How to write clearly

9. Beware of false friends, jargon and abbreviations

Beware of false friends, jargon and abbreviations

False friends (or faux amis) are pairs of words in two languages that look similar, but differ in mean­ing.

In a multilingual environment like the European Commission, we often mix up our languages. Bor­rowing between French and English is common. For instance, ‘to control’ in English normally means ‘to command/direct’ or ‘to restrict/limit’.

It does not mean simply ‘to check/supervise’ like ‘controler’ in French. Using the wrong word can alienate readers, making the EU institutions look like a closed club that is out of touch with the real world. In the worst case, it can lead to misunderstandings and diplo­matic incidents (for example, if you just want to say that Luxembourg is small, but you write that ‘Lux­embourg is not an important country’).

French False friend Why is it wrong? What's the correct word?
actuel actual 'actual' means 'real' What's the correct word?
adequat adequate 'adequate' means 'sufficient' current,.topical
assister a assist at 'assist' means 'help'. suitable
attribuer attribute to 'attribute to' means 'consider to be due to/characteristic of' attend, participate in
completer complete 'complete' means 'finish' allocate to, assign to
delai delay 'a delay ' means 'a postponement or hold-up'(= retard in French) deadline, time limit
elaborer elaborate (verb) 'to elaborate' means 'to go into detail' draft, develop, produce
eventuel eventual 'eventual' means 'ultimate' any
prevu foreseen 'foreseen'.means.'predicted' provided for, planned
important important 'important' is right if you mean 'significant'; but not if you mean> > large
materiel material 'material' means 'matter', 'information' supplies,.equipment
opportunite opportunity 'opportunity' means 'chance' advisability
perspectives perspectives 'perspective' means 'standpoint' prospects, outlook
respecter respect 'to respect' means 'to value' or 'honour' someone or something comply with (rules), meet (a deadline)
sensible sensible 'sensible'.means.'reasonable' sensitive

Avoid or explain jargon

Jargon is vocabulary used by any group of insiders or specialists to communicate with each other, and is acceptable in documents which are only read by that group.

However, outsiders (especially the general public) will have to work harder than they need to or want to when reading jargon. Some readers may even stop reading — so make sure that any document you want outsiders to read is as jargon-free as pos­sible.

And if you DO have to use jargon terms in docu­ments for the general public, explain them when you first use them, or add a glossary, a hyperlink or a reference to one of the websites indicated at the bottom of this page.

This non-exhaustive table contains a number of terms commonly used in the EU institutions:

Jargon term Suggested definition
acceding country country about to join the EU
acquis (communautaire) body of EU law country still negotiating to join the EU
cohesion approach aimed at reducing social and economic disparities within the EU
comitology procedure under which the Commission consults committees of experts
Community method method developed for taking decisions in the EU, where the Commission, Parliament and Council work together
enlargement expansion of the EU to include new members
mainstreaming taking into account in all EU policies
proportionality principle that a level of government must not take any action that exceeds that necessary to carry out its assigned tasks
subsidiarity principle that, wherever possible, decisions must be taken at the level of government closest to citizens

Take care with abbreviations Too many unfamiliar abbreviations can make a document incomprehensible and send your reader to sleep: (ERDF + EAGGF + CAP = ZZZ).

If the meaning of an abbreviation might not be clear to your reader, you should:
  • write them out in full if the expression only occurs once or twice in the document; or
  • spell them out when you first use them in a docu­ment, followed by the abbreviation-in brackets, and then use the abbreviation in the rest of the document; and/or ;
  • attach a list of abbreviations or a hyperlink to show what they stand for.

The ‘Main Acronyms and Abbreviations’ section of the Interinstitutional Style Guide (http://publications.'en/en-5000400.htm) defines many of the acronyms and abbreviations used in Euro­pean Commission documents.

As always, consider your readers’ needs:
  • Some readers will be irritated if ‘common’ abbre­viations are spelled out.
  • Writing ‘marketing authorisation holder’ on every other line instead of ‘MAH’ will make the docu­ment much longer.

Remember that abbreviations and acronyms can mean different things in different contexts.

For example:

ESA stands for: European Space Agency Euratom

Euratom Supply Agency

European System of Accounts

Endangered Species Act

Environmentally Sensitive Area

Eastern and Southern Africa

Electron Stimulated Adsorption and several other alternatives.


© European Union, 2012

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