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Wednesday 5 September 2018

Nuts and Bolts: more calques.

A calque, as we saw last week, is a word inspired by one in another language. Instead of borrowing the word itself, though, it borrows only its meaning.

For example, many languages call a computer mouse by the local word for an animal mouse (in European Portuguese it's a rato, for instance). As it happens, the idea of calling a computer pointer after the long-tailed animal began in English.

What else has English given the world? Well, French, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian speakers all go on a honeymoon (lune de miel, lluna de miel, luna de miel, lua-de-mel, luna di miele and luna de miere, respectively).

Skyscrapers also get everywhere, from the French gratte-ciel to the Italian grattacielo, from Hindi gagan-chumb to the Hungarian felhőkarcoló.

Baloncasto? Pallacanestro? That's Spanish and Italian for basketball.

Of course the inspiration doesn't go all one way. The German Kindergarten, meaning preschool (literally children garden), for example, has versions in French, Spanish, and Portuguese (though not English: here in England we've borrowed the word as it stands (though without the capital letter): kindergarten).

But my very favourite calque of all is one that English has inspired: the Danish have borrowed our English foolproof, translated it literally, and it has become the completely wonderful idiotsikker.

I rather wish we'd borrow that one back just as it is.

Word To Use Today: calque. This word comes from the French calque meaning to copy (papier calque is tracing paper). 

Loanword, by the way, is a calque of the German Lehnwort.

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