how we use them. And this morning I thought, as I’m still using an AZERTY keyboard, I might as well do that today.

I’ve already written about some English words that are used in French, but today I want to focus on three that are a strange combination of seeming logical yet slightly odd to an English speaker’s ear. I should also state that I’m not criticising or mocking French speakers for using these words. Their use makes enough sense for non-native speakers, and once a word enters another language it doesn’t have to follow the rules of its original language. Anyway, the three words are:

  • parking
  • zoning (only in Belgian French)
  • shampooing (sometimes spelled shampoing)

Nothing unusual there at first glance, except perhaps shampooing. And even that form of the word is possible in English, as to shampoo is a verb. In French though, these three are all countable nouns. The first two are of course also nouns in English, but crucially they’re uncountable nouns. They refer to general situations or concepts:

My cousin is in charge of land zoning for the county.

The parking in the city centre is very bad.

Both of those sentences are fine, but of course we can’t refer to a parking or a zoning. Strictly I suppose, you could refer to a specific choice to designate a particular area as a zoning, but it’s not common. We’d be more likely to refer to a zoning decision.

In French-speaking countries however, you come across un parking or un zoning all the time, particularly if you’re a motorist. For you see, un parking in English is a car park (or parking lot), and un zoning is an industrial estate. You can see now, perhaps, why these words might seem logical to a French speaker. Car parks and industrial estates are linked to the phenomena of parking and zoning. These words probably came into French because a lot of French speakers heard them used a lot in relation to car parks and industrial estates, and decided they’d work just fine in French, without necessarily being aware that they’re uncountable nouns in English. And while it might sound weird to us to use a noun ending in -ing as a countable noun, French doesn’t really use -ing at the end of words, so they don’t associate it with uncountable nouns, verbs, or anything else. In fact, the -ing ending is well known as an aspect of English, like apostrophes, so taking English -ing words like parking and zoning was probably mostly about giving French some English-language chic (do you ever have those moments when you realise you may have found a better blog title?).

This is also probably the logic behind shampooing (just shampoo in English), even though it’s barely used in English. The main reason for its existence is that a double O simply doesn’t feature in French, so the average French speaker, seeing it at the end of a word like that, would have no idea what to do with it. Even if they heard the word a lot, the exact sound of the second syllable in shampoo doesn’t really feature in the French language, so it would be difficult to take it directly as a loanword.

Therefore, somewhere along the line, an -ing got added, because it’s an English word, no? (though originating in Hindi), and the English speakers, they always use the -ing, no? The -ing also makes the word easier for French speakers to pronounce. Though interestingly, they don’t pronounce it similar to English, like they do with the nearly-identical zoning and parking. Instead, shampooing sound like shawmpwon (roughly!). Oo doesn’t exist in French, and neither does -ing, generally, but oin is a common combination, sounding like wan, only without much of an N sound, like in Macron. Imagine how the French words besoin and point sound, to get a sense of it.

Hopefully you can see now why these loanwords seem logical from a French speaker’s perspective. Of course it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel weird when I hear people use these words. I just don’t tell them they’re wrong. Except maybe about teatime though: that’s sacred!

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