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11 Examples of the Odd Dialect Called 'EU English'

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Every profession has its in-group ways of using language, but not every profession requires native speakers of many different languages to communicate with each other every day.

The European Union requires just this, and the people who work there, hashing out, drafting, and translating documents use English in a very particular way. A 2013 EU report outlined some of the unusual qualities of EU English, pointing out that, “over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English.”

Much of that unrecognizable vocabulary is the result of translations or non-native-speaker errors that make a certain kind of sense, but depart from the usual English. Because documents in the EU influence the way other documents are drafted as well as the way discussions proceed, the unusual vocabulary items tend to spread around until they are part of the general professional jargon. Here are 11 examples of words used in EU documents in an odd new way. 

1. TO PRECISE/PRECISION 

The Committee urges the Commission ... to precise which period before confinement is meant.

Without further precisions, this could lead to support for poorly justified financial instruments.

Precise is sometimes used in EU documents as a verb to mean "make precise," or specify. It is also used in this sense as a noun, precision, which is supposed to mean "that which is used to make things precise"—in other words, details or specifications.

2. DISPOSE OF

The Commission may not be able to assess the reliability of the data provided by Member States and may not dispose of independent information sources.

There is an emerging tendency to use dispose of not to mean "get rid of," but to have or possess. This strange usage probably comes from the fact that we say to have at one’s disposal to mean "have free use of." In regular English it is not possible to transform that phrase into dispose of in this way.

3. IMPORTANT

The annual accounts give detailed information on the financial corrections confirmed, implemented and to be implemented and explain the reasons for which an important amount is still to be implemented.

Important is sometimes used to mean large or significant. Something that is significant can be important, but important carries more connotations of being crucial or having an effect on things than significant does. It’s a subtle distinction that a non-native speaker really can’t be blamed for not having full control over. 

4. OPPORTUNITY

The Court questioned the opportunity of introducing these measures in such an uncertain economic climate.

Here opportunity is used to mean "the quality of being opportune," or "opportuneness." According to the raw rules of word formation, there’s no reason it shouldn’t mean that, but we already have a set meaning for opportunity—favorable circumstances or a chance for success. 

5. PUNCTUAL

The management of the above mentioned feed sectors is subject to close co-operation with the Member States through regular (generally monthly) meetings of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, section on Animal Nutrition, and punctual expert groups meetings where appropriate.

Punctual should be able to mean "point by point," or "from time to time," as it does in German and other European languages. But it in English we only use it in the sense of "arriving at the agreed-upon time." In EU documents it is used to mean occasional or periodic. 

6. ACTUAL

This appropriation is intended to cover basic salaries of the staff, as listed in the attached table, based on the actual regulations and on the probable adjustments.

Actual is famous for being one of those "false friend" words. It looks like the same word in French (or German or Spanish) but means something different in English. In English it means real or existing, while in other languages it means current. In EU documents in takes on the European meaning.

7. EVENTUAL

They both opposed an eventual imposition of anti-dumping measures as they considered that it could lead to a cessation of imports of the product concerned from the PRC79.

Another false friend, we take eventual to mean "happening at some point in the future," while in other languages it means possible. The eventual imposition referred to here is a possibility, not a plan.

8. EXPERTISES

Priority should be given to the ORs’ health system, training and education in order to optimise local human resources and expertises as greatest potential drivers of growth in the ORs83.

Expertise is normally a mass noun that doesn’t have a plural form: we don’t say expertises but areas of expertise. In EU English, however, it often shows up in the plural. It’s always good to have more expertises than you need.

9. PLANIFICATION 

Simplified procedures and better planification should make it possible to even out the caseload under FP6, improving internal control and speeding up processes.

Planification shows up a lot in EU English. It assumes the existence of an unusual verb planify, meaning something like plan. Basically, planification is planning, but longer.

10. COMITOLOGY

The Commission must draft new rules setting out the powers and workings of the bodies replacing the Committees in the framework of the now-abolished comitology procedure, to ensure that the new system operates properly.

The report states that there are 1253 instances of this word in an EU document database but “not only does the word not exist outside the EU institutions … it is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two m’s and two t’s) and a suffix that means something quite different (-ology/-logy means 'the science of' or 'the study of'). It is therefore highly unlikely that an outsider would be able to deduce its meaning, even in context.” It means something like "having to do with committees."

11. ACTORNESS

 EU Actorness in International Affairs: The Case of EULEX Mission in Kosovo, Perspectives on European Politics and Society.

Another EU-specific invention, actorness means something like "the quality of being a party which is taking an action." Though it makes for strange English, it is a rather more efficient way to express a concept that the EU discusses a lot.

 [h/t: Fun language podcast The Allusionist]

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Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce 'Pulitzer'
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to top creative and scientific minds for over 100 years. Named after late 19th-century newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the prize is a household name, yet its pronunciation still tends to trip people up. Is it “pull-itzer” or “pew-litzer”?

Poynter set the record straight just in time for today’s announcement of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners. Emily Rauh Pulitzer, wife of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., told Poynter, “My husband said that his father told people to say ‘Pull it sir.’”

If you’ve been saying it wrong, don’t feel too bad. Edwin Battistella, a linguist and professor at Southern Oregon University, said he pronounced it “pew-lit-zer” until a friend corrected him. Battistella looked to Joseph Pulitzer’s family history to explain why so many people pronounce it incorrectly. He writes on the Oxford University Press's OUPBlog:

“[Joseph Pulitzer] was born in Hungary, where Pulitzer, or Politzer as it is sometimes spelled, was a common family name derived from a place name in southern Moravia, the village of Pullitz. In the United States, the spelling Pulitzer would have quite naturally been Anglicized as PEW-lit-zer by analogy to the other pu spellings like pure, puritanical, pubic, puce, and so on.”

