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I've lived under the impression that the word beamer is an American slang word for a BMW vehicle and a false friend to German speakers: beamer does not mean projector.

Recently though, I heard an American¹ use the term beamer to mean projector. I asked her about it and she said that beamer can indeed mean projector in American English.

Is that true? Is it valid in American and/or British English to use beamer to refer to a projector?

I assume it would be a rather recent or localized development since Merriam-Webster does not list that meaning. Neither does the Wiktionary entry. Also painfulenglish.com's blog entry from 2013 labels the usage a "mistake".

On the other hand, both the Cambridge English Dictionary and the Macmillan Dictionary state that beamer means data projector, as Edwin Ashworth helpfully pointed out in the comments.


¹ That's how she introduced herself and she did sound like a native speaker to me.

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    As a native BrE speaker, I've never heard a projector called a beamer - it's always a BMW (a projector does beam a picture onto a surface though, so I might understand what was meant if in context). – Smock Sep 16 '19 at 10:07
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    @EdwinAshworth: I see, thanks for the info. I've restructured the question a bit to make it clearer that there are clues that it's really a false friend. – Matthias Braun Sep 16 '19 at 10:28
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    Note that amongst BMW enthusiasts "beamer" refers to BMW motorcycles only: they say "bimmer" to refer to BMW cars. I find this somewhat ridiculous, but apparently both the BMW bike and car owners want to make it clear that they belong to the "right" category. (Heaven forbid someone might think you ride a motorcycle when really you drive a BMW car.) – nnnnnn Sep 16 '19 at 10:29
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    Collins, Lexico, M-W, and AHD don't give the sense. Macmillan does, but flags it as 'informal'. Confusingly, CED also gives the sense ('data projector'), then gives two examples using two other senses (textile equipment- and boat-associated). Among more immediacy-sensitive works, Wiktionary gives the caveated article, while UD doesn't give the sense as far as I can see. // FWIW, I've never encountered the sense (but my lecture-theatre days are long gone). /// No wonder you're confused. I'd treat it as 'emerging; use with caution (if at all)'. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 16 '19 at 10:39
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    I haven't gone searching for any evidence to back this up, but I've always thought that when referring to the car, it's spelled Beemer.... – Hellion Sep 16 '19 at 14:32
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"Beamer" is in use by native German speakers, including in English (a German dictionary translates it as projector). In speech this pseudo-English word is common, probably more so than the more formal "Videoprojektor". As projectors have long been in use in academia and most German academics can and regularly do speak good or excellent English, a slight misuse of an English word (false friend) can persist in this sector (and related ones - German engineers use the same false friend in English). Colleagues can easily pick up on the term if they're unfamiliar with an alternative (and new graduates in particular haven't often need a term for the box that puts the picture on the screen).

So it's an error, but a comprehensible one, especially where there are Germans around, such as in UK universities. The LaTeX package beamer was started by a German; its existence probably helps propagate the usage.

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    The fact that CED lists the sense? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 16 '19 at 12:55
  • @EdwinAshworth good catch. I didn't find a dictionary entry with this sense. Perhaps you should answer with that if it's becoming accepted. – Chris H Sep 16 '19 at 13:30
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    I have, in a comment because the acceptability is indeterminate at the present time. We don't have a lexis czar. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 16 '19 at 13:32
  • @EdwinAshworth that's fair enough. These "usage" cases for modern words can be tricky to support with much in the way of references – Chris H Sep 16 '19 at 13:38
  • But checking the 3 say dictionaries OP hasn't checked in (or that's the desired situation) seems the only way to give a reasonable answer. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 16 '19 at 18:02
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The article "What Is Difference Between a Beamer & a Multimedia Projector?" by Sarah Clark explains it.

It states:

"Beamer" is a word used in European countries that is synonymous with "projector." A European beamer has the same standard equipment and serves the same purposes as an American [multimedia] projector.

It also states:

There is no difference between a beamer and a multimedia projector, except for their names. Of course, there are differences between the functions and capabilities of all projectors, but those differences are determined by brand and style.

So, the word beamer is European English and refers specifically to a multimedia projector, not just any projector. Americans probably won't know what you mean if you use "beamer" to mean that unless you're standing right in front of one and are pointing at it while calling it that.

Actually, the word I use and everyone I've heard use, like at the high school 🏫 (American ) where I work, is "proxima," which I think came from a name brand, kind of like "kleenex." I say "proxima" to mean a projector that hooks up to a computer as opposed to saying "projector" because "projector" is taken as meaning a film projector, so if I ask the A/V Department to bring me a "projector" third period, they'll bring me a film projector 📽️. I have to ask for a "proxima" if I want them to bring me a multimedia projector. But maybe that's just where I am, jargon at my work, because it's not like I talk about this stuff outside of work to know what other people call it. I wonder what they'd do if I asked them for a "beamer"?😉

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