Tuesday, 17 May 2011

What we British really mean

"NOT HOW ODD BUT HOW INTERESTING" is an unforgettable phrase from my schooldays. It was used by the head teacher at the end of most summer terms. Well that's how I remember it, but I've discovered I may be the odd one here. As many of us were departing for far-flung places, the head wanted to encourage taking a genuine and respectful interest in different peoples and cultures. We were forbidden to say (or even think) 'HOW ODD' when faced with unusal new experiences. We were allowed to say (or think) 'HOW INTERESTING'.


Secretly, at the time, my friends and I used to laugh at this advice and the manner in which it was delivered, especially the word "IN-TER-EST-ING" pronounced slowly and with great enthusiasm. I now see it as useful advice in lots of situations. At some point in their growing up I must have passed this on to my children, who now know that if I say "HOW IN-TER-EST-ING" that what I probably really mean is HOW ODD. But sometimes I really do mean INTERESTING so it gets confusing.


Saying what you mean doesn't always mean the other person will understand what you mean. Even with a shared language, cultural differences result in a varirty of interpretations of much used phrases. I love this Anglo-EU translation guide supplied by Jack Shofield. Thanks to Clayboy for posting it on his blog.

2 comments:

  1. Oh SO true! It is one of the odd things when talking to foreigners to discover they may be speaking English correctly, but they don't understand the nuance! (Though why I should expect them to when I speak only a tiny smattering of their tongues limited generally to polite greetings and ordering food...)

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  2. Thanks for commenting 'hausfrau'. The subtleties of language endlessly fascinate me. I thought you might be German but visited your lovely blog and discovered you're not. I'm very good at basic greetings, ordering food and drink etc. in German but the nuances or any intelligent conversation are beyond me.

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