When you operate in two languages, either in your personal life or in the business world, the two tend to meld into a horrible concoction that does no favours to either. Language purists are fighting a losing battle against Denglish, which Wikipedia says is the influx of English vocabulary into the German language through travel and the widespread use of English in advertising, business and information technology. Germans now speak of Computers instead of Rechenanlagen and in Kindergartens across the country, children shout cool to each other.
I’m not here as an advocate of Denglish or otherwise. I think that languages grow and change organically and I’m probably going to use downloaden as a German verb one day in the not-too-distant future.
However, I do care about very ugly English. There is a difference between natural evolution and just plain wrong.
German companies are using the web to sell products and services into an English-speaking global market. Where they go wrong is to assume that in every case they can translate German directly into English. However, the German language contains a number of false friends that, no matter how logical they may appear, just don’t survive translation.
Here is one: sogenannte. Meaning thus named or so named, it seems like an innocent that one can happily sprinkle into English. It isn’t.
A board member of a leading German software company was once heard to say at a press conference, ‘We are the so-called market leaders.’ Believe me, dear German speakers, the English-speaking members of his audience were holding back their tears. Of laughter. English-speakers only ever use so-called when they are applying irony. In other words, to his English audience, he appeared to be saying, ‘Some say we are the market leaders, but we don’t really believe this.’
Here is another example, lifted off a different software company’s website: ‘On this dashboard, you can collect so-called widgets about topics that interest you.’ This is confusing to an English reader. Are these real widgets? Fake ones? Ironic widgets that might break into hysterical peals of laughter as soon as you turn your back?
The bottom line is don’t use it. If you’re trying to sell a product, the use of so-called in your marketing materials makes you look as if you don’t believe in your product.
And if you don’t believe in it, who’s going to?
Contact me if you’d like ugly English eradicated from your website!