EURO FOOLISHNESS.

Did you know that there are people who think you should say “How many euro?”—or, as some of them charmingly put it, “the –s in ‘euros’ is silent”? Check out this interview with Michael Everson, who was involved in the standardization process and seems like a sensible man:

Ian Dempsey: Yeah, OK. And, I mean, what is the business with the -s at the end of it? You’re on a bit of a crusade about this aren’t you?
Michael Everson: I am on a bit of a crusade about this because we’re having… we’re facing a sociolinguistic disaster right now, I mean, it’s almost class-ridden, you know? You’ve got ordinary folk on Thomas Street and Camden Street saying “euros and cents”, quite happily. And then you’ve got, you know—I don’t know who they are, whether it’s they’re better educated or they’re just Dublin 4 or what, you know, and they’re being very careful to say “euro and cent”. And there’s a reason for all of this, and I guess I’m going to have to point my finger at Mr McCreevy because he’s at the top of the heap…. But whether or not he took any decisions or was just badly informed, I don’t know. Now there’s two pieces of legislation which are, sort of, relevant there. One is a European Council Directive from 1997—number 1103/97—which says that, basically, OK, “we consider that the name of the single currency has to be the same in all the official languages of the Union.”
ID: OK.
ME: And that’s fair enough, you know. But what this means is, that all the countries, you know, it’s like: “Lads, you have to call it euro. Austria can’t opt out and say ‘Well, we want to call it the ducat, please?'”… So what this got, sort of, filtered down into through the Secretariat-General, it says that in legislation translation, in English, the thing is not supposed to be variable, it’s not supposed to take its natural plural. Now I don’t think there’s any justification for this, because it doesn’t make any sense, if you’ll pardon the pun…. And there’s the other thing is…. Brian Dobson, God love him, he was there on the news the other day, and he was giving the currency differences. And he was so careful, he said “cent” when he was talking about the euro and “cents” when he was talking about the dollar, and I can’t imagine how anybody could possibly do that!

Everson explains that the official guidelines call for the unchanged singular form only in certain legal texts; normal usage is not affected. And, as he says, “the speakers of languages have their own permission to say whatever they like”—words that should be graven above the entrance to every Academy in the world. I must admit that I find it hard to grasp the mindset of people who think some bureaucrat can tell them what forms to use in their own language. (Via A Fistful of Euros, which has the excellent epigraph Purity of race does not exist. Europe is a continent of energetic mongrels. –H.A.L. Fisher.)

Comments

  1. Never fear. My guess is that every country will come up with its own slang terms and that “Euro” will mostly be relegated to relatively official contexts.

  2. I hijacked a thread in sci.lang recently in an attempt to round up the folk plurals of “Euro” in different languages.
    We got German, Finnish, Italian, Swedish and Danish declensions, hoorah.
    (Incidentally, Larry Trask is now posting in sci.lang – you should come over some time. By Usenet standards it’s a pretty sane group.)

  3. Well, I’m German and mostly say it without “s” when I talk about the amount of money it represents, because before the Euro it was done this way with the “Mark” and that seems to be generally the way of measurement units. If I talk about it as something physical, like a pile of coins, I add an “s” like “how many Euros are in that pile?” but I say “how many Euro costs this?”

  4. des: Fascinating; I hope somebody’s following all this in detail, since it’s a unique chance to see language history working itself out in as much detail as you want. From your link:
    A sometimes heated discussion happens periodically on Italian language NGs: unchanged plural “euro” (for those who perceive it essentially as a foreign word) vs. “euri”.
    How will such debates be settled? The world waits with bated breath!

  5. If you want rilly rilly weird plurals, on the other hand, you want Movima – a real life Amazonian language in which
    “””
    When you count in Movima, the numeral must agree with the noun being
    counted. The form of the agreement depends on two things:
    1. whether the noun is native or borrowed;
    2. the number of syllables in the noun.
    “””

  6. Well, my initial suspicion that the puckish Larry was having us on, but the language exists, even if only spoken by “a few older people along the rivers.” Unfortunately, the only sample I’ve found doesn’t contain any plurals.
    Aha! I’ve just found a piece by Colette Grinevald, who actually deciphered the system you describe; it’s well worth reading, and this paragraph is particularly amusing:
    “and there is much more to this story, such as the alternative ways of counting objects, this one being only one of them, and most strikingly, the stunning intensity of the arguing between the two speakers who often disagreed, on even very simple cases, such as ‘two benches’. intense enough that we needed to take breaks and walk around to cool off, and i almost lost the female speaker who walked out on us at one point. was it the long standing case of another south american language not really into counting, or that of two linguistic informants seeing their role differently, or that of a decaying system of an endangered language in chaotic variation?”

