THE ERISTIC GENITIVE OF EURO.

I have previously reported on a contretemps over whether the plural of euro should have an s; now comes a brouhaha over inflected forms. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the News-Telegraph:

Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Malta triggered the rare linguistic showdown by refusing to accept the established usage in translations of the European constitution, calling it inelegant, inaccurate, or even gibberish in their languages.
They have all agreed to use the harmonised “euro” form on future notes and coins when they join the monetary union, but that was not good enough for Brussels.
All official EU texts must be spelt the same way even if it makes no sense in the Baltic languages.

The biggest headache is for the 3.5 million people of Lithuania, who would normally write euras, eurue, eura, euru, eure, eurai, eurams, eurus, eurais and eurose, depending on the word’s function in a sentence. The genitive in particular has caused tempers to fray.
In a letter to the Dutch EU presidency, the Lithuanian government insisted: “The non-inflective form of the term euro is unacceptable to the Lithuanian language.”
The Dutch offered a compromise yesterday that would insist on the “euro” spelling for all official EU texts such as the constitution, but let states vary usage in national documents provided the first three letters are “eur”. This is not much help to Latvia, where the word begins with “eir”.

That story is dated Oct. 13; I have not seen a resolution to this pressing issue, and I await the outcome with bated breath.
(Thanks for the link, Paul!)

Comments

  1. Welsh has a similar problem to Latvian– the name begins with “ewr”.

  2. They’ll get over it.

  3. Reg Cæsar says:

    They should drop the plural and use the Eurogenitive.
    Add this to the panoply of pronunciations of “euro”. The first syllable can be “YOU” (London), “ööh” (Paris), “OY” (Cologne), “AY-oo” (Rome or Lisbon), “EFF” (Athens), and no doubt readers can come up with others. How are you supposed to know how it’s said in any particular country?

  4. How are you supposed to know how it’s said in any particular country?

    By learning the language? You’ll have to do that anyway if you want to understand what’s being said.

  5. We love European bureaucracy. The bureaucrats find such worthy causes to spend time and money on.

  6. Reg Cæsar says:

    I congratulate Bertilo for the nobly particularist sentiment expressed. Apply it to currency, though, and the Euro is finished.

  7. Why Reg? Why does the success of a currency depend on everyone pronouncing its name in exactly the same way?
    The reason all this trouble has arisen is that quite understandably the EU want a standard spelling (except in Greek which is a necessary exception due to its alphabet) so that the notes need only bear the word “EURO” and not a whole string of different versions. By some dubious logic they decided that for this to work they needed to mandate that the plural must always be “euro” in every language, which has caused confusion and some controversy in Ireland (and Britain, where the euro is discussed extensively but to a lesser extent because we are still not a part of it). The problems get much worse when a complicated system of inflection is applied, as in Lithuanian. All the governments are agreed that it’s fine to just have “EURO” written on the notes as long as they aren’t compelled to avoid inflecting the word in official documents.
    None of this has anything much to do with pronunciation, as everyone except pedants is likely, eventually, to make the word conform to their language, in colloquial usage at least.

  8. I wonder why they don’t just use just the Euro symbol, €, and let everyone read it in his or her own way.

  9. John Baptist says:

    Shouldn’t the spelling of the word Euro be analogous with the local spelling of the word Europe? It annoys me that in the Czech Republic, it’s the Euro (eura, eur, eurum, eury) but Evropa. Plus Evro is must easier for the locals to pronounce.

  10. Reg Cæsar says:

    Maybe I’m just in an unusual position, working in the international section of a U.S. airport. Many passengers want to know if we take euro(s)– we do– and if their English is poor they use the single word: “Euro??” So our low-level workers, who come from places like Somalia and the Philippines, have to deal with a dozen pronunciations of this word. (Including the non-EU Russian, which is “evro”.) And they all assume everyone says it the way they say it. The problem isn’t when you visit them; it’s when they visit you.
    The Middle Ages have a bad reputation, but they had this probelm solved. Everything international was in Latin.

