Every profession has its in-group ways of using language, but not every profession requires native speakers of many different languages to communicate with each other every day.
The European Union requires just this, and the people who work there, hashing out, drafting, and translating documents use English in a very particular way. A 2013 EU report outlined some of the unusual qualities of EU English, pointing out that, “over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English.”
Much of that unrecognizable vocabulary is the result of translations or non-native-speaker errors that make a certain kind of sense, but depart from the usual English. Because documents in the EU influence the way other documents are drafted as well as the way discussions proceed, the unusual vocabulary items tend to spread around until they are part of the general professional jargon. Here are 11 examples of words used in EU documents in an odd new way.
1. TO PRECISE/PRECISION
The Committee urges the Commission ... to precise which period before confinement is meant. Without further precisions, this could lead to support for poorly justified financial instruments.
Precise is sometimes used in EU documents as a verb to mean "make precise," or specify. It is also used in this sense as a noun, precision, which is supposed to mean "that which is used to make things precise"—in other words, details or specifications.
2. DISPOSE OF
The Commission may not be able to assess the reliability of the data provided by Member States and may not dispose of independent information sources.
There is an emerging tendency to use dispose of not to mean "get rid of," but to have or possess. This strange usage probably comes from the fact that we say to have at one’s disposal to mean "have free use of." In regular English it is not possible to transform that phrase into dispose of in this way.
The annual accounts give detailed information on the financial corrections confirmed, implemented and to be implemented and explain the reasons for which an important amount is still to be implemented.
Important is sometimes used to mean large or significant. Something that is significant can be important, but important carries more connotations of being crucial or having an effect on things than significant does. It’s a subtle distinction that a non-native speaker really can’t be blamed for not having full control over.
The Court questioned the opportunity of introducing these measures in such an uncertain economic climate.
Here opportunity is used to mean "the quality of being opportune," or "opportuneness." According to the raw rules of word formation, there’s no reason it shouldn’t mean that, but we already have a set meaning for opportunity—favorable circumstances or a chance for success.
The management of the above mentioned feed sectors is subject to close co-operation with the Member States through regular (generally monthly) meetings of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, section on Animal Nutrition, and punctual expert groups meetings where appropriate.
Punctual should be able to mean "point by point," or "from time to time," as it does in German and other European languages. But it in English we only use it in the sense of "arriving at the agreed-upon time." In EU documents it is used to mean occasional or periodic.
This appropriation is intended to cover basic salaries of the staff, as listed in the attached table, based on the actual regulations and on the probable adjustments.
Actual is famous for being one of those "false friend" words. It looks like the same word in French (or German or Spanish) but means something different in English. In English it means real or existing, while in other languages it means current. In EU documents in takes on the European meaning.
They both opposed an eventual imposition of anti-dumping measures as they considered that it could lead to a cessation of imports of the product concerned from the PRC79.
Another false friend, we take eventual to mean "happening at some point in the future," while in other languages it means possible. The eventual imposition referred to here is a possibility, not a plan.
Priority should be given to the ORs’ health system, training and education in order to optimise local human resources and expertises as greatest potential drivers of growth in the ORs83.
Expertise is normally a mass noun that doesn’t have a plural form: we don’t say expertises but areas of expertise. In EU English, however, it often shows up in the plural. It’s always good to have more expertises than you need.
Simplified procedures and better planification should make it possible to even out the caseload under FP6, improving internal control and speeding up processes.
Planification shows up a lot in EU English. It assumes the existence of an unusual verb planify, meaning something like plan. Basically, planification is planning, but longer.
The Commission must draft new rules setting out the powers and workings of the bodies replacing the Committees in the framework of the now-abolished comitology procedure, to ensure that the new system operates properly.
The report states that there are 1253 instances of this word in an EU document database but “not only does the word not exist outside the EU institutions … it is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two m’s and two t’s) and a suffix that means something quite different (-ology/-logy means 'the science of' or 'the study of'). It is therefore highly unlikely that an outsider would be able to deduce its meaning, even in context.” It means something like "having to do with committees."
EU Actorness in International Affairs: The Case of EULEX Mission in Kosovo, Perspectives on European Politics and Society.
Another EU-specific invention, actorness means something like "the quality of being a party which is taking an action." Though it makes for strange English, it is a rather more efficient way to express a concept that the EU discusses a lot.
[h/t: Fun language podcast The Allusionist]