‘Ich gehe nachher mit meinem Boyfriend shoppen, ich brauche zwei Jeans und T-Shirts. Erst Lifestyle, dann Wellness – OK, cool.’
‘Și basically i-am zis, what the hell, este completely pointless.’
Spend enough time in any European country and you’re likely to hear English words peppering people’s speech.
But look more closely, and you’ll see how this is deeper than parroting your favourite Netflix show. English words have been blended, moulded, changed, mixed and adopted by European languages in many linguistic ways.
For European Day of Languages, we called on the expertise of colleagues in our offices across Europe to put together a non-exhaustive (but we hope still enlightening) library of our favourite English loan words.
German is full of borrowed English words that have adopted different meanings. Take, for example, der Rowdy (a hooligan), der Dressman (male model) or das Mobbing (bullying).
Someone looking for a Peeling isn’t a banana. They just want to get some nice body scrub or exfoliator. Don’t panic if you’re invited to a Shooting – this only means a photo shoot.
If someone tells you they have an Oldtimer in the garage, don’t worry about their grandfather – they’re referring to a vintage car. By contrast, der Evergreen means ‘golden oldie’ in the sense of a song.
Then, of course, there’s der Beamer (overhead projector) and the appropriately named Handy, meaning mobile phone.
In Spanish, a good footing refers not to a solid foundation, but (as it does in other languages) to a nice jog. Autostop doesn’t mean being shut down and rebooted: it means hitchhiking.
By contrast, lifting has nothing to do with hitching a lift in a car. It refers only to a facelift.
If you’re out for a romantic dinner and your date tells you in Spanish that they don’t have feeling, don’t call an ambulance: they just don’t fancy you.
Likewise, if someone tells you they peed in your water (or wáter or váter), don’t call the police: they mean they’ve used your toilet.
If someone talks about their smoking (or esmoquin), they’re not describing their tobacco habit. They’re referring to a tuxedo – a word also used in German and other languages for the same purpose.
Similarly, if someone asks you if you want to see their slips, they aren’t inviting you ice skating: they are talking about their Y-fronts.
And finally – if, after showing off your linguistic knowledge, someone declares you freaky (or friki), don’t be too insulted. They simply mean you’re a bit nerdy or alternative.
If you want some more subtle examples of the influence of English, look no further than Romanian.
Some existing Romanian words have taken on a more English meaning. Patetic is supposed to mean ‘sensitive’ or ‘full of pathos’. It is increasingly used like the English ‘pathetic’, although there’s a Romanian word for this – jalnic.
The same is true of locaţie, which used to only mean a tenancy, but is now widely used to mean ‘location’.
You might also hear slightly odd verbs thanks to the influence of English. Face sens – a direct translation of ‘makes sense’ – is now often used instead of the correct are sens using the verb ‘to have’.
This ‘calquing’, to give it its technical term, causes some Romanian speakers much irritation. People complain that they hear expressions such as a făcut o diferență instead of a contat (it made a difference) and am luat un duș (I took a shower) instead of am făcut duș (using the verb ‘to do’).
People can borrow loan words in their own way. ‘Workshop’ is transliterated into cyrilic letters in Bulgarian – уъркшоп – but many native speakers have trouble deciding how to pluralise it. Both уъркшопи and уъркшопове exist, while at least five versions of the verb ‘to blog’ are used.
Transliteration can take on a life of its own. PR (public relations) has entered the Bulgarian language as Пиар, pronounced exactly as it sounds in English, although връзки с обществеността (relations with the general public) already existed.
Transliterated English words have caused awkward moments in Bulgarian. ‘Manager’ (transliterated into Bulgarian as мениджър) infamously became Mary Jane several years ago when an unfortunate young man was asked what he wanted to become during a TV interview.
Like Bulgarian, Greek has taken up, transliterated and changed the meaning of a few English words.
You can take a ride in a τρόλεϊ – not a ‘trolley’ from the supermarket but a ‘trolleybus’.
You can also leave your car in the πάρκινγκ (car park) or chomp on a bag of τσιπς (tsips, meaning ‘crisps’ in British English and ‘chips’ in US English).
Τρακ (nervousness) comes from French, but it has led to a common mistake made by Greek students speaking English: ‘I have track’ used to mean ‘I am nervous’.
Greek and Turkish Cypriot dialect
On the island of Cyprus, you’ll find unique uses of English words.
Isviç in Turkish Cypriot comes from the English word ‘switch’ – but it means ‘car key’. This word is used in Turkish Cypriot, and never in standard Turkish.
On the Greek side, δισπυρκώ (pronounced thispirko), meaning agitated, anxious or frustrated, is believed by many linguists to come from the English word ‘desperate’ (though some sources also say it comes from the Latin ‘despair’).
This word is only used in Cypriot Greek, and never in standard Greek.
Italian has borrowed and Italianised several English words. A shoppone, for example, is a shopaholic, while a skillato is someone with professional skills.
Anglicisms can differentiate between spheres of your life when you might use certain words. A call is now often used to refer to a business call – but a call to your mother is still a chiamata.
Similarly, you might hold a meeting with a client, but a meeting with your child’s teacher is still a riunione.
Czech / Slovak
The roots of some English loan words go back so far that you can glimpse history as soon as you hear them.
One of our favourite examples is manšestráky in Czech, or menčestráky in Slovak, the word for corduroy trousers. This comes from Manchester – a nod to the ‘Manchester cloth’ made in the north of England in the 18th century.
Look closely and you might find a lot of English roots in modern Hungarian, which is one of the hardest languages in Europe for non-native speakers to learn.
You might discover that you are familiar with dzsessz (jazz), that you use a fájl (file) on a daily basis, that you have been to a meccs (match) – and, of course, with your new-found language skills, that you have plenty of szexepil (sex appeal).
We'll say Hello as a parting word, because in Hungarian it can just as easily mean ‘goodbye’.
European Day of Languages is 26 September