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Why don’t we always say what we mean?

I often like to take expressions such as “waxing poetic” literally and wonder about them. You will find my personal poetic instructions on leg waxing along with line by line parenthetical explanations below for perspective:

Featured imageWAXING POETIC (in 6 steps)

  • Bide thy time awaiting the coarse, burgeoning strands of hirsute enslavement. (Wait for leg hair to grow)
  • Evoke the raging passion of sweet tears from the heavens with the prevalent means of the day. (Boil water for the wax in the microwave)
  • Lavish upon your sweet skin that powder that possesses the power to soothe mere babes. (Use baby powder on your skin)
  • Sweep this means of joyous relief onto that resplendent surface I have come to love so dearly. (Apply the wax)
  • Pluck the burgeoning strands. (Remove hair)
  • Repeat, my love, repeat! (Repeat)

As you can see, sometimes the literal translation comes off as funny. Sometimes it’s also fine. At other times, it is unintentionally frustrating for one or more individuals. The perfect example of this is the story a good friend of mine recently shared with me. He had to explain a garden variety American euphemism to an international business associate. In other words, this incredibly common phrase was not something that translated well or even existed in this person’s native language; they had NO idea what it meant.

I’m not going to tell you what the phrase was because we’re looking at things from a broader perspective here. I will share what my friend had to do to lay the foundation for understanding. For the record, he chose this route because it felt more polite than telling someone with “hey, I don’t get that” written all over their face that it just didn’t matter. In other words, an explanation was the better part of diplomacy, particularly when compared to the adult version of being excluded from all the fun like the scrawniest kid on the playground at recess. Essentially, he explained the original concept from which the speaker assumed everyone knew the analogy came the moment his or her mouth sucked all that air in for the purpose of speaking.

Drastic example? Maybe. Also food for thought? Definitely. I know I have been guilty in literary forums and writer’s group threads of posting a reply before realizing it was someone from another country, region, etc. that had asked the original question. Invariably, it dawns on me that there were other factors—everything from foreign rights issues to resources available, to language itself—that I hadn’t even considered before providing an answer.

In summary: Whether it’s via keyboard, conference call, or