Don’t get personal

Remember that ‘personal’ often has overtones of private, intimate and secret and not merely ‘related to the individual’.

For personal reasons. A personal matter. Don’t stick your nose in: that’s personal. Where there’s a possible interpretation involving a context like that, you need to think twice about the wording, although “personal” = “related to a person” is quite correct otherwise.

  • A credit card or a plane ticket is unlikely to be a “personal issue”. Body odour or bad breath is a personal issue. The card or ticket is issued to the individual and is non-transferable.
  • There are plenty of cases where individual, individualized, or for the individual are better choices.
  • This applies in particular where the underlying Dutch could equally well be persoonsgebonden rather than persoonlijk

Usage of the word ‘personal’ is pretty high, but occasions where there is confusion of the overtone meanings are fortunately rarer.

Prevalence: high. And most of the time it’s perfectly OK.
Frequency: high. Very frequent in IT (the GDPR, for instance) but the context generally excludes the wrong meanings there.
Native: sometimes. It’s a perfectly good word; we’d just be aware of the alternate meaning most of the time and circumvent it as necessary.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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