Planification and Comitology

Glen Newey

In February the German president, Joachim Gauck, called for English to be adopted as the official EU language, partly to make the UK feel more loved now that David Cameron’s committed himself to an in-out referendum. Another candidate might be Latin, Europe’s lingua franca for over a millennium, but the ancient Romans are not thinking of leaving the union. This has its serious side, as the EU’s 23 languages (to become 24 when Croatia joins) contribute to a democratic defici; as with Belgium, in some ways the EU in microcosm, failure of accountability is often put down to the lack of a common language.

Gauck’s suggestion predictably pissed off the French. At an early meeting of the European Political Science consortium in the 1970s, when the president began his address in English, the French delegation walked out. But there’s less for the French to be annoyed about this time than they might think. Eurenglish is already well established in the EU. Germans, for example, are good at inventing English-looking words that the English themselves never use, as in: ‘Dear Clients! Please switch out your Handys in the Wellness-Gym!’ My French-language version of Word offers to check my spelling against not only the usual ex-colonial versions of English, but also ‘EU English’. In some of the most egregious examples of Eurenglish, readers confront the textual equivalent of Gérard Depardieu kitted out with a token bowler and brolly.

The process is sufficiently far-advanced for the EU, in a characteristic bout of autophagy, to have issued guidelines for de-Eurifying its prose. Among the monstrosities its author, Jeremy Gardner, targets is the patently gallic ‘planification’, for English ‘planning’ – and doubtless before long, if not already, the back-formed ‘planify’. The by-blow of a world of indefinitely prolonged bureaucratic foreplay, ‘planification’ suggests that anything so vulgarly concrete as a plan itself requires planning, which in turn calls for a pilot project, preceded by a feasibility study.... Similarly ‘in frame of’ (dans le cadre de), ‘delay’ to mean ‘deadline’ (délai), ‘eventual’ to mean ‘possible’ (éventuel) and ‘reflection group’ (groupe de réflexion), whose English meaning the dictionary gives as ‘a discrete group which is generated by a set of reflections of a finite-dimensional Euclidean space’.

Turning Eurenglish back into sense feels a bit like the Laputan project of reducing human excrement to its original food. Some words are just made up. A case in point is ‘comitology’ which, as Gardner notes, doesn’t exist outside the EU and ‘is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two “m”s and two “t”s)’. The word seems to mean something like ‘the study of committees’ and ‘the structure of committees set up by the EU to review its own legislation’.

With such langue de bois no wonder everyone’s confused. Take for example the phrase ‘budget line’, apparently widespread in EU texts, which Gardner says ‘does not exist in English’. He goes on to note that there is no agreement about what ‘budget line’ means anyway. Maybe this goes some way to explaining why auditors fail to sign off the EU’s accounts.


  • 27 April 2013 at 1:08pm
    alex says:
    Comitology not from a misspelt stem, just from a French one - comité.

  • 27 April 2013 at 8:04pm
    AllanLRB says:
    Wellness is a particularly annoying example of made up English (my Hamburg-dwelling pal refers to 'Deutschlish') as it has started to be used in Britain. 'Wellness centre' for instance. Language evolves and it's probably not worth getting too exercised about. For that reason I think the point about no-one having a common understanding of what a commonly used made up EU word means is as funny as it is problematic.

  • 28 April 2013 at 8:16am
    David Gordon says:
    The multiple forms of English can be one of the delights of working in Europe. I mostly deal in Danglish and Swedlish (being based in Copenhagen), but Czechlish is also an important sideline. Most of the time, my friends and colleagues just want help to get into idiomatic English, but sometimes they try and persuade me to adopt one of their words.

    My President has decided that "strive" can be a noun. So it is now his strive to get it accepted in English English. If he doesn't succeed, maybe his strive will be to get "strive" into American English, who knows?

    • 28 April 2013 at 4:03pm
      petey says: @ David Gordon
      when i went o germany as a young student we used gerglish amongst ourselves. there was no need to use it with germans, as so many of them had english.

    • 28 April 2013 at 7:21pm
      alex says: @ David Gordon
      I'm glad you enjoy the experience David. I have to say I found Gardner's memorandum really patronizing without much understanding or research behind it. For instance he wants to dictate that EU English should follow UK/Irish usage on the idea that this is the principal target audience, which simply isn't the case. He imagines there are only two sides, EU ('wrong') and UK ('right'), whereas there are many Englishes. Take his first example, 'actor' - it's not just 'EU usage' that takes this to mean protagonist or agent, this is standard UK usage in a number of fields. Has he even checked it against the dictionary?

    • 29 April 2013 at 7:52am
      luke.spanton says: @ David Gordon
      It's not really a Eurenglish phrase, but 'English English' seems like an odd construction. Can't we call the language spoken by English people in England 'English'? Although I'm sure there are some in the EU who'd prefer 'Engenglish'.

  • 29 April 2013 at 9:09am
    gringo_gus says:
    The emergence of Eurenglish within the EU, is, in my experience matched in the academic world's 'Gringlish' (Gringo-English).

    There are huge impelling forces requiring English to become the standard form of discourse in peer reviewed journals in my part of the social sciences. Quite rightly, colleague from Brazil, or Poland, or India are pissed off about this cultural hegemony.

