RESP.

Margaret Marks has a post called “Resp. and other non-existent English words,” about Germans transferring usages from their own language to English, where they cause befuddlement. She mentions “the word furtheron, which seems like a combination of weiterhin and furthermore” and says, “Recently I saw a.o., clearly meaning among others. Of course, German unter anderem really means inter alia or among other things, not among others, so that too was misused.” But the main part of her entry concerns a word that always vaguely puzzled and annoyed me back when I had to plow through German linguistics journals:

Now I have read a query from someone on a forum with a German member whose English is very good. However, he keeps including the abbreviation ‘resp.’ in his postings, and English speakers can’t make sense of it. Here are two examples:

There are two kinds of suitable Polyurethane foam. One is single component. Works well, only requires some water moisture resp. wetness to
react and set.
And I see that the vast majority of users resp. members still would like
to post ‘Wanted’ ads here.

To quote the questioner:

I thought at first it meant “with respect to”, but I think he’s actually using it to offer an alternative word for the one he has just used. I suspect he’s using a literal translation of a German abbreviation, but it doesn’t quite get his meaning across in English.

This is interesting, because every time I read resp. I know from German what the writer means. Beziehungsweise usually means and or or. But respectively has a narrower meaning: ‘each separately in the order mentioned’, to quote the Longmans Dictionary of Contemporary English. Example:

Classes A, B, and C will start their exams at 9.30, 10.00 and 10.30 respectively.

Beziehungsweise can mean this, but more often it is used the way the German uses resp. above: water or wetness, members or users.

It makes me wonder what mistakes are typical of English-speakers writing in other languages.

Comments

  1. Croatian has the word “odnosno” with the same meaning and usage as the German word. It is a very useful word meaning which is approximated by the English “respectively”. But as noted in the article, the English word cannot be used to mean “and/or”. English is the poorer for it. Maybe we should adopt the usage of “resp” in English.

  2. I wonder if the Croatian usage is a calque from the German?

  3. “others” == “other things”; what is the problem there?

  4. It makes me wonder what mistakes are typical of English-speakers writing in other languages.
    Not exactly in the same vein, and not just English-speakers, but this amused me.

  5. It makes me wonder what mistakes are typical of English-speakers writing in other languages.
    In most European languages, I suspect that a typical mistake is to use present participles as gerunds, possessives instead of demonstratives, and maybe other habits we picked up from the Insular Celts.

  6. It makes me wonder what mistakes are typical of English-speakers writing in other languages.
    Joy Burrough wrote a book – Righting English that’s gone Dutch (ISBN 90 57 97008 2) – on how the Dutch make their own English. The second edition of this book will be published this year.

  7. I was watching this “teach yourself Spanish” instructional DVD, and in the midst of a blandly whimsical “fun” presentation, the host gets all serious and says, “Be absolutely certain to put a tilde on the n when spelling the word “años.”
    The host’s sudden gravity immediately sent my non-Spanish-speaking self to Larousse’s.
    I wonder how many tourists and students blithely inform the authorities in Spanish-speaking countries that they are at least 21 assholes.

  8. “Be absolutely certain to put a tilde on the n when spelling the word “años.”
    Amazon lists Garcia Marquez’s magnum opus as Cien Anos de Soledad.

  9. What a sad book that would be…

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