It seems that there are quite a few terms that look like English and are used in English spoken by non-fluent or fluent but nonnative speakers of English as a second language amongst themselves, but not by, or only very rarely by, native English speakers.

Here's a few that spring to mind before I look for a resource:

  • advices [1] [2]
  • campings
  • drink shop (only used in Cambodia, they're actually like independent convenience stores)
  • Handy (only used by German speakers)
  • infos, informations [1], [2]
  • KTV (only used by Chinese speakers)
  • touristic

Also I know there is an English Wikipedia article on this phenomenon in which the preferred term is "Pseudo-anglicism". You'll find a lot more such terms there. Not only "incorrect" regular plurals of words that have no separate plural form that I was able to think up without peeking.

The most surprising thing for me was that many of these words and strange plural forms have English entries in the English edition of Wiktionary - mostly without any kind of note suggesting they are anything other than normal everyday words any English speaker might make!

I'm interested in both prescriptivist and descriptivist view on this topic. I'm also interested in both English native speakers view and non-native speakers.

  • There is a difference here between advices, campings and informations, which are misuses of perfectly good English words, and touristic and (say) prepone, which are newly coined words. I'm inclined to be much more lenient with the latter class. May 10, 2014 at 10:45
  • Yes I tried to make it clear about that and say those examples were all that sprang to mind before going off looking for other people's collections. But they're not the same anyway. Some are not perfectly good forms of English words, plurals of mass nouns, while campings is an invented noun sense for a word that is a perfectly good gerund/present participle/adjective. Prepone was coined in an English speaking country. Indian English is different to Euroenglish or world English in that regard. May 10, 2014 at 10:55
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    Going full descriptivist, I am not sure “considered to be an English word” is a useful or well-defined category. Also, I think it's somewhat misleading to consider that a word like “Handy” is used by non-native English speakers among themselves; it's only used by German speakers as far as I can tell (also in German, incidentally). Same thing for “beamer” for a video projector (both in German and Dutch). More generally, “being an English word”, “native speakers” and “non-native speakers” are too broad to fully account for the diversity of linguistic practices.
    – Gala
    May 10, 2014 at 12:37
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    @hippietrail Yes, I noticed that too but they don't particularly need a native English speaker to create some confusion, another non-native (but non-German) speaker should do as well. I guess this was my point as well ;-)
    – Gala
    May 10, 2014 at 12:45
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    My pet peeve: "footing" which in Italian means jogging, and "box" for garage.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 18, 2015 at 9:58

3 Answers 3


My take on this (speaking as a native speaker of English who takes a generally descriptivist approach) is that these words are in the process of moving further and further away from mainstream English: they should really be regarded as loanwords imported from English into another language and adapted to the needs of the speakers of the other language.

(Such borrowing is a perfectly normal process in the development of most languages; what makes the pseudo-anglicisms noteworthy to us native speakers of English is that we are able to witness the beginnings of the transformation of words we know into novel entrants into another language, even though not all of us may realize what it is we are seeing. Additionally, as the Wikipedia entry notes, the borrowers of the term may also be unaware of the difference in their use of it compared with how it is normally used in the source language.)

As part of that transformation process, these words naturally begin to undergo changes in spelling, meaning, or both. Eventually, many of them will become changed to such a degree that their form will be unrecognizable, or only barely recognizable, to native speakers of the donor language, and their connotations will be known only to those native speakers of English to whom they have been explained. Once they have reached that point, they will be English words only in a historical sense.

(To pick up on one of the comments you made in your posting, I certainly think that the relevant Wikipedia entries need to point out the divergence from the usage of these words in Standard English.

I notice that you included touristic among your examples. This, to me, is a normal English word which I did not see in the Wikipedia list of pseudo-anglicisms. Can you point to a context in which the word is being used in a significantly different way to how a native speaker of English would use it?)