  11. Perhaps it should be noted, once and yet and all bloody over again, that no official body within the EU has or is entitled to an opinion on how the word “euro” can or should be spelled in any language in any context other than EU legislation, by which are explicitly excluded even working (but non-legislative) documents of the EU itself.
    OK?
    Now, for updates to the story, we have Google news, after all, which leads to coverage in, eg, the EU observer

    According to a compromise deal offered by the Dutch presidency, the word euro would remain unaltered on all translations of EU documents and on banknotes and coins, but in national documents the governments can vary the usage, provided that first three letters remain “eur”.
    The compromise deal was acceptable for four of the countries. The Latvian officials, however, have asked for extra time to consult with Riga, according to PA.
    The issue has to be solved before the signing of the European Constitution, taking place on the 29 October.

    Pronunciation, meanwhile, is and could only ever be a matter for the demos in the streets to decide, and if anyone’s wondering about Swedish, it comes out “evron”, with a [v] that “Yoorp” there lacks. So is it, just!

  12. And the Scotsman has a later skinny:

    A spokesman for the Dutch presidency said that because the translated texts of the draft EU constitution had to be finalised yesterday, the presidency decided to go ahead with the compromise formula, despite the objections, he said.
    It has to be printed and sent to Rome for the ceremony,” he said. “We don’t have any signs that they will not sign because of this.”

    We’ll see on Friday…

  13. Crispix Attacks says:

    If it could just be “eura” in Lithuanian, then the plural nominative would be “euros”. Sadly, they went with an ending that isn’t a possible nominative in Lithuanian, forcing them to be forever genitive.

  14. Michael Farris says:

    It doesn’t seem to decline at all in Polish, I suspect that it’s perceived as being used adpositionally with a declined word that isn’t there (does that make sense?) or as an abbreviation (like kilo, which also doesn’t decline).

  15. Richard Hershberger says:

    I’m not personally familiar with the European bureaucracy, though I have heard stories. But it seems to this cynical American that it is a mistake to try to solve an artificial invented bureaucratic problem with a real solution. Better to solve it with an artificial invented bureaucratic solution. Since the bureaucrats object to official documents with “euro” in native forms, simply issue the documents, declare them to be “unofficial”, but also declare that any unofficial document which otherwise meets all the usual standards of officialness will have the same authority as if it were official: problem solved. If that isn’t good enough, then take the unofficial document, run a global search for the inflected forms, replace them with “euro”, print up a copy, drop it in the mail to Brussels, and go about your business. Or is Brussels on to this sort of thing?

  16. Larry Brennan says:

    Well, it’s money we’re talking about here. Just spell it the way it appears on the notes and pronounce it or decline it in everyday speech as your language demands. Nobody seems to have had this problem with Dollars, Pounds, (Swiss) Francs or Yen, which in addition to Euros are perfectly fine to have stuffed in your wallet or bank account.

  17. They’re taking the uro, as usual

  18. For god’s sake, WHAT is “eurogenitive”? :-O
    In Latvian we say and write “eira” ['ayrah] with our normal inflected plural, genitive, etc.

  19. Lots and lots of languages have refused to treat euro and cent as indeclinable, and it’s quite common, where there is an existing coin name meaning ’1/100 of main unit’, to use its name for the cent: French, Catalan, and Italian in particular do this. The article also mentions that quid is now slang for ‘euro’ rather than ‘pound’ in Ireland.

  20. What is euro in Greek? Drahma. (Today it’s a bit truer than yesterday)

  21. Bathrobe says:

    I totally agree with treating euro and cent as indeclinable, on purely functional grounds. That includes plurals. How else would we distinguish the currency unit from the Australian marsupial? Basically you’ll get a lot more satisfaction out of counting your marsupials than counting your European currency :)

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    My own feeling has always been that the Euro was (ultimately) doomed the moment that the decision was taken to pick that particular ludicrous name; it is of a piece of course, with the deliberately banal design of the banknotes with their imaginary bridges. Diktats about morphology are simply part of the same mindset.

    Obviously it would have been too inflammatory to put any real Europeans or even any real European places on the currency; and that one fact tells you everything.

    The sort of Europe this mentality represents has nothing to do with the Europe of Goethe, Voltaire, Picasso, Garibaldi, Joyce, Chopin. It’s just greater Belgium without Hergé.

