I’m lucky enough to have friends and a partner who weren’t born in the UK. Their similarities and subtle differences are a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the English language as well as the importance of place in our beliefs and perceptions. A couple of incidents ‘passed by’ my French, Dutch and Australian friends but fell like smouldering ordinance into the conversations of which they formed a part.
That made me reflect on a few of the typically British (or more specifically English) comments we say that have often unspoken alternative meanings. Here are just a few of the most frequent examples.
1. “I may join you a little later” – I have no intention of leaving the house again today unless it’s on fire
2. “I hope you’re feeling better very soon” – Get your arse in the office tomorrow you’re not kidding anyone
3. “It’s really not a problem” – It’s entirely your fault and if your were more intelligent you wouldn’t need me to pretend otherwise
4. “No – there’s no need” – There’s every need but clearly I’m wasting my time with this discussion
5. “That’s very striking” – You apparently got dressed in the dark and that doesn’t suit you (nor would it suit anyone else)
6. “Oh I hadn’t noticed” – Everyone is aware of your faux pas. However, I had the manners not to highlight your failing(s)
7. “Thank you so much” – You have placed me in an unbearably embarrassing position and I hate you for it
8. “It’s a bit of a pickle/mess” – A cataclysmic situation with no acceptable outcome which may result in the loss of life (probably yours)
9. “I probably didn’t make myself clear” – Are you stupid ? – Actually that point isn’t in doubt it’s just a question of degree.
10. “Is anyone sitting there?” – Move your bag now before I insert it into an orifice of my choice
11. “That’s really interesting” – Please kill me now you’re boring me witless
12. “Whenever it’s convenient” – Which part of now don’t you understand ?
13. “Well I suppose I ought to be making a move” – Bye
14. “You have such interesting friends!” – You’re really rather common aren’t you
15. “It’s a little early for me” – You’re obviously an unreformed drunk
16. “Never mind” – You were clearly too stupid to understand the first time so I’ve given up trying to explain it to you
17. “I’ve had a wonderful time” – I’ve hated every second of it; Never invite me again!
18. “Go ahead” This is a dare and not permission to proceed
19. “You must do what you think is right of course” – Have you no standards ?
20. “If you say so” – You are obviously wrong, stupid or lying (or any combination of these)