Posted by: Jack Henry | October 5, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Calque

Recently I sent out a couple of idiomatic phrases to you and briefly explained why they are sometimes difficult to understand. For example, when someone says it’s “raining cats and dogs” that means it is raining really hard; it has nothing to do with dogs and cats falling from the air. Today I’d like to talk about something different. Today’s words and phrases are called calques. A calque is a word or phrase from another language that is translated word-for-word in English. Calque is the French word for a copy of something. The word calquer means “to trace” in French.

An article from Daily Writing Tips gives us several examples. Here are two that I liked:

Another calque for writers comes from Czech psát do šupliku, “write for the drawer.” This is an expression that developed along with the Russian word samizdat, which refers to the practice of underground publishing of state-proscribed materials, often by hand, and passed around from reader to reader. In English, writing for the drawer can refer to any writing not intended for immediate publication.

Crab mentality is a calque from Tagalog isip talangka. It derives from the behavior of crabs in a pot. As one tries to escape over the side, it’s pulled down by the others in the pot. Applied to people, it refers to the unfortunate tendency of group members to resent or obstruct the progress of a colleague seen to be rising above the performance of the others.

Wikipedia provides calque examples from several languages. Here are some of the German ones they list. You should be able to see the relationship between the original German word and its translation to English.

· Beer garden calques Biergarten

· Concertmaster and concertmeister calque Konzertmeister

· Earworm calques Ohrwurm

· Flamethrower calques Flammenwerfer

· Intelligence quotient calques Intelligenzquotient

· Loanword calques Lehnwort

· Nostalgia calque Heimweh "home sore"

· Overman and superman (i.e., self-transcending human) calque Übermensch

· Rainforest calques Regenwald

· Stormtroopers calques Sturmtruppen

· Watershed calques Wasserscheide

This is one of the pictures I found when searching for a funny calque meme. I have no idea what the connection is, but a hot dog sounds delicious right now. (Okay, I’m fasting. Anything sounds good right now!)

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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