    Me, I’d have gone with “florin.” I could have got quite enthusiastic about the European Florin. And if the politicians couldn’t muster the courage to put a picture of Marie Curie or Leonardo da Vinci on a banknote it’s not surprising they’ve made such an egregious hash of running the currency.

  23. My own feeling involves swearing at the Greeks and their democratically-confirmed repeated communication that they have no plans to pay back the other EU countries, many of them significantly poorer than Greece, the money that those countries loaned to them. I think the Euro will survive, and I hope Greece leaves it quickly.

  24. Not that I want to get into an economic discussion, but you do realize Germany’s spectacular postwar recovery was made possible by the fact that its debts were forgiven, yes?

  25. There were lots of things that made it possible; the relevant 1953 London agreement happened after the Wirtschaftswunder had started and involved a haircut, not total forgiveness of the relevant debts.

    Greece has already had its haircut, its negotiating partners have been attempting as hard as they can, in good faith, for years, to come to some agreement, tolerable to the electorates of the other countries, that would keep Greece in the Eurozone. Greece is interested in the abstract in remaining in the Eurozone but it has no interest in what would be necessary to do that, it elected a government who campaigned on the platform that they would refuse to do that, and now that government has followed through in refusing. I admire the effectiveness of their democratic process.

    I’m the first to admit that this is all more difficult with no economic growth–in .ie in the 90s the cost of servicing the government debt went from “noticeably painful” to “not a big deal” while the debt wasn’t paid down at all, just because the size of the economy doubled in that time. (Following a period of austerity which reassured the financial markets that we were a good credit risk!) And the other western countries at the 1953 conference were reassured that they’d get their money back because West Germany was already growing so fast, and so they were probably softer negotiating partners. But it’s a difficult sell to convince me to be happy those taxes of mine were wasted in that bailout.

  26. In addition, the money being paid to Greece by taxpayers in France and Germany, at least, is going straight back to banks in France and Germany without touching Greeks at all. The governments are using Greece as an excuse for transfer payments from their own citizens to their own banksters. It’s yet another case of what is seen and what is not seen.

    I think écu/escudo/scudo would have been a good name, though I’m not sure what the German for that would be. In English we could use ecu without an accent, which would stand for “European currency unit”.

    And speaking of banksters, I am leaving the bank where I am working as a temp worker now in favor of a full-time position I’ve been offered elsewhere, as soon as my little legs can carry me (viz. three weeks from today). Hurrah me.

  27. it is of a piece of course, with the deliberately banal design of the banknotes with their imaginary bridges.

    The Dutch fixed that.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JC:

    Congratulations on your escape from having fallen among bankers …

    There *are* decent bankers. Not quite apropos, I once knew a lad who felt called (transparently earnestly) to work as a missionary to the City of London, a choice which (in accordance with sound missionary principles) involved sharing their lifestyle in many respects, which his background did in fact make possible. As he said, “It’s an area of enormous spiritual poverty.”

    How about “Shield” in whatever the appropriate local language might be? Genuine subsidiarity of terminology. I don’t see much danger of confusion in practice.

  29. I don’t see much point in getting into an extended discussion, because there seems little likelihood of anyone’s mind being changed, but for anyone interested, this is the best thing I’ve read about the Greece situation (note the very compelling graphs); “What Is the Real Greek Morality Tale?” (by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in Economics) is a good quick read that says what needs (in my opinion) to be said, and this MetaFilter thread has good commentary and links.

  30. I should add that “You are a bad person and therefore should suffer!” is compelling to our monkey brains but often does not make for productive policy.

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Lazar:

    That is just wonderful, and confirms in me a warm admiration of the Dutch people which I have entertained ever since I worked for some years for an organisation in which they were the second largest group after the Germans. (Their take on the Germans was rather more subtle than the typical Brit’s, and consequently a good bit funnier.)

    As a rapid apotropaic gesture, I would like to record immediately that I also acquired a firm appreciation of *Germans* at that time …)

  32. Trond Engen says:

    The ecu etc. is historically the same currency as the Thaler.

