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Found in translation 8 April 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in Uncategorized.
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Every Christmas my cousins ask me what it is I actually do in Brussels and every year they claim they still don’t understand. Waiting to board a plane for Manchester at Charleroi on Tuesday to go to Keith Richardson‘s funeral, I piloted the following non-technocratic response: “We help European governments to improve their employment, inclusion and training policies by learning from each other” – and it worked brilliantly. The young woman who’d asked said she’d started to turn off when she heard the word ‘government’ but it sounded really interesting. I’m glad to say: it is.

It reminds me of the dictum attributed to Einstein that if you can’t explain something to your grandma then you don’t understand it. Here’s the more technical version.


Horizontigo 27 February 2016

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CIMG9333 Horizontigo. Twiske mill in the distanceI thought I’d coined a new word to describe that feeling of disorientation I still get when faced with an entirely unrelievedly flat landscape – horizontigo. It still gets to me even after 2 decades of constantly travelling through it in Flanders and Holland; I long for a rolling Chiltern hill or a Yorkshire moor.
So I was disappointed to find the Urban Dictionary has got there first, defining it as the feeling you are going backwards when the vehicle next to you starts up. I think the Germans have a great train-related word for that, but I can’t find it.

Multilingualism in Brussels – English is the “cherry on the cake” 10 November 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels.
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No surprise that Brussels is growing more multilingual. The third Taalbarometer study by VUB (n=2,500) shows that 104 maternal languages are spoken in Brussels, the most important of which are:

Brussels multilingualism

I was surprised at the scale of French predominance. However not only the population as whole, but individuals, are becoming more multilingual. The total of languages spoken is 168%, meaning that on average we each speak 12/3 languages “well” or “very well”. Only 40% of people grow up in a home where only French and/or Dutch are spoken.

be autifulThe most recent Taalbarometer study was made in 2011, but Pascal Smet, now Flemish Minister of Education but formerly a very tram- and bike-friendly Brussels mobility minister,  has suggested in an interview with EurActiv that Brussels should consider making English an official language. Coincidentally, the current fun ‘be Brussels’ campaign invites you to submit slogans in French, Dutch and English.  I like ‘be lingualism’ and of course ‘be er’.However for the moment the policy accent is on French-Dutch bilingualism, with English “the cherry on the cake”.

For Brussels, multilingualism is one of the chief sources of comparative advantage. See Brussels’s Marnix plan for a truly multilingual capital for the European Union, launched in September.

Postscript – be Bruxel

Now here’s a great idea from Bram Boriau in Brusselnieuws – rebrand BR/uxelles/ussel/üssel/ussels simply as BRUXEL, and save us all the bother. Plenty of towns have been renamed in history – and incidentally it’s already the city’s name in Ido.


It’s already under way! Hilde Maelstaf informs me that all teachers/professors at universities and applied universities in the Flemish region need to pass an English test organised by the British Council.

Neoblogisms 11 November 2012

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I propose the following neologisms:

ffriend – Facebook ‘friend’
flike – Facebook ‘like’
blogorrhoea – blogging too much

Χωρίς Όνομα and Prawo Jazdy 30 January 2012

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I consulted Google Maps the other day for a route to Athens. It contains the surreal instruction: Take the exit toward Choris Onoma/Χωρίς Όνομα. Memories of my schooldays tell me this means “without a name”!

It reminds me of the case from 2009 in which the Irish police tried to prosecute a Pole called Prawo Jazdy for about 50 traffic offences. Prawo Jazdy is Polish for ‘driving licence’.

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