Trivia Teaser

Which word is most similar in meaning to 'incandescent'?




By Miranda

No, it's nothing to do with making a wooden vessel watertight by applying resin or similar substances on or between the seams. Nor does it concern the behaviour of a group heckling a speaker or performer.

Calquing is the process of finding a compound word or a phrase in a foreign language which describes a concept for which there's no word or phrase in one's own tongue or, if there is such a word or phrase, it's nowhere near as good as the 'foreign' one.

In the best tradition of vocabulary acquisition, we calque. We take the word or phrase and translate it very literally and use it liberally. Note that it shouldn't merely be a translation but must produce a completely new word or a new phrase compactly describing a concept that probably needed a couple of paragraphs of explanation before.

It's not surprising that calques in many languages describe new technology or the product of breakthroughs in the applied sciences. If the German biologist who invented 'antikˆrper' published first, then it makes sense that we get an 'antibody' from there.

It's not just science and technology, of course. The work of French directors Truffaut and Godard were called the 'Nouvelle Vague' in their own country, a term we appropriated into English as 'New Wave' in the 1950s and applied with varying degrees of discrimination to cultural and political movements since.

And it's not a one-way street, either. English gave the 'skyscraper' (just the word, not the building which required the invention of Otis' safety device for the elevator and some nifty engineering) to French and German, among other languages.

Just to confuse you, the word 'calque' itself is not a calque but a loanword (borrowed from French which got it from Italian). Oh, and the word 'loanword' is a calque.



2 Responses to


kragzy said:
May 26, 2010 at 4:22 PM

I've always referred to a "No Through Road" street as a 'dead-end'. Land developers seem to prefer the poshy term 'cul-de-sac'. Is one a calque of the other and if so which came first?

May 27, 2010 at 7:30 PM

The term "faux pas" is one that really has no perfect English equivalent. A "social blunder", an "awkward moment", an "embarrassing mistake" - all covered by that French term "faux pas". And, of course, we all know what it means - and most of us know what it feels like to make one.