    Economics:

    - The recovery in the weaker countries, however lackluster, didn’t get going at all until the European Bank assumed its most important role as provider of infinite credit to temporarily hit banks and governments. Kicking Greece out now would conceivably increase rates for all the weaker countries in the Eurozone and throw them back (or deeper) into recession since the mutual guarantee would no longer be infinitely trustworthy.

    - The bailouts have done something for Greece, but much less than their cost to taxpayers. They reduce rates by moving the ownership of the debt from private banks to the central bank and other Euro governments, but they’re still mainly a huge subsidy of irresponsible lending. And, gloriously, by keeping the debt on governments’ books rather than the central bank, it makes taxpayers from other poor countries like Ireland and Spain run Germany’s errand.

    - However, the whole taxpayer idea is a fallacy in credit issues. What matters is the long-run credibility of the total currency area, allowing the central bank to capitalize over infinite time. And truth is that the Euro is too credible for its own good anyway. Allowing the currency to depreciate would help the weaker countries to adjust. As long as the stronger countries (read: Germany) would allow wages to keep up with inflation.

    - Demanding payback is one thing. Payback NOW is something quite different. Greece, as well as e.g. Ireland, would be much better off if they were allowed to invest and grow out of the depression and pay their debts later. 25% unemployment is bad for business. The countries that were hit the hardest would normally have the steepest recoveries, even if the economy was left completely to itself, because maths. Instead growth well below pre-crash levels, which really means that post-crisis policy is actively working against recovery, is taken as a victory.

    - Demanding structural reforms is OK, even praiseworthy, but A) they ought to be sustainable. Selling out public services and communal properties are not. B) they ought to improve governance and governability. Steeling people’s pensions does not. Real useful reforms, like a modern tax system and transparency in government contracts, take time and are costly before they pay back.

    - In the two last elections Greek voters threw out the two parties that took turns in business as usual and mismanaging the country for decades. The new government didn’t just promise their voters to renegoriate the debt, but to improve governance. Accordingly, it’s been very willing to discuss modernizing (as opposed to destructive) reforms, and seems to have popular support for that. The creditors won’t have anything of it since it won’t bring money now. They’d rather have the old boys back, thank you.

  33. Excellent comment! I sign on to everything Trond said.

  34. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Trond Engen, Hat:

    Seconded … very much so.

    It’s distressing to see the level of misinformation about the relevant macroeconomics in the media here in the UK. I’ve always seen that when our media trespass on anything that I actually know about first-hand they are, with some noble exceptions – notably the Economist – ludicrously unreliable; not just careless, but astonishingly careless, as in “couldn’t they just have made one single phone call to check?”

    It’s much more recently that I’ve come to realise that this is largely true of economics, too. The more damaging, as few people will miscast their votes on the basis that they think cows have regional dialects or that MRI scans have discovered the place in the brain where belief in God resides, but many people are likely to vote partly based on their (mis)understanding of economics.

    A good part of this is doubtless due to deliberate bias, unlike the sheer bullshitting involved in much of the supposed “science” reporting. But a lot of it comes down to the same fundamental lack of interest in fact.

  35. Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
    Cannot bear very much reality.

  36. J. W. Brewer says:

    There’s a significant difference between “you’re a bad person and therefore should suffer” and “you’ve proven yourself to be financially irresponsible and accordingly are no longer allowed the same degree of autonomy to make your own financial decisions that presumptively responsible adults are given.” Or (as sometimes happens with the employees of private companies in financial distress) “you may not be a bad person at all but since you had the misfortune to be affiliated with an enterprise that was seriously mismanaged you’re still going to lose your job and at least some of the pension benefits that had been promised to you by irresponsible people who were making more promises than they could fulfill. But good luck.”

  37. David Eddyshaw says:

    It occurred to me to wonder if “shilling” has anything to do etymologically with “shield.”

    The answer seems to be a resounding “maybe, but probably not”

    https://www.academia.edu/11354852/A_note_on_the_etymology_of_Germanic_skellingaz_shilling_With_an_appendix_on_Latin_siliqua_a_small_coin_

  38. per incuriam says:

    In addition, the money being paid to Greece by taxpayers in France and Germany, at least, is going straight back to banks in France and Germany without touching Greeks at all
    The banks have long since been taken care off. These days it’s the actual member states who are on the hook.

