Avoiding correct words

Many languages have words that people think are English, but are not. For example, many Germans think that their word for cellphone – handy – is English. Well, technically it is an English word, but people in the English-speaking countries never call their mobile phone a handy. It’s a phony “English” term that was made up by Germans. Handy means something very different from cellphone.

A similar word is mobbing. In many countries people use this word to mean harassment, but in the English-speaking countries it means something quite different. I think the “Euro-English” version of the word was made up in Sweden. French and other languages have their own strange words that people think are English.

When people’s English knowledge goes one step higher, they find out that these words are not really English, and they avoid them.

However, some people go a step further and avoid words that we really use! Today I saw a German girl trying not to say laptop, because she thought it was Germlish. But it really is English!


On a point of interest mobbing is used in a sort of technical way to describe an activity carried out by birds. This happens when a larger bird will deliberately irritate another bird or birds by appearing to attack it but the main purpose is to annoy or upset.


Hi Jamie,

You are right, there are a lot of English words that German speakers attach a different meaning to. For example, many Germans use the word steward or stewardess when talking about a flight attendant or fitness studio when referring to a gym or healthclub.
Interestingly enough, I know quite a few American ESL teachers who have been working in Germany for a couple of years and they would sometimes say You can call my on my handy. Seems they have given in to the German way of using this word…[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: Audio advert in supermarket announcing the latest special offers[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Torsten

Do you see a problem with using the word “stewardess” to mean “(a female) flight attendant” in English? For me the word “flight attendant” is simply a newer expression — which can be used for both men and women who do this type of job.

I’ve also heard native speakers who have been in Germany for a while use the word “Handy”. Another German word that Americans (in Germany) tend to incorporate into English sentences is the word “Schrank” when talking about a place where you put clothes. I assume this is because in the US we have “closets” for this. And US-style closets (i.e. built in) are practically nonexistent in Germany.

I once had a British neighbor (here in Germany) who always referred to the “security deposit” for his apartment as a “caution” (although he was supposedly speaking English). :lol: :lol:


Actually, I think stewardess is a valid as waitress or actress. I’m just not sure how often stewardess is used nowadays. From what I can see flight-attendant simply seems to be the more popular term. Maybe, this is just my impression though.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: Giving a motivational speech to staff during an economic crisis[YSaerTTEW443543]

Do you mean in German or in English?

If I heard someone simply say: “She is a stewardess”, I would definitely not understand actress or waitress, but rather a flight attendant. (Even though one of the main duties of a flight attendant is to serve food. :lol:)


Yes. So do many Americans. Stewardess was the original term, and flight attendant is the politically correct, gender-neutral term that was forced on people in the 1960s. It came along with some other terms, such as mail carrier instead of mailman, although people still say mailman and mail lady more often than letter carrier. (I only say carrier when I’m talking to post office personnel in an official capacity, such as when I’m filing a complaint.) American feminists are something like the French Academy. They try to force cumbersome words on people for political reasons, and people don’t usually like their words and continue to use the old ones. So many people still say stewardess and steward, because they sound less impersonal.

Fitness studio is still a common term in the United States. It means a health club or else the part of the health club with the weight machines. Many people think both terms sound too posh and just call the place a gym.

It’s easier than telling people again and again that handy is not English and what we say instead. There were a few terms like this in the Czech Republic that I gave up on and began to say myself.

By the way, a lot of Chaldeans in the United States call a cellphone a “celler phone” or a “cellaphone”. These pronunciations are one of the things that mark someone as a greenhorn immigrant in the Chaldean community. When you tell the people the correct way to pronounce the word, they act shocked.

That leads to another funny situation. In some politically correct circles it’s become taboo to use the word actress. (When I was in art school, we were all told to stop saying sculptress.) They think this feminine term is demeaning or something. They want everyone to call both women and men actors. However, these politically correct people feel as much of a need for a gender distinction as the people who don’t care about it do, so they wind up saying “woman actor” all the time, which is the same thing as calling someone an actress.

Hi Jamie,

What about the word waitress? Would those politically correct people say ‘woman waiter’ instead?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: A tour guide introduces herself to her group[YSaerTTEW443543]

They say server.