Loan Translations

By Maeve Maddox

Vocabulary borrowings from other languages take many forms, one of which is the loan translation or calque.

The English word calque derives from French calquer “to trace.” It refers to a word or a phrase that has been translated word-for-word from its foreign origin.

Because English is a Germanic language, it’s not surprising that we have numerous calques that originated as German expressions. Here are a few:

superman from übermensch
hang glider from Hängegleiter
flamethrower from Flammenwerfer
gummy bear from the product name Gummibärchen (little gummy bear)
loanword from Lehnwort
Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) from Intelligenzquotient
Rainforest from Regenwald
Watershed from Wasserscheide
World war from Weltkrieg

Note: In Nietzschean thought, the übermensch is the ideal superior man of the future who transcends conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values. The German word werfer (“thrower”) is used in sports to refer to the bowler in cricket and the pitcher in baseball.

Here are some calques from the French:

deaf-mute from sourd-muet
free verse from vers libre
rhinestone from caillou du Rhin

Note: The historical term deaf-mute, “unable to hear or speak,” is now considered by some to be insensitive or derogatory; a replacement term is “hearing- and speech-impaired.” German also has Rheinkiesel which, like caillou du Rhin, means “Rhine-pebble.”

Latin calques:

Milky Way (the galaxy that contains Earth’s solar system) from via lactea
“Rest in Peace” from requiescat in pace
“in a nutshell” from in nuce

Calquing goes both ways. Computing terms coined in English have been calqued into other languages. For example, French disque dur, carte mère, souris, and en ligne for English hard disk, motherboard, mouse, and online.

Related post: Loanwords and Calques

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2 Responses to “Loan Translations”

  • D.A.W.

    Something similiar:
    “bulldozier” – modified from the English “bulldozer”, but pronounced in French with four syllables: “bull-do-zee-eh”.

    Simple computer lingo: “microchip” in English is “microchip” in French, but I cannot remember whether it is “le microchip” or “la microchip”.
    “computer” in English is “der Computer” in German.

  • D.A.W.

    A deceptive pair in German and English:
    “Flint” in German is a shotgun, and not a “flintlock” as in English, and not the mineral “flint” in English.
    D.A.W.

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