This microlearning will show how to distinguish between and treat words that now “belong” to English and those that it hasn’t (yet…) appropriated.
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about using non-English words in English text and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.
[The English language doesn't] just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
As the above well-known quote by Nicoll attests, English is famed for its habit of acquiring words from other languages. Sometimes these are anglicized (or hyperforeignized), other times English just repurposes them and/or uses them as is.
If you come across a word that looks like it might need to be treated as a non-English term, then check the chosen dictionary for the dialect you’re proofreading in (usually, the Oxford Dictionary for UK English, Merriam–Webster for US English, and Macquarie for Australian English).
As a general rule, if the word appears in your dictionary, treat it as an English word. No additional formatting is required, and you don’t need to translate it unless the context or a particular style guide requires.
Occasionally, you may come across words that appear in a field-specific dictionary (legal, most likely) but not in a general dictionary. Follow the rules of the appropriate style or referencing guide, or maintain consistency and leave a comment to explain your approach.
A few examples of “foreign” words that appear in one or more general English dictionaries are mukbang (Korean), mea culpa (Latin), maggid (Hebrew), and a cappella (Italian).
Okay, so you know the word is one you need to treat as non-English. As a general rule (i.e., unless a referencing or style guide says otherwise), here’s what we advise you do.
If there is a chosen style guide and it has an opinion on how to treat foreign terms, then you should follow that approach. Most style guides follow the definition of a “foreign” word given above; it’s how they then treat the foreign word that differs. For example:
Transliteration is the act of converting one script (e.g., kanji) into another (e.g., roman).
A good approach with in-text transliterations is, the first time the term is used, to provide the original script first (and use this throughout). Then, in parentheses, give the transliteration of the term followed by the English translation.
มหาวิทยาลัย (ma hǎa wít tha yaa lai; university)
However, this can vary, and you should follow the customer’s lead (for example, if they have used transliterations throughout, you would put the original text in the parentheses). You should also take heed of any style or referencing guide preferences, as noted above.
According to the vast majority of style guides, you do not need to italicize i.e. and e.g.
However, if a customer has done so consistently throughout a document, it’s likely that their professor has dug up a dusty and esoteric form of referencing from the 1920s, or else just really likes the look of italics.
In such instances, and if there is no contradicting authority (e.g., OSCOLA specifies that i.e. and e.g. should not be italicized), it’s best to leave as is, together with a comment noting the issue and explaining the reasoning behind your decision to the customer.
A foreign term is one that does not appear in the English dictionary you are using, or in any field-specific English dictionaries that may apply. As a rule of thumb, italicize any foreign terms, ensuring that a definition and transliteration (if appropriate) are provided the first time the term is used.
Any rules imposed by style guides take precedence, but do keep an eye out for any consistent unorthodox approach by the customer. As always, if you think that your changes may benefit from an explanation, leave a comment providing one.
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