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the family to decide how they’d like their surname to be pronounced. Here it is, pronounced just how the Pulitzers like it, in a YouTube video:

[h/t Poynter]

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Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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History
The Surprising Origin of the Word Morgue
Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Today the word morgue conjures up images of an efficient, hygienic room overseen by professionals in lab coats and rubber gloves. Most of us are familiar with its inner workings only from cop shows and crime novels, never having had the desire—or need—to visit one in real life. However, our image of the modern, sterile morgue stands in stark contrast with the room that originally gave rise to the term.

In 18th century Paris, visitors to the Grand Châtelet—a combined court, police headquarters, and prison that served as the seat of common-law jurisdiction in pre-revolutionary France—could descend to the basement basse-geôle and peer in through the grille of the door. There, they would catch a glimpse of a small room where unidentified dead bodies were displayed to the public, strewn across the bare floor. The room became informally known as la morgue, an early definition of which appears in the 1718 Dictionnaire de l’Académie: "A place at the Châtelet, where dead bodies that have been found are open to the public view, in order that they be recognized."

Print of the Grand Châtelet of Paris by Allain Manesson-Mallet,1702
Bibliothèque de l'INHA via Europeana // Public Domain

The name for this gruesome room likely had its roots in the Archaic French verb morguer, which means "to look solemnly." Historians think that such rooms had existed in Parisian prisons since the 14th century, initially as a place where newly incarcerated prisoners would be held until identified, but later to deal with the many dead bodies found on the streets or pulled from the River Seine. (In fact, there were so many bodies in the river—both murder victims and suicides—that a huge net was stretched across the river at St. Cloud to catch the bodies as they washed downstream, from which they were transported to the Grand Châtelet.) But it was not until around the turn of the 18th century that the public were invited in and asked to try and identify the dead at la morgue.

The stench emanating from the corpses at the morgue must have been unbearable, and the public exposure to the "bad humors" was one of the reasons for the creation of a new, more hygienic morgue, at the place du Marché-Neuf on the Ile-de-la-Cité in 1804. This new morgue building (by now officially known as La Morgue) was housed in a building styled like a Greek temple that was close to the river, enabling bodies to be transported there by boat. The corpses were now displayed in a purpose-built exhibit room, with plate-glass windows and plenty of natural light, allowing crowds to gather and gawk at the corpses laid out on marble slabs. Refrigeration did not come until the 1880s, so the bodies were kept cool with a constant drip of cold water, lending the cadavers a bloated appearance. The clothes of the deceased were hung from pegs next to the dead as a further aide to their identification.

Drawing of the Paris morgue circa 1845
Hippolyte Destailleur, Bibliothèque nationale de France // Public Domain

The central location of the morgue ensured a healthy traffic of people of all classes, becoming a place to see and be seen, and to catch up on the latest gossip. Its popularity as a place of spectacle grew as the 19th century progressed, stoked by being included as a must-see location in most guidebooks to Paris. On the days after a big crime had been committed, as many as 40,000 people flocked through its doors.

The morgue was also written about by luminaries such as Charles Dickens, who touched on it a number of times in his journalism, confessing in The Uncommercial Traveller (a series of sketches written between 1860-9) that it held a gruesome draw: "Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible force into the Morgue. I never want to go there, but am always pulled there. One Christmas Day, when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was attracted in, to see an old grey man lying all alone on his cold bed, with a tap of water turned on over his grey hair, and running, drip, drip, drip, down his wretched face until it got to the corner of his mouth, where it took a turn, and made him look sly." Dickens also described the crowds of people flocking to the morgue to gawk at the latest arrivals, idly swapping speculation on causes of death and potential identities: "It was strange to see so much heat and uproar seething about one poor spare white-haired old man, so quiet for evermore."

In 1864, the morgue at the Marché-Neuf was demolished to make way for Baron Haussmann's sweeping re-modeling of Paris. The new morgue building was situated just behind Notre Dame, again in a busy public space, re-affirming its purpose as a place to view and identify dead bodies. However, it was also in this new building that the morgue moved away from pure spectacle and began to be linked with the medical identification of bodies, as well as advances in forensics and the professionalization of policing. The new morgue had an autopsy room, a small laboratory for chemical analysis, and rooms where police and administrators could inspect the bodies and record any murders or suicides. The emphasis shifted—the morgue was no longer purely dependent on the public to identify the bodies; it now had medical, administrative, and investigative officers doing that work, moving it closer to our modern idea of what a morgue is.

By the 1880s the fame of the Paris morgue, and admiration of its now-efficient administrative structures, had spread across the world. The word morgue began to be used to describe places where the dead were kept in both Britain and America, replacing the older "dead house" and becoming synonymous with mortuary. Over time, the word morgue was also adopted in American English, perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek, for rooms where newspaper or magazine archives are kept—for example, The New York Times morgue, a storehouse for historical clippings, photographs, and other reference materials related to the paper.

The Paris morgue closed its doors to the public in 1907. A combination of factors led to the decision: gradually changing public attitudes to the viewing of dead bodies, concerns over hygiene and the spread of disease, and the increasing professionalization of the police and coroners. Today, the city office that has replaced it is known as the Institut médico-légal de Paris. Meanwhile, the word morgue itself has come a long way—from its roots in a grim spectacle, it's now become a place of professionalism and respect.

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