Social and societal

For some reason, Dutch writers love correcting “social” into “societal”.

The first definition of social on the net is ‘relating to society or its organization’ (Dutch: maatschappelijk). And yes, it also has the meaning of ‘seeking out friendships’ (see also sociable, Dutch: sociaal). There is also societal, a somewhat more scientific and less everyday word with the former meaning only.

  • Keep societal for academia and sciences; social is fine the rest of the time, certainly in everyday speech.
  • Ants, bees, termites and wasps are social insects. It doesn’t mean they’re friendly (except to each other). They have a social structure.
  • Social security payments aren’t for letting you socialize.
  • There’s no need for clients to ‘correct’ me when I use social as the translation for maatschappelijk. In fact, it’s rather annoying.

Sideline: my timeslot for writing these posts has been taken up for the last while trying to come up with regex strings that implement some of these Dunglish checks in the translation CAT package memoQ. Any translators out there who would be interested in trying them out?

Prevalence: medium. Shows up particularly when the register is wrong (non-academic, non-scientific).
Frequency: medium. People being hypercorrect.
Native: no. Because we don’t have separate words with the distinct meanings.

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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