Lost in Translation – What The British Say Vs. What They Actually Mean

Ever found yourself in a conversation with a Brit where you thought: Oh, what a polite person! Well think again, because what may seem like perfect politeness and friendliness on the surface, probably conceals their true thoughts, that may or may not be tinged with scorn.

Taking every word at face value is not a good idea when you communicate in or with English. One of the most popular misconceptions is the phrase “very interesting”, which is in fact just a Brit’s polite way of telling you they are not interested in what you have to say at all. Or that your idea may be verging on insanity and you possibly need to seek help, sooner rather than later.

Do not fear, fellow European (but not from this sceptred Isle), – all you need is a good dictionary. The following table, which was first published on Oxfam website by Duncan Green, comes to your rescue as quite a handy guide. It still remains a mystery who actually wrote the table, nonetheless, it’s quite interesting accurate.

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY  WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN  WHAT OTHERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

1 Comment

  1. selina on 27th December 2016 at 6:55 am

    well explained.

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