June 01, 2001

If you look up "HTML Tag" for example, you get a list of acceptable French translations, all of which are astonishingly appropriate without resorting to a perversion of the English. You get "marqueur HTML" as the principal entry, then "etiquette, ferret, codet,etc..." "Etiquette" for example means "sticker," which I find is a very poetic way of referring to an HTML tag, isn't it? We don't often think about how we make up new terms in English, but it's a process much much different than the French. We are more likely to hyphenate and coordinate than to search for a term that already exists. I bet we get this from the Germans. I once worked with a German who would go nutty hyphenating English words together. I proofread one of his reports one time and there were some crazy words he made up. I just remember thinking "Wow! This makes sense but English words don't typically have three hyphens in them!" And he told me that he thought it was okay, since in German you can string words together without even putting a hyphen. Wesffnougatchokolïtaugenblïck and all that. And then: did you know that in French you can't put more than one adjective behind a noun? You can't say "the late hungry fat purple encrusted thirteen-year-old nun broke her large favourite smelly magenta bedpan." You'd be like "La grosse nonne qui était en retard, qui avait faim, qui était encrôuté, qui avait .... etc." Notice that at the bottom of the list it says "Termes a éviter: Tag HTML." This is not just a curiosity, but a factor in how we patriotic Canadians can understand the differences in culture threatening to divide our country. For one, I think it's cool that the Quebecois (they are ahead of the French in collecting technological terms), catalogue their language this way. It can inspire us in our vocabulary as well. For example, I can describe my nightly activity with your moms as "branching into your mother," or that I like it when your moms fight over my "extended module" or "give me anchor."

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