I love languages. All of them. I have my favorites (English, in particular), but I love languages as such. And for that reason, I think they deserve more respect than they currently get.
I am not a proponent of keeping a language “pure”, i.e. free from the influence of other languages. I find it rather ridiculous when e.g. Germans try to come up with German words for technical stuff which was invented in an English speaking country (or if it was invented in a non-English-speaking country, but given an English name by their inventors). They rarely find a term which isn’t long, cumbersome and sounding silly. I embrace the fact that languages get more and more mixed. I often insert English words when speaking German, even if a good German words exists for them, just because I like the English word more.
However, because I love languages, I feel that if words from one language are imported into another one, they should be treated with respect. And for me, that means knowing enough about the language they come from in order to spell, inflect, pronounce and use them correctly.
And this is why I die a little inside each time a foreign word is spelled, inflected, pronounced or used incorrectly. Let me give examples for each type of error.
Most people know the words “extroverted” or “extrovert” and have a basic understanding of what it means. Probably many people also know – or would guess – that it originated from Latin. What apparently most people do not know is that the prefix “extro” does not exist in Latin. The prefix for “outside” is “extra”, and therefore the correct spelling is “extraverted”. However, in languages like English or German, the Latin origin was lost and “extraverted” was aligned with its antonym “introverted”, changing it to “extroverted”. Only the scientific name for the corresponding personality dimension is still “extraversion/introversion”. Interestingly, when we learned in psychology that it should be spelled “extraverted”, some of my fellow students over-corrected and started saying “intraverted” as well, which is wrong, because the prefix for “inside” is indeed “intro”. Since “extrovert” has been part of English as well as German for so long, I don’t blame people for not knowing it’s incorrect, but I still think it’s sad that the origin of the word seems to have been completely lost.
Wrong inflexion (usually spelled “inflection”, which, in itself, is another case for a misspelled Latin word) is something that happens regularly with words imported from Italian. An example is “pizzas”. In Italian, the plural form of words ending with “a” ends with “e”, not “as”, so the correct plural form of “pizza” is “pizze”. Even worse is “paparazzi”, which is the plural form of “paparazzo”, but – regularly in German and I think also sometimes in English (see for example Lady GaGa’s song – people use “paparazzi” as singular with “paparazzis” as plural form.
Here, I will use examples from English words imported into German, because that’s what I hear most often. My three favorite examples here are “review”, “maintenance” and “PayPal”. Since I am a scientist, I hear the word “review” very often, and since my research is in the area of online fraud, I hear “PayPal” quite often, too. In my previous job at an IT company, I heard “maintenance” quite often as well. So what are people doing wrong here?
“Review” is pronounced by an estimated 80-90% of German – even academics – as if it was spelled “ravview”. I have no idea how this came to be, since I don’t hear people pronounce e.g. “remake” like “rammake”, but for some reason, this error became so widespread that people don’t even seem to notice if I try to lead by example and pronounce it correctly. People probably just think I’m pronouncing it wrong but don’t bother telling me.
“Maintenance” is – at least in Germany – often pronounced “maintainance”. Okay, in people’s defense, this word is tricky. Why is the noun which corresponds to the verb “to maintain” “maintenance”? What happened to the “ai”? Still, I know no language and no word where “e” is pronounced like “ai”, so people should notice that something is wrong. Interesting fact: I just learned from Wiktionary that actually, “to maintain” is wrong. It originates from Old French “maintenir”, so the “ai” shouldn’t be there!
Last but not least, “PayPal” is – in this case by what feels like 99% of Germans – pronounced like “PayPaul”. Again, I have no idea whatsoever how that happened, but – seriously – it often feels like the only Germans around me who pronounce it correctly are the ones I’ve specifically told how to pronounce it! And in this case as well, people don’t even seem to notice when I pronounce it correctly. Only very few people have ever even asked “Isn’t it pronounced PayPaul?”, which was my opportunity to finally correct them.
My favorite – or rather most dreaded – example of a word which is regularly misused by professionals is “methodology”. Analogous to “biology” or “endocrinology”, “methodology” is the study of methods. Wikipedia defines it as “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study, or the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge”. However, apparently some smart-ass decided at some point that “method” just didn’t sound “sciency” enough and henceforth should just be replaced with “methodology” on any occasion. And for some reason, others jumped on the bandwagon, and now we are at the point where just about everyone – old or young, experienced or straight from college – uses “methodology” where in >90% of cases “method” or “methods” would do perfectly fine. Think about it: People use the name for a scientific field for the thing that field studies. It is the same as if “psychology” would be used as a substitute for “mind” or “soul” and people would start saying “What’s on your psychology?” or the movie would be called “Dangerous Psychologies”. Or if people would say “I’m living a wonderful biology!”. That would sound crazy, wouldn’t it? Yet, people don’t think it’s weird to write things like “We applied the methodology of clustering to group the items”. Oh no you didn’t! You didn’t apply the study of the the method, you applied the method!
I have never learned Latin, Italian or Ancient Greek, but when I use a word which originates from one of those languages regularly, I usually look it up to find out how to spell, inflect, pronounce and use it correctly, because I think I owe that to the original language. I am not infallible either, of course. Up until a few minutes ago, I was convinced that “dementi” (a word not known in English, but used regularly in German) was the plural of an Italian word, like paparazzi, because of the “i” in the end. However, now that I looked it up, I found that it’s actually of French origin and is a singular form there as well. So, apologies to anyone I corrected when they said “Dementis”.
What about you, dear reader? Do you think I’m just a nitpicker who obsesses about things which aren’t really any important, or do you agree that people should care more about applying loanwords correctly, or maybe even die a little inside when you read or hear mistakes such as the ones I described, too? Do you have other examples that drive you crazy – or maybe just annoy you a little, or even amuse you? Please feel free to post them in comments!
To the planet KDE readers: I know this is not exactly KDE-related, but I feel that respecting the origins of a language is something that a Free Software / Free culture community should do as well, like we respect the original authors of code or other creative works we re-use.