  • I might try to find some words that are known to have been coined outside English. We don't yet know where KTV came from, Handy came from a brand name of CB/ham/shortwave radio in Germany no doubt inspired by English, touristic did come from English but few native speakers use it nowadays compared to nonnative speakers, and the others are plurals of mass nouns just because those popped into my head first. It's easy to think of examples of pseudo-English coined in Japanese but the fact those are written in a foreign script will discount them in the view of some people. May 10, 2014 at 8:24
  • Erik, touristic falls into the third kind of term I described in the title, "mainly by second-language speakers of English". As you'll see in the linked question, the majority of native speakers of English simply don't use it. They use "tourist" as an attributive or they use "touristy". This doesn't mean no native speakers use it, in fact there are probably some native speakers that use each of these terms, but not many. May 10, 2014 at 8:29

The current version of OED, not Wiktionary, is usually taken as being the authoritative decider of 'wordness'. It also seems far better at identifying the registers etc a word will be most suitable for.

Those people who adopt a Humpty-Dumpty approach to language ('A word means what I say it means' // A string is a word if [a few mates and] I say so / use it / have seen it on the internet) are not remaining true to its primary purpose, clarity of communication.

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    Note though that the OED goes to some lengths to assert that it not be used as an authority of 'wordness'. It declares itself to be a description of the language. I know also that the editors of the OED and other respectable dictionaries "watch" words for a while before deciding whether they're going to stick around and warrant an entry. Especially in the case of the OED which has a strict policy of never removing a word once added, and they have regretted hastily adding new words in the past. May 11, 2014 at 1:10
  • Also the OED has an enormous backlog in updating and adding words though this is helped by going digital. I have a microprint OED in storage at home but I don't have online access to the newer stuff. I would be interested to see which of these kinds of term they do admit. May 11, 2014 at 1:11
  • (1) Who cares what they say! It's surveys on actual language usage are far more reliable than 'me and a few mates down at the pub' or tens of thousands of internet duplicates. (2) Doubtless they flag 'words' they might like to remove. (3) There have been fascinating TV programmes showing the workings of the adjudication panel. I'm not sure about the accuracy of your 'the OED has an enormous backlog in updating and adding words'; perhaps they have a long 'evaluation / quarantine period', which wouldn't license the word 'backlog', and seems a wise move to avoid the need for (2). ... May 11, 2014 at 7:48
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    ... Here is a very valuable insight into the lexicographer's approaches to these problems. 'Oxford University Press, which publishes the OED, has a language research program that exists partly in order to gather new words, new meanings or changes to the language. They decide what new words are added to their different dictionaries. The OED in particular is updated 4 times a year.' ... 'Assessing whether a new word is evanescent or eternal is a job lexicographers take seriously.' May 11, 2014 at 7:49
  • Well they have a backlog with getting the updates out for the next edition is what I meant. I don't know if they have a specific backlog for new words to go in or not. Sorry if I was unclear. May 11, 2014 at 10:40

I think the answer is simple. If the term is not understood by English speakers it is not an English word. We borrow tons of words from other languages and sometimes we use them improperly. People in other regions often don't use the words improperly to mimic what we do.

It isn't a word in English. At best it is slang in the foreign language and then works itself into their vocabulary if adopted enough.

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    I can't agree. Which subset of English speakers? All English speakers (and that would include more people who have English as a second, third ... language than as their first language)? Most English speakers? Me an mi mates down the pub? Contributors on this website with reputations over 120 000? 2000? Finalists in Scrabble competitions? 'Their vocabulary' isn't a well-defined term. I'm happy to leave it largely up to the assessment board at OED, with the odd disagreement voiced say here. And I do remember once using the name '1010 acid' ['ten-ten acid] as everyone else at ICI did. May 11, 2014 at 14:34
  • @EdwinAshworth - I am not dissing non-native speakers. I just don't think it is an English word unless it is recognized by a large part of the English speaking population. So if we have a word "Handy" that means whatever in the Phillipines but "Handy" is only used there - that is not an English word. It is a Filipino word that borrowed from English. However if "Handy" becomes widely used and its secondary meaning spreads to other English speakers then we can start making a case for it being an English word. May 11, 2014 at 14:40
  • I'm saying that I'm not as well positioned as the OED board, with all their sources and expertise, when it comes to deciding when '[a word] is recognized by a large part of the English speaking population'. And I would suggest the same applies to you. May 11, 2014 at 14:50
  • I am not saying I would be the decider. I don't think the OED is the only decision maker either. There are quite a few words in this grey area. But to answer the question, I don't think the examples given are considered English words (with the secondary meanings). Might be able to take each one and argue it out with opinions globally. May 11, 2014 at 14:55

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