Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Words… words….. words

Due to certain comments and posts I have seen lately, I am becoming more aware of the fact that, when communicating in a global village, one must be a bit careful. We can’t just assume that, because we are all using the same language, the words necessarily mean the same thing.

Sometimes it is just the use of a colloquial expression which may not make sense elsewhere. Ruth from England asked in a recent comment if we in S.A. use the expression ‘chin-wag’. In that case the answer is yes. And I had to check with Kirsty in Australia if it is ok to refer to her as a “chick.” Again, yes.

A classic example of when it goes horribly wrong happened in Zimbabwe a few years ago. A sweet and innocent young American man came across to do some missionary work with Zimbabwean teenagers, and took them on a camp. As an ice-breaker, he played Simon says… and all was going really well until he said “Simon says put your hand on your fanny”. He saw a look of horror cross their faces, and realised he had made a blooper, but had no idea what it could be. He asked my niece, who tactfully explained to him that ‘fanny’ in this part of the world is a rather less than subtle word for female genitals! He was mortified, and through agonized blushes explained to them that he meant no harm, but that in America it is a harmless word for your ‘bottom’ – kind of the same sense that we would use ‘bum’. ……
And that leads to another discrepancy, in America, I am told, ‘bum’ means a tramp, hobo or homeless person, if we called someone that here, they would wonder why we are calling them a bottom!

Getting back to fannies, we used to crack up laughing when watching The Thin Blue Line. (For the uninitiated, it is a hilarious British TV series starring Rowan Atkinson of Mr Bean fame, this time as a policeman). Inspector Grimm always went on long and seriously funny verbal tirades, and one of his favourite expressions was “stop fannying about!!”
Well, it had us doubled up every time. What I wonder is, does the word carry the same meaning in UK, or would it be a sort of tamer equivalent of our “stop farting around’?

In my ‘mixed bag’ post the other day, I said that the pink outfit was ‘funky’. To me this is equivalent to what we would have called ‘groovy’ in the 60’s and early 70’s, namely cool, hip and happening….. But on an American TV programme the other day, I heard it being used entirely differently…… it was referring to being all hot and sweaty and smelly and needing a shower! So, for the record, the baby’s outfit is groovy, NOT smelly!!

This made me wonder if you have come across (or made) any bloopers due to the different way words are used internationally? I bet there are some really good stories out there in etherland, let’s hear them!!!


RUTH said...

It's not only in other countries that the difference occurs. The generation gap shows through in the words we use. If I say something is WICKED I mean it is bad and evil. To the grandchildren it means BRILLIANTLY GOOD. If I say something is BAD...the grandchildren say this means it is GOOD! If I am GAY I mean I am HAPPY...to them I am saying I am HOMOSEXUAL. Then there is the new-speak...CHAV, EMO and so many more. I was on the bus the other day and two teenage boys were talking about a girl they knew. After 10 minutes I still couldn't understand whether they meant they liked her or not! I think I need a new dictionary.

Janet said...

I have to agree with ruth!! Sometimes the slang and words that younger people use makes me wonder if we're all speaking English!! I was once married to a man from Thailand and it was such fun trying to explain certain words to him!!

Suzi-k said...

hee, chav, emo ? never heard them. Janet, your comment made me think of the cute comical instructions you sometimes get with appliances made in the East! Must have been entertaining!

She sure is strange! said...

Ahhh, we LOVED Thin Blue Line!! We used to nearly fall out of bed watching that show! I wish it was still on so my kids could see it, they'd get a big kick out of it. We also loved Vicar of Dibley and Keeping Up Appearances but TBL was THE best for slapstick! I honestly don't know how they did that show without cracking up.

Molly, off to explore your blog since I just came across it.