    As someone who only speaks and writes in English, it seems churlish to complain about it. Yet the consequence is that this generic Gringlish reader (and editor, and reviewer) must be the person for whom one writes. So, now, it has become very difficult to express ideas that require narrative complexity, or to write in ways which embody, and so reveal, some of the contradictions and paradoxes that one is writing about.

    Too, often, now, peer-reviewers have tell me, writing themselves in what I can now name as Newey's Eurenglish, that, for example, my writing is not suitable for a general reader; that 'to govern' and 'to alter' are essentially the same; that 'there needs to be one single idea clearly conveyed'. Editors of journals once renowned for publishing complicated narrative accounts of theory now reject papers for containing 'too many ideas'; and insist on a pro-forma structure, with 'contributions' as an introductory section, as if there cannot ever be something worked out by the process of reading, that this very upfront flagging will deny. Never mind the pleasure of a reader working something out for themselves, whether it is a position of agreement or disagreement.

    So, as well as there being things in Hindi, or Portuguese, or Polish, which cannot be expressed in English, and therefore do not get expressed, there are too things in English which are now forbidden to be expressed in English - or should we call it Eurenglish, or Gringlish. The New English that is emerging is, in fact a Pidgin, a language naturally spoken by no-one, but invented to enable communication across different native tongues. But because it is so close to English, it pandemic quality remains obscured.

    • 29 April 2013 at 10:35am
      alex says: @ gringo_gus
      On the peer-review problems you mention, I'm not clear how they are related to Gringlish; it's more about a generalized raccourci of expression that has become necessary in an overpopulated Digital Republic of Letters. "now, it has become very difficult to express ideas that require narrative complexity" - why is it more difficult to do this in Gringlish than in British English? Because you are less fluent in it. But that's the problem that non-natives face with your language; only your transition from English to Gringlish is actually a lot easier than what they've been through.
      It's not infrequent for me to be at an academic conference where I'm the only native speaker, and as a consequence probably the least well understood. But we have to face up to that and not talk about this new language as if it were a disease. We need a descriptive-cosmopolitan, not a prescriptive-insular grammar.

  • 30 April 2013 at 8:54pm
    Neil Kitson says:
    English has its own problems. Whoever came up with: "U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali" clearly didn't care if anybody knew what it meant, apart from its happening in Mali. The UN French translation uses the same words and I'm guessing the translation doesn't help the French. Or maybe the French wrote the original, in which case...gah!

  • 30 April 2013 at 11:34pm
    valerieyule says:
    English spelling updated has a chance as Euroenglish - that is, with its unnecessary difficulties cleaned up. Most alfabetic languages have updated their spellings - it is time for English.
    EXAMPL . A Dictionary Pronunciation Guide is based on the BBC Text Pronunciation Guide, plus 36 very common irregularly-spelled words to lern by rote that make up 12% of everyday text. ( ALL ALMOST ALWAYS AMONG COME SOME COULD SHOULD WOULD HALF KNOW OF OFF ONE ONLY ONCE OTHER PULL PUSH PUT TWO THEIR THEY AS WAS WHAT WANT WHO WHY VERY, and international word endings -ION/-TION/-SION/ZION)
    After that, only 6% of surplus letters in words need be cut, and 3% of misleading letters changed, in everyday text,

    2011, Yule, Valerie 'Recent developments which affect spelling. On the possibility of removing the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, while leaving the basic appearance of English print intact.' English Today, 107, vol 27, No 3. Sept 2011, pp 62-67 Can u spell? The best of us may not be perfect.

    1986. The design of spelling to meet needs & abilities. Harvard Educational Review. 56.3. 278 - 297.

  • 3 May 2013 at 6:34pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    In the U.S. a "Wellness Center" is one of those new-fangled commercial operations that caters to various kinds of health-faddists. Typically it would offer advice and consultation on one's diet (recommending a "holistic" approach, no doubt), exercise, and perhaps even ornamental frills such as acupuncture, massages, and instruction in meditation. You pay for each, of course. On the other hand a "Fitness Center" is merely a business in the form of a gymnasium full of equipment such as treadmills and other kinds of exercise machines. If they are of the posh sort, they also have instructors and spa-like facilities. The gamut runs from the very cheap monthly membership fee to the very pricey one, differing by a factor or ten or more.
    "Budget line" has a precise meaning over here -- it refers to an item (salary, equipment, supplies, service, etc.) in a budget with the amount of the cost next to it. In proposed public agency budgets (e.g., for the annual budget of the State of New York for the coming fiscal year), the final authority (in this example, the Governor) has the so-called "line-item veto" power, that is, he or she can cross out the line and its associated cost with the stroke of a pen.
    But, don't worry, in spite of the clarity of these particular terms, these bureaucratese prospers in the U.S., thriving on vocational jargon, circumlocution, and euphemism.

  • 3 May 2013 at 6:44pm
    Whitecamry says:
    I believe that once upon a time "reliability" was considered by many a fashionable Briton to be a silly word simply because it wasn't coined in Britain - even if it was coined by native-born English-speakers who just happened to live elsewhere.

Read more