Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Monday, November 04, 2013

Questions: foreign words and phrases

Do agents frown upon foreign words or expressions in a manuscript?  It's a pet peeve of mine.  I hate advertisements, articles in magazines, blogs, etc. that sprinkle in foreign words rather than writing or saying something in English.  That said, I have a different opinion concerning novels. When a story is set in a foreign country, it sometimes adds to the ambiance that you wouldn't get otherwise if those expressions weren't used.

Sacre bleu, talk about a bete noir!

When one must have the mot juste, one does not wish to be restricted to the biggest juiciest language in the world! One assumes carte blanche (rather than causus casus belli) to pick and choose among the great wealth of words available to us all.

And this is, I'm sorry to say, quite an odd peeve for a writer.  I would have thought that as a writer you'd love words, ALL words, making them dance the fandango, or the tarentella, or the hora or the tango.

I love new words! Susurrus!

I love knowing just the perfect word: fait accompli!

Foreign words and phrases add to your tool kit.  Without them all writers and all readers would be schlemiels and schlimazels.

And if you really think you hate foreign words in ads, let me offer this up to change your mind:

this ad is one of but many created by the iconic firm of Gilbert Advertising. Richard Gilbert's memoir of those heady days on Madison Avenue is now available in print.

electronically too!


Kyler said...

Janet, as always, you are la crème de la crème!

alaskaravenclaw said...

Oy vey. Unusual for a writer not to be a word maven.

Surely the questioner's not one of those people who say "This is America! Speak Cherokee!"

Oops, I got something wrong there, didn't I? Anyway, here in the US, we almost all writers write words in a foreign language: English.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

If you're going to eschew foreign languages, you'll rid your vocabulary of a lot of good words English has "borrowed." As someone once said, English doesn't just borrow from other languages, it chases them down alleys, mugs them and rifles their pockets for verbs.

Colin Smith said...

As a writer, yes, I love words. However, I'm also aware that my reader may not be as familiar with some words (especially foreign words), and this may be a stumbling block to them getting through a novel. This is where I think the writer needs to be sure that the context within which the word or phrase is used provides enough clues to the word or phrase's meaning (e.g., "Sacre bleu!" said Jeanette, seeing Claude's bloodstained shirt...). This subject is one dear to my heart at the moment, since the protagonist in my current WIP is an a teenage alien for whom English is a second language. :)

Anna Roberts Moore said...

Hi Janet, FYI- my pet peeves are acronyms. OK?
BTW, you are not currently taking queries, so I went to see if anyone at your fine establishment Fine Print was, and when I Googled, I got the orange warning from site advisor saying "this link is suspicious."

Is anyone else getting this message?

This is the message I got:

Yellow Verdict Image

This link is suspicious. We tested it and found potential security risks. Be careful.
Website Category:
Spam URLs

LynnRodz said...

First of all, let me say thank you for answering my question. I do love words and I do love languages. (I am fluent in several and perhaps it's the reason for my pet peeve.) That said, I have to admit, I love the sprinkling of foreign words in your response! Why? Because it has everything to do with the topic of conversation. I think far too often people use a foreign word here or there for no real value except to show off their limited vocabulary.

In a novel, it's different.

Here in France, the Anglicism of words has invaded the country to a point that it's destroying the French language. You cannot see a commercial, an advertisement, etc. without English words thrown in for no real value. Years ago it was mostly used in fashion (just like in the States with French) now, it's overkill.

The Berlitz ad that you've shown is a funny example. There's a sentence that I laughed at when I read it. From all the examples they could have given, they chose that! Was it done on purpose? Who knows! They could have said, "I prefer coffee to tea." Someone who says only the first part of the sentence (it's a sexual reference) could very easily get into a sticky situation. (Non pun intended - okay maybe it is!)

All that said and done! I think I wasn't clear enough on why foreign words would be frowned upon in a manuscript. It doesn't change all that I said above, but I was thinking more along the lines of printing accents and italics when publishing a book!

DeadlyAccurate said...

@ColinSmith, unless you're writing books where vocabulary level matters (like books for young children), trust your readers to figure out what you're talking about.

I love the Johannes Cabal books by Jonathan L. Howard. His writing is distinctly British (without an Americanized conversion, thank goodness), and he sprinkles in the occasional German or French word, along with plenty of other English words I've never heard before. Doesn't bother me a bit. I either figure it out through context or look it up. He trusts his reader to keep up, and as such, his writing is smart and clever and why isn't everyone in the US reading his books so they'll get published in the US faster? said...

C'est la vie! Or, que sera sera! And then there was, "voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?" A hit song.

I love sprinkles of other languages in songs, in books, wherever. What I especially love is the Google language translator.

french sojourn said...

"Here in France, the Anglicism of words has invaded the country to a point that it's destroying the French language."
Maybe in Paris with the pseudo-faux French you wrote about in a flash fiction a while ago...but not elsewhere...The french value their language more than anything. They go out of their way to protect their mother tongue. They have been glacial in their acceptance of most things from the states...It's always cringe worthy to drive by a McDonald's.
There are words that have been adopted...weekend...but how do you say computer in French..."L'ordinateur".
In Southwest France and in Provence I would say good luck selling that load of opinion.

Elissa M said...

I love epic fantasy. Thanks to Tolkien, much of the genre is full of "foreign" words that are pretty much foreign everywhere in this world. Usually, it's easy to parse the meanings from the context. If you want a boatload of accent marks, italics and other word dressings, fantasy is the go-to genre.

