Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such, Nashville Office
Nowhere is the mashup in our language more obvious than in computer land. Sitting right in front of my screen or laptop I can find a vast array of foreign words and phrases that are apparently now au courant in English. Some are being used for novelty and freshness, some because English lacks the exact meaning desired, and some for a sort of secret code. Some like espirit d’escalier, which means failure to deliver a timely response, may fit in any of those categories
I can hear readers reminding me that we’ve had books of these words and phrases around for quite a time. Very true, and they keep coming. Foreignisms: A Dictionary of Foreign Expressions Commonly (and Not So Commonly) Used in English by Tad Tuleja is a recent one. But using that book means a trip to the library or bookstore, while Google will immediately throw up a list of richly rewarding sources such as Luke Mastin’s “Foreign Phrases Commonly Used In English.” A quick search of the 25 German phrases listed at his site revealed such words as angst, gesundheit, kitsch, verboten, and zeitgeist. A few of those words sprinkled in a historical novel about German settlers will really help characterization.
Even broader and perhaps more useful is the site at www.omniglot.com. I could spend hours exploring this site’s “Writing Systems and Languages of the World,” and its many categories from “Greetings” and “Small Talk” to “Idioms.” If we invent a French character who is prone to brag about some accomplishment, our first inclination might be to have him (I’m sure it’s a him!) say, “It’s as easy as falling off a log.” But that has a decidedly American feel with a twinge of pioneer flavor. According to omniglot, a more characteristic French equivalent would be, “It’s as easy as sticking your fingers in your nose.” Those French are expressive!
All this to say our readers are more educated, more accustomed to hearing and reading about cultures other than their own, and more eager for richly inventive writing. I think many publishers are looking for the same kind of stuff. Boot up and enjoy. It only takes une moment pour le mot.