A pseudo-Anglicism is a word that non-speakers of English regard as derived from English, and which employs syllables that sound English, although the word is not intelligible with that meaning to English-language speakers, for example, das Handy (German). Pseudo-Anglicisms commonly create false-friend errors for bilingual speakers, but of course not all false friends are pseudo-Anglicisms.

As the name implies, pseudo-Anglicisms are not judged to be true Anglicisms at all, but that judgement is not an easy one to arrive at. The distinction may ultimately only be a question of the degree of change in form and meaning. It is convenient to discuss them as if they were proper Anglicisms, if only because the folk etymologies used to (falsely) explain them can often be replaced by more complex etymologies that (truly) reveal a partial English influence.

Tests to distinguish a mere Anglicism from a pseudo-Anglicism are:

  • a mere Anglicism, despite its many differences from the English word of origin and even a comical shift in meaning, passes the test of polysemy;
  • a pseudo-Anglicism, while often resembling words from the English lexicon, lacks an English-language genesis and, when inserted into English, entirely fails to convey even rudiments of the intended meaning to a monolingual English speaker, or may even convey a contrary meaning to that intended.

Pseudo-Anglicisms are not language errors. English speakers who delight in discovering and mocking pseudo-Anglicisms should remember that this may appear arrogant and cause resentment among foreign language learners. A pseudo-Anglicism may appear "wrong" or "ignorant" to a native English speaker, but often has a complex history, which, when researched, reveals that it truly has elements of a loanword. It is often a richly expressive word when used to communicate within the single-language community that adopts it.

Identifying pseudo-Anglicisms can have utility for (a) bilinguals and educators who need to isolate them as an especial danger to correct translation, and (b) language purists seeking a factual basis to criticise badly formed words in their language.

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