    In English we could use ecu without an accent, which would stand for “European currency unit”
    That was the name of the forerunner (XEU). The Germans opposed retaining it for the actual currency because of the ECU’s record of weakness (almost by definition) vis-a-vis the DM.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Also, I remember that the British claimed the change of name as a victory in the final negotiations.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    I’m less comfortable with a discussion of morals, but here we go:

    - No discussion that the member states are on the hook with little loss to the irresponsible lenders.

    - More money will be paid back by an economy with positive output. The question is how much long-time loss European taxpayers are willing to accept to have the joy of watching from the moral high-ground as Greeks suffer now and possibly forever.

    - Everyone, possibly except those who rigged the old system in Greece, wants that kind of irresponsible government to stop. Not only in Greece but everywhere. The question is how to do that. For me, it’s also a question of how to do it without creating a permanent tragedy.

    - It’s not like the Greek cooking of books was a secret. It was all over the papers when they were accepted into the Eurozone. Truth is that everybody expected Greece to grow out of her troubles as long as European-level rates made it possible to budget for growth. Corruption be corruption.

    - And that might well have happened if the international economy was as stable as everyone thought and the credit crunch hadn’t hit in 2008. And even then, the Greek crisis would have been significantly more manageable today (and the lesser crises of the European periphery even more so) hadn’t the market found reason to mistrust the European mutual commitment and the mandate of the central bank for years, and hadn’t the bank made one (nah, two!) of the most stupid rate hikes in the history of central banking exactly four years ago.

    - This means that this was first and foremost a fault in the design of the Eurozone. Member states gave up the power to solve their own problems by undercutting others. That’s supposed to be a Good Thing, but there was no alternative strategy in place, just an obligation to run roughly the same budget deficits, which turned out to be immrensely counter-productive in times of crisis. Now, Europe’s been doing that all along: Making bold but inadequate moves, but fixing them by true statesmanship when reality shows it ugly face. So if we believe in paying for one’s sins, the largest share of the bill should fall on those who designed it that way. And even more on those who opposed radical improvement when recession hit.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    [... T]he largest share of the bill should fall on those [...] And even more on those [...]

    As you see, there’s a lot of shares of blame to dole out!

  42. hadn’t the market found reason to mistrust the European mutual commitment

    For me an -n’t contraction is OK when reversing a clause for a question, but not when reversing it for a conditional. Maybe because such a conditional construction automatically means a more formal register? It would have to be had the market not found reason….

  43. Trond Engen says:

    … and me thinking I’d made an achievement in hitting exactly the right balance of scientific and colloquial register for my much-admired style, even when discussing such a complex subject.

  44. I agree with Keith, but it’s a very fine point, and your style is indeed much admired around these parts!

  45. Trond Engen says:

    Not by me right now. Rereading is dangerous.

  46. per incuriam says:

    Also, I remember that the British claimed the change of name as a victory in the final negotiations

    I wouldn’t put it past them. It is SOP for EU negotiations to result in a British victory or something that can plausibly be sold as such. The other acceptable outcome from a UK perspective is complete isolation, which is almost as well received (foreigners, you know).

    Regarding Greece, it shouldn’t be forgotten that some of the countries providing credit to Greece have lower standards of living, welfare benefits, minimum wages etc. Pension entitlements in Greece are more generous than even in Germany, or so at least the Germans have been led to believe.

    And the real hardliners on Greece are possibly not the Germans anyway, nor even the newer member states with their lower living standards, but the likes of Spain and Ireland, whose governing parties would suffer serious political damage if Syriza’s combattiveness were to yield a better deal than their own more compliant approach.

  47. Pension entitlements in Greece are more generous than even in Germany, or so at least the Germans have been led to believe. It’s more the latter – from what I’ve read about the matter, they are more generous if you just compare pensioners with pensioners, but the big difference is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a social security system in Greece besides pensions, so pensioners tend to also support their families in cases where in Germany e.g. unemployment ínsurance would kick in.

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