Psssst. Wanna buy a beleggingsmaatschappij?

You might if you lived in the Netherlands, where the term means "mutual fund."

If you were Greek, you might sock some of your money away in an "amivea kefalea."

French? You'd put your francs in a-take a deep breath-"societe d'investissement collective a capital" (SICAV, for short).

Spurred by the privatization of pension systems, the era of retail mutual funds is dawning in Europe, just as the region's march toward political and economic union kicks into high gear.

But as Europeans warm to mutual funds, they have discovered a little problem: The region has even more terms to describe the things than it has languages.

Calling Europe a mutual fund Tower of Babel might be overstating it - but probably not by much.

"A lot of people get terribly confused, because there is a lot of loosely used vocabulary," said Diana Mackay, whose job as European business development director for Lipper Analytical Services requires her to try to keep the Euro-fund lexicon straight.

The list is rife with terms that are so long and complicated that they must be crunched into acronyms such as SICAV (France), OEIC (the United Kingdom), and FIAMM (Spain).

The good old American term "mutual fund" is widely understood in the old countries.

But the Europeans, ever protective of their national identities, stubbornly cling to their own terms. The results can be embarrassing.

Take the term OEIC (open-ended investment company). Adopted in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, it describes a new kind of mutual fund designed to be sold throughout Europe.

The problem is that the word-pronounced kind of like the noise pigs make-is also a slur used to dismiss a person of no importance.

Investment companies tried to change the term to "investment fund," but backed down after an outcry from Britain's investment trust industry, which thought the term was too close to its own.

(Investment trusts in the United Kingdom are what Americans know as closed-end mutual funds.)

Thus, OEIC appears to be here to stay. Also likely to be around for a while: the Italian "fondo comune di investimento," or FCI.

The Spanish commonly refer to a "fondo de inversion mobiliaria" as a FIM, unless of course they are referring to a money market mutual fund, which is a "fondo de inversion mobiliaria en activos del mercado monetario," or FIAMM.

The German penchant for creating long, difficult words by smooshing smaller ones together is evident in their mutual fund terminology: "Investmentfonds" encompasses mutual funds aimed at big institutional buyers (spezialfonds) and at individual volk (publikumsfonds).

U.S. fund companies vying for a piece of the action in Europe say finding the words that will ring a bell with the locals is half the battle.

"You have to get the terminology 100% correct in each country," said Jan Nyholm, a Luxembourg-based executive with Fidelity Investments, which has $8 billion in assets under management in Europe. "Otherwise people will not know what you are talking about."

That is likely to change over time as a handful of terms gain wide currency. Because France has Europe's longest tradition of mutual funds, the French SICAV is widely recognized throughout the region.

The term "unit trust" registers particularly well with English speakers. Another important term is UCITS, or, if you have some time on your hands, "undertakings for collective investments in transferable securities."

UCITS are funds that adhere to rules laid down in 1985 by the European Commission so that they can be sold throughout Europe.

Most of the region's 15,500 mutual funds now have this "European passport" structure. Sadly, even those without the passport are often referred to incorrectly as UCITS.

(By the way, if you guessed that an OEIC is, in fact, a UCIT, there may be a job for you across the pond.)

But when it comes down to the individual countries, nationalistic impulses are likely to keep terms like the Greek "amivea kefalea" around for a long time.

That may prove perilous. After all, a slight misspelling of that particular term will change its meaning from "mutual fund" to "open-ended big nose."

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