Resp. and other non-existent English words/Nicht-existente englische Wörter

Manche Deutsche, wenn sie englisch schreiben, benutzen nur nicht-Muttersprachlern bekannte Wörter / Abkürzungen, z.B. resp., a.o., f. ex. und furtheron. Zitat von einem Engländer, der kein Deutsch kann und resp. überhaupt nicht verstehen konnte.

Ever since I first taught English to Germans – that was at Cologne University in 1974 – I have been amazed at people’s ability to regularly use non-existent English words.

When I don’t know a language well, I know there are words I lack, or I make spelling mistakes in existing words.

But who coined the word furtheron, which seems like a combination of weiterhin and furthermore?

And then there are all the abbreviations: f.ex. instead of e.g., and resp. standing for German beziehungsweise, which very rarely means respectively. 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.

For a summary of the problems with resp., see below.

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.

12 thoughts on “Resp. and other non-existent English words/Nicht-existente englische Wörter

  1. 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 weit…

  2. “f. ex.” is quite popular with Swedishes, also (from “till exempel”). I haven’t seen “a[nd] s[o] w[ider]” for “etc” yet, though. And Italians are often surprised that the Engleesh neither know nor care what “ie” and “eg” once stood for, and especially don’t expand them out in reading high.

  3. This was written a long time ago, but I was just going crazy trying to understand the script of a professor who keeps constantly using “resp.” and I found this page when googling for it. So I had to write this, thank you very much!!

    And sorry for my english, it is not my first language…

  4. I would add to this complaint various other abbreviations, which – though comprehensible – are simply not part of ordinary usage in English. I simply cannot recall routinely encountering “incl.”, for example, before I dealt much with English texts mangled by Germans. I consider the use of “resp.” (a sin often committed by the Swiss in particular) to be a signal warning of one who most likely severely overestimates his mastery of English.

    Even abbreviations which are basically valid (“e.g.”, for example) often get used with frequencies and in contexts which are simply puzzling or uncomfortable.

    Too often these abuses are defended by citing flawed sources written by other half-literates (which unfortunately include some native speakers of English who timidly adopt the Teutonic trash in English). At the very least these communication stumbling blocks are treated far too lightly.

    • Yes, I might have to bring this up to date. You are right that German texts have far more abbreviations (d.h., usw.) than English ones of a similar style. Or you find ‘1.’ and ‘2.’ instead of ‘first’ and ‘second’.

    • “incl” and “excl” are actually very very common English abbreviations; just do a search for “incl VAT” and “excl VAT”. Definitely nothing to do with foreigners not knowing English.

      The resp. and mangled “e.g.” variations are wrong however.

  5. In German the “beziehungsweise” or “bzw.” is a bit different from the “or”. Although it is used between alternative options, it somehow emphasizes that the alternative options might not be completely exchangeable.

    Also sometimes it offers alternatives on a higher level. Like if you say a sheet of paper can be small or large “beziehungsweise” lightweighted or heavy.

    With just replacing “beziehungsweise” by “or” you would have to use something like parentheses: “(small or large) or (lightweighted or heavy)”, while this might still not resemble the correct meaning.
    How would you write the above sentence in English?

    Btw. (is this even a correct abbreviation), “usw.” (und so weiter) is the German translation for etc.

    • Btw is a common internet abbreviation, usually without a full stop.
      I don’t really want to write that sentence in any language – I know what you mean, but I would have to say something like: our paper comes in a variety of weights and thicknesses.

      • BTW is surely only common in emails and web postings. You will not see it in the real world.
        Also “incl.” and “excl.” are definite signs of a non-native writer. If you must abbreviate “including” and “excluding” use “inc.” and “exc.” respectively (see what I did there?)

  6. The problem is that sometimes you can not easily avoid such sentences.
    I am writing patent applications and I have found that in German language you can describe things very precise with few words and that it is quite difficult to translate such short but precise sentences into English language.
    Although last time I had sworn to myself that I would never ever write an application in German again (only to have to translate it into English afterwards anyways), I broke that oath right away, because as a non-native English speaker I did not trust myself in being able to write the application precise enough (and especially place commas (only) where they belong).

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