Also, I live in New Mexico (motto: not really new; not really Mexico). Between the numerous native tongues and all the various European imports, I'm pretty used to language hash.


I guess everyone's entitled to a pet peeve.

BP said...

@Lynn, I totally agree! Foreign words that have NOTHING to do with the context are just plain bad writing.

On the other hand, as madame Janet uses them, ;) they are wonderful, and I couldn't imagine reading classics like the 3 Musketeers (the whole series!) and the Scarlet Pimpernel without all the French phrases thrown in.

True, in MG and children's books, probably should steer clear of really strong foreign phrases.

Also, I don't think you have to agonize over the diacritics/italics b/c that's what copy editors are for! (CE's everywhere throwing tomatoes at me what what come at me bro ;))

And as for the French - well, you might as well say that France "ruined" English by the immense smattering of French words we have in American English, today! Ballet, brunette, motif, cliche, liaison, chic, cafe, couture, faux...the list goes on forever, and that's just words, not phrases! Languages mix and meld and blend over time - it's only natural, and I find it amusing, and quiet admirable! :) that the French have kept such a complex and rich language healthy and globally relevant years after other languages of the same age have gone away.

LynnRodz said...

@french sojourn, I won't stoop to your level and attack your flash fiction, but are you sure you're sojourning in France? If you say that English words have not invaded the French language on television, in newspapers, magazines, or in everyday language then as one friend said when I showed him your comment. "Maybe his village doesn't get television or he doesn't read French!" I say, maybe you're too isolated to see what's going on in the rest of the country! (And no, I don't need to swear to state my opinion!)

LynnRodz said...

@BP, John, and Elissa, thanks! All of you have made a good point there!

@Anna, I went straight to the website, no problems, no messages.

@Colin, I too am careful about how much I'm putting in my WIP, but I also think DeadlyAccurate is right about the reader being able to figure it out.

@Donna, Careful, Google translator is far from accurate!

Thanks, Janet, and everyone for your input!

french sojourn said...

If you honestly believe I was attacking your writing, I sincerely apologize.
I am a basic novice and do admire your prose. My point was the French language has more safeguards than English.
Please rest assured that the French language will not be destroyed.
LeCorbusier once said "A street is a room by agreement." So true, although he meant it in respect to Architecture, I feel it applies to our team of writers.
Cheers Hank

LynnRodz said...

Thanks, Hank, I appreciate that!

Alex Sheridan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maple and Baobab said...

A excellent interview with the man.

Foreign words are a way to enrich our lives and open doors to new and creative ways to write better stories. If I think of film, there are so many excellent scripts with foreign words. Being quadralingual, words carry meaning beyond translations. That one foreign word you write in your stories can spark a feeling to a bring a new fan to your writing. Used well is the key. Research. Always, always ask more than one native speaker their opinion. Some words can have different meanings in the same language from different countries. Some countries have words taken from the aboriginal languages. Ex. cojer in Spanish can mean catch something or make whoopy. Palta is avocado in South America. My funniest mistake to learning French is when my husband who is from West Africa: French, Wollof, Pular, Serer being some of the languages spoken in Senegal, was saying how having a farm would be something he would like to have. Farm in French: verge. I said yes, you could do so many things with a vierge!. Virgin. Strange looks and a coy smile ensued. Mais Gina! I was confused.
I will never live this one down, and my students in French class love this story. Use words well. Your native speakers will tear it apart and you will loose credibility if your words are a fake version of the real thing.
Lycka till, Bonne Chance, Buena Suerte, Good Luck using new symbols to make your writing rich.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I know I'm late, but Maple's post prompted a memory about how the same word can have very different connotations in different country. True story - Two guys who worked in my dad's plant were great friends, did everything together. One was from Mexico, the other was Cuban. One day at lunch the Mexican called his Cuban friend "Cuñado," the Spanish word for brother in law. It was his way of saying "We're so close, we're family. You're like my brother." Seconds later the Cuban had leaped over the table, thrown the man to the floor and was punching him, shouting, "You're not sleeping with my sister!" True story. Same language, different planets.

LynnRodz said...

Maple, I couldn't agree more. As I've said, foreign words help to enrich a story or a film. My own WIP spans over 30 years and takes place in a number of countries. I use dialogue, or "sprinkle" a word here or there, in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian. I have tried to keep it to a minimum, but at times I find it necessary or enriching to do so.

My pet peeve was more in regards to adding a foreign word for no real value. Okay, maybe I should go live in Quebec City where hot
dog is "chien chaud" and rock and roll is "roche et roule". LOL!

@John and Maple, I loved your true stories. I also have tons of these stories that are so funny! Hmm, is there a book here in the making?!

Gary Corby said...

The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad. Read it.

One third of the book is in English, one third in German and one third in French. But not the way you're thinking.

Every single sentence is part English, part French, and part German, the words all mixed together, but wholly understandable because Spinrad is brilliant.

furrykef said...

It's actually casus belli, not causus belli. (In fact, causus isn't a word, even in Latin. Causa is, though.) It looks like it means "cause of war", but it's actually "case for war", as in making a case.

My own opinion is that you should try to avoid sending your target audience to the dictionary. After all, it's immersion-breaking whether they bother to look up the word or not. Beyond that, however, go nuts. Use whatever words best describe whatever you're trying to describe. However, don't use fancy words, foreign or otherwise, just because you think it's what your audience wants; any writer attempting this will get caught and it will look silly at best.