03 February 2010

You say tomato, I say paradicsom

There's an interesting new publication, put together by one of those European Acronyms the EESC and brought to my attention by Carlton Reid, which is a kind of pan-EU phrasebook for cyclists.

It consists of a series of pictures of bike parts, cycle infrastructure and so on, with the term describing it underneath in 23 eurolanguages.

So, if you want to know what 'mountain bike' is in Polish (rower górski), or 'bike hire' in Italian (noleggio bici), or 'shock absorber' in Greek (aposbestiras kradasmon), then this is the place to come.

And if you're not sure how to pronounce anything, you can just point at the picture. And if all else fails, just shout English VERY SLOWLY, omitting all the definite and indefinite articles, like my granddad used to when he was anywhere foreign, such as Lancashire.

It's all good fun and may well come in useful, especially in places such as former Soviet-sphere states. Or Lancashire. And it's amusing to wonder why the Lithuanian for 'basket' should be as cumbersome as metalinis krepsys dviraciui.

The choice of languages may raise a few eyebrows: Irish Gaelic but no Welsh, for instance. Realistically, how likely is it that you'll be stuck in Ireland with a flat tyre and require the assistance of a 104-year-old fisherman from the Gaeltacht?

And there's a few oddities in the English, too. What I'd call a 'pannier', they call a 'bicycle bag' (German, Fahrradtasche). Where I'd say 'lube', they say a touch unnecessarily 'bicycle oil' (Slovakian, olej na retaz).

And what we might call 'trouser bands' they refer to as the Larkinesque, good old-fashioned 'cycle clips' (Hungarian, nadrágcsipesz).

But it's in the infrastructure section that things fall apart a bit. Some of the English here is hopelessly wrong and misleading. For instance, the thing they call 'advanced cycle stop lane' (Slovenian, prednostni prostor za kolesarje pred kriziscern): the accurate English term is in fact 'taxi rank'.

Then there's what they deem a 'marked cycle lane' (Bulgarian, markirana koloezdachna aleya). It's what any normal English driver would call a 'car park'.

And there's what purports to be an 'underpass for a long-distance cycle route' (Maltese, mina twila taht l-art ghar-roti). In England, it's what we'd call a rubbish dump and public toilet.


  1. Using that website is a bit of a struggle, isn't it. What's the Latvian for "I hate the inappropriate use of Adobe Flash"?

    What you'd call a basket they do call a basket in English. It's the french who call it a "panier", presumably because that's where they put their bread stick when cycling home from the boulangerie.

  2. Ah, fair point. (I'd got cross-eyed by all those pesky moving screens and misread the English word they gave for the metal basket as 'pannier'.) You're right, the English they give is correct. For the benefit of future linguists, I've edited the post.

  3. I would imagine that the lube/bicycle oil thing (and other clumsy translations) is to make sure that you're understood rather than speaking with elegance.

    I can imagine some Latvians walking into a village shop (not being able to find a bike store) asking if they could buy lube-- first it's a hard to understand word (I would say 'chain oil' for precision) and then being looked at rather askance by your rural shopkeep ("This ain't no sex shop. I don't know what things are like over there, but we do things differently in...").