I had the good fortune recently to have been in Southern Spain, or, as so quaintly labeled by the tabloids, the good old ‘Costa del Crime.’ As I was struggling to decipher some of the curiously opaque Andalucian dialect, I found myself reflecting on both the positive joy that language can be, but also the challenges that it can generate.
I was, of course, fully armed with my schoolboy language finesse (smugly hopeful that my faltering French would help unlock the mystery of Spanish for me). Leaving nothing to chance, I also splashed out on one of those “speak a foreign language fluently in 4 hours” CDs. They are the sets that you optimistically put on in the car and then draw in either quizzical or slightly alarmed looks from other motorists who mistake some of your finer flourishes of in-car expression for road rage.
Such CDs also tend to the formal, and in Spanish terms that usually means that the approach, tone and wordplay is Castillian, from Madrid, rather than the working language of any particular region. So, your translation can often still need a translation.
We generally agree that a picture paints a thousand words, but I would suggest that the inverse can also be true, in that a few well chosen words can paint a significant number of differing pictures – especially in the hands of a craftsman.
Consider for a moment the following offerings:
“I agree with you up to a point.” So, when was “the point”? Maybe the point when the other person first opened their mouth therefore meaning that you didn’t agree with them at all?
What about “I can’t recommend this candidate highly enough.” So is that very highly, or not at all I wonder?
As an ex-teacher, one word that I am particularly sensitised to these days is “lesson”. Whenever I see or hear an official wheeled out to issue some pronouncement on organisational failure or the inadequacies of leadership, I await the inevitable wince of anguish or irritation when the L word is uttered.
It now appears to be a national custom that the word is used to explain away any alleged incompetence, and, while we are assured that “lessons are being/have been learned” we can rest easy in our complacency that the organisation concerned intends to carry on just the same thank you very much…until the next time of course.
The joy of language can sometimes be beautifully crystallised in another national pastime, that of acronym creation and spotting. Whenever I see a swanky job title, I always acronymise it to see if it’s worth a comment or discreet snigger (I was for a time highly amused by the role of Group Operations Director).
Although I jest the use of appropriate language, which is continuing to evolve and develop everyday, it is incredibly important. Whether it is thinking before one speaks or testing a key message on a particular target audience to ensure it is interpreted in the correct way, it is no easy task.