Pseudo-anglicisms: not your average English loanwords
Just like kids’ often toe-curlingly awkward public outbursts (Auntie Lauren, you look like a Christmas pudding!) language has no On/Off switch. And what is acceptable parlance in one country or region, might be wildly unacceptable in the next.
Pseudo-anglicisms are a prime example of when language, rather than clarifying communication, can actually get you in a spot of bother. So, what are pseudo-anglicisms? Wikipedia, I’m looking at you:
Pseudo-anglicisms are words in languages other than English which were borrowed from English but are used in a way native English speakers would not readily recognize or understand.
These words are typically compounds, and often piece together elements of English words to form something that looks to be the genuine article but is actually far from it.
Pseudo-anglicisms differ from your more usual loanword as – and we’ll hop over to Wikipedia again – ‘many speakers of a language which employs pseudo-anglicisms believe that the relevant words are genuine anglicisms and can be used in English, which may cause misunderstandings’.
Since we’ve got that out of the way – phew! Are you still with me?! – I thought I’d share some of my top picks. I won’t say ‘favourites’, because I’ll be honest with you here: some are offensive and that would make me look… well… less a Christmas pudding and more a Christmas plonker.
Speaking of which…
Russian (фейсконтроль, feyskontrol’), meaning ‘to check whether a person looks appropriate’
You may well have heard of the notorious ‘face control’ practice employed by Moscow’s swankiest nightclubs. Here in Blighty, we’d be a bit miffed if we got sent away from a nightclub because we’ve neglected to put our smart shoes on. But we’d understand. Imagine the sheer horror, then, of finding out, that fancy footwear aside, you’re still not gaining entry. Why? Your face doesn’t fit. Well, *adopts Victor Meldrew face* ‘I don’t believe it!’
And neither will you. Probably. Well, not until you read the many blog posts detailing just how you might be able to get past face control and waltz your way onto that dancefloor. Excuse me while I pop off to cry into my vodka.
German, Polish (dyskont), Serbo-Croatian, meaning ‘a store’
Now, you can imagine the confusion amongst us bargain-hunting Brits when we head to Germany and a well-meaning local points us in the direction of a department store. It’s like the joy of getting to the till and finding out your goods are in the sale – but in reverse. Sob. Sobbity, sob.
Greek, Italian, meaning ‘duffle coat’
Like blancmange, spiffing, and shindig, give me a second while I add this corker of a word to my ever-growing list of favourite words: Montgomery. It just rolls off the tongue, don’t you reckon? But what does it mean? Apparently, it’s used in modern Greek and Italian dialect to mean ‘duffle coat’ – and yeah, you didn’t think the word for a thick, winter coat could get more comical than ‘duffle’, did you?
The Montgomery coat took its name from Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, a senior British Army officer of the First and Second World Wars who was a famous wearer of the garment.
Dutch, meaning ‘Cannabis shop’
Woah, now! Be careful what you wish for here. A café latte may well actually turn out to be a ‘grass-e’ latte. Don’t do it, folks. You heard it here first.
French, meaning ‘roller skates’
Want to spruce yourself up for the night while you’re away in France and fancy a curled ‘do? You’ll certainly be gliding into the shindig (couldn’t resist, sorry!), but you won’t necessarily look the part. Not if you ask for ‘rollers’, anyway. If it’s a roller-skating party you’re off to, on the other hand, you’re ready to… er… roll. I’ll get my (Montgomery) coat…
French, meaning ‘rugby player’
Feminists (and female sportspeople) look away now. In France, rugby players are often referred to as ‘rugby men’.
French, meaning ‘dumpster diving’
Never mind the word itself, who knew this was a thing?! Oh, hang about… dumpster (or ‘skip’ for you Brits) diving doesn’t involve leaping parkour-style from one skip to the next, but simply helping yourself to bits and pieces you spot at the local tip. Fair enough.
Yiddish (טשערי לייץ [tʃɛrɪ lɛɪts]), meaning ‘red headlights’ (or rear lights, over here in the UK)
Oooh, now I like this one! ‘Turn on your cherry lights, my dear (not a euphemism!) – and put your foot down. We’re late.’