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Get to the Point
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Get to the Point!

You Say You Speak English? Are You Sure?

By Theda C. Snyder

English is spoken by one and a half billion people around the world. Fifty countries use English as their native language or as an official language. So perhaps it is not surprising that people in some of these countries have developed their own English expressions that you may not understand. Even if you never leave the United States, you may need to translate English into American.

India

Do any business in India and you are likely to encounter the word “prepone,” meaning to change an event to an earlier date. It’s the opposite of “postpone.”

A new version of something, like your software, is an “updation,” though you may think of it as an update.

Stephen King titles notwithstanding, “needful” is an archaic synonym for “necessary,” but it’s not archaic if you are Indian.

Indians usually refer to a two-week interval as a “fortnight” and are likely to wonder how you manage without this term.

Philippines

Be careful about saying “salvage,” in conversation with a Filipino unless you are talking about a murder. You probably don’t use the term “hold-upper” to refer to support, but certainly don’t use it unless you are talking about a robber.

Handling a sexual harassment investigation? The term in the Philippines for unwanted attempts at groping is “chancing.” If someone called another person a “maniac,” that is labeling the person a pervert. To a Filipino, a “tomboy” is not a girl who enjoys sports; “tomboy” is slang for “lesbian.”

England

Lawyers in Britain are classified as solicitors and barristers. If your American client needs representation in Britain, you would first contact a solicitor who in turn would hire a barrister if needed. Barristers litigate in the higher courts and usually act on instructions from the solicitor.

Every barrister is affiliated with an Inn of Court where the barrister received “pupillage,” one of two years of postgraduate training. The term “chambers” doesn’t only apply to a judge’s office; it also refers to lawyers’ offices at the Inn.

”Queen’s Counsel” refers to barristers who can act as what we call first chair at trial. In court they wear “silks” that look somewhat like our judges’ robes. Once Prince Charles (or any other male) becomes king, barristers will be called King’s Counsel regardless of when they were admitted to practice.

Others may be junior barristers. In court, they wear “stuff,” robes made of wool.

Wales

A discussion about a trademark infringement or product defect might go like this:

What Was SaidTranslation into American
Alright or what? Hello.
I’m not being funnyI’m going to say something very serious.
We have a problem with the daps.We have a problem with the sneakers [as in sports shoes].
We’ll have no chopsing.No arguing.
This is buzzing.Extremely unpleasant.
[Upon fixing the problem] Tidy darts!Good!

When dealing with Welsh names and places, plan on encountering more consonants than you will know what to do with.

Ireland

If an Irish company consults you about a hames (a mess caused by indifference or lack of skill), you will have to fix the situation by putting smacht on (organizing) it. But think twice before you give out on (scold) the Irish workers, even if their work has been cat (bad.) They might get thick (belligerent, argumentative) with you.

What Else?

Have you been confused by English expressions used by non-Americans? Share your experience in the comments below.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workplace injury and workers’ compensation cases throughout California. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.

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