  7. Well, if you only had two Italians and they disagreed on the plural of their currency, that would seem pretty odd too…
    (Is the third link meant to be to the sample as well as the second?)

  8. A “sociolinguistic disaster”? Wow.
    Hat, have you heard of any slang terms in Russian, or just evro?

  9. Des: Thanks for calling my attention to my lazy linkage. I tried to fix it, but my browser is still giving me the repeated Bible link. Just in case, here‘s the Grinevald link.
    Chris: No, I haven’t, but Anatoly has a thread on the topic, so you might check there (and ask your question if it hasn’t come up).

  10. I posit that most US speakers don’t notice the peculiarities of their plural currency usage. To wit: “how many dollars does that TV cost?,” “that is a five hundred dollar TV,” and “that TV costs five hundred dollars.”
    By the way, all three links are different, language hat. Must have been a cache thing.

  11. You don’t have to go all the way to an obscure language like Movima to find weird counters. Japanese has many different counter words depending on what type of thing you are counting. For example, counting flat things like sheets of paper uses the -mai counter, while counting cylindrical things like bottles or pencils uses the -hon counter.

  12. Many languages have counters, some with more complicated systems than Japanese, but I’m not aware of another language with that messy a plural system (Russian differentiates 2-4 from 5+, but that’s about as complicated as it usually gets).

  13. The plural of the Euro has caused some anxiety in Greece as well. The monetary unit is bronounced evrO (to evrO, neutral gender)… which means that the natural inclination of native speakers is to say “ta evrA” in the plural form. However evrO, is spelled differently than the regular neutral nouns, which means that “officially” it remains the same in the plural. This is standard use right now, and only in the most colloquial of usages (and slang) does one hear otherwise…
    The cent(s) however is a different matter altogether: Greek Euro coins write “lepta” and not “cent” on their greek faces whatever Michael Everson might say abour EU directives… The official name of the Euro Cent in Greek is “lepto”, plural “lepta”…

  14. Wow, this is amazing. The word “euro” is like a petri dish for linguistic development. (I certainly would have expected a Greek plural evra.) As I said above, I hope somebody’s tracking all this.

  15. It might be significant in this context that it’s an Irish interview, referring to specifically Irish examples.
    Later in the interview, Ian remarks: Yeah, because I mean, like, with the pound for example, like if I went down and said, “It only cost me twenty pound,” people would say “That’s wrong, it’s ‘twenty pounds’.”
    Irish people have traditionally counted in the singular, something that has been adopted from Irish.

  16. I’m from N. Ireland myself, and, as the above poster said, ‘pound’ is counted in the singular. It’s probably the more common usage here (although I don’t really do it myself at all).
    I tended to think “euro” in the plural was a bizarre analogy with this or “quid”. I would always say “euros” (not that I get the chance to do so much since we’re still on pounds).
    But I’ve heard both the Irish and English say “euro” in the plural all over the place, even about as far as you can get from anywhere it’s used.
    It grates on me in English. It just sounds totally ungrammatical to me, despite pound, which my mind seems to treat as a special, common, exception.
    And if it grates on me in English, goodness knows what it might do to Lithuanians with their seven cases. And goodness knows what the Arabic plural would be. ‘aaraa’, perhaps.

  17. I am tickled to know that Greek calls the subunit lepta (‘light’). One would think that calling it cent (‘hundred’) would cause confusion in, say, France.

  18. With a nice photo yet! Great find.

  19. One would think that calling it cent (‘hundred’) would cause confusion in, say, France.

    Which is why it’s called centime there, and centim in Catalan, and céntimo in Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician; and be damned to officious European uniformity. In Belgium, however, where centimes were not much in use, it is cent [sɛnt], so written the same but pronounced differently from cent ‘100’.

  20. January First-of-May says:

    It was, of course, convenient that France already had a history of abbreviating their centimes to “cent.” (or similar) on coins, so they could just keep the spelling “cent” and pretend that it’s actually short for “centime”.
    (Come to think of it, so did Belgium, but I’m not certain that their centimes weren’t just cents in the first place. EDIT: no, definitely centimes, but usually spelled out fully.)

    I’m… actually not sure what the Russian plural for евро would have been if allowed to develop independently. Or, rather, my obvious guess is евры, but the only other remotely similar Russian word is утро, pl. утра, which would have given **евра (which I’m only fine with as the 2-4 form).
    And either way the genitive plural (= the 5+ form) would have ended up as **евр, but I want to say евров, which doesn’t really fit either possibility.

  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    (Incidentally, Larry Trask is now posting in sci.lang – you should come over some time. By Usenet standards it’s a pretty sane group.)

    True enough in 2003, especially when Larry Trask was around. Now it’s mainly a playground for nutters, but some sane people are still there.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Thanks to January First-of-May for reviving this interesting thread, which I hadn’t seen before, as I didn’t know about LanguageHat in 2003.

  23. January First-of-May says:

    Thanks to January First-of-May for reviving this interesting thread

    The thanks are due to John Cowan, without whose post I would not have found this thread anytime soon.

    (I’m slowly catching up on the 2003-era LH posts, but hadn’t made it to this one before it got revived, and in any case don’t respond to them while catching up; that would probably be a thing for the second re-read, if I ever get that far.)

  24. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve long said Australia should join the EU and put a euro on its 1-euro coins.

    And either way the genitive plural (= the 5+ form) would have ended up as **евр

    Because of the final stress of евро – or am I making that up? – I always assumed it would be евер somehow.

  25. Википедия says “В русском языке преобладает передача этого слова как е́вро. Согласно нормативным словарям, это слово мужского рода, хотя в разговорной речи встречается и средний.” They treat it as indeclinable.

  26. David M. As I said back in 2009 when you made this point: For Australia to join the E.U. would, alas, require that it come to be at least within hailing distance of Europe, a feat that seems “far beyond the powers of all the dwarves put together, even if they could all be collected again from the four corners of the world.”

    That same page also has a list of euros declinable, indeclinable and variably declined as well as alternatives to cent.

  27. Well, if Australia can join the Eurovision song contest, there clearly is hope. 🙂

  28. Hans says: “Well, if Australia can join the Eurovision song contest”

    Last time I checked my atlas, Israel and Cyprus were outside Europe, but they still compete regularly in the Eurovision song contest.

  29. Yes. And Cyprus is in the EU, so precedent would be on Australia’s side. 🙂

  30. That’s why I said “within hailing distance”. If you admit Australia, what if the U.S. applies to join next? Quelle horreur!

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Cyprus self-identifies as European and has close ties to Greece and the UK, so it was a quite natural member when time came and a reunion of the island was within sight. The EU made membership conditional on an agreement in the UN-led negotiations, but the process ended up being skewed. I don’t remember the details anymore, but the negotiations dragged out and the EU accepted the Republic of Cyprus without conditions. Thus, the double referendum beacme a referendum on whether or not the northern part should be allowed in as well, which — predictably — was accepted by a large majority in the north and overwhelmingly voted down in the south.

  32. Jokes get ruined if you take them too serious….

  33. Which leads to the odd result that an external border of the EU runs across the (claimed) territory of a member country. In Ill Bethisad such results are more commonplace: in Jervaine (i.e. Germania Superior), the provinces of Moseola (Moselle) and Siovadra (Black Forest) are part of the Holy Roman Empire, but the province of Ausaedsa (Alsace) is not. Similarly, Holsten/Holstein is part of both the H.R.E. and the Scandinavian Realm (whereas Slesvik is purely Scandinavian, though the two are administered as a single duchy).

    And of course the Newcommer [sic] provinces of the North American League, though politically independent, still owe more or less nominal allegiance to (depending on history) the English, the Scottish, the Kemrese (Welsh), the Scandinavian, or the Heavenly Thrones (yes, some provinces “have no king but God”, but that doesn’t mean they have no viceregal bureaucracy). Most Native provinces have their own constitutional monarchs.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    So I did make the final stress up. I’ll probably spend the next few days in introspection, looking for a model I could have used for that.

    If you admit Australia, what if the U.S. applies to join next? Quelle horreur!

    No horror at all. If Canada applied, I don’t think that would be met with horror or derision, just with legal headaches about NAFTA. Any noises about physical geography have just been excuses to keep Islamic countries (Morocco and Turkey) out.

    Of course the US couldn’t apply right now for a long list of reasons in the legal system, like having the death penalty on the books, whether or not geography enters the question.

    Australia is of course the great role model for Europe’s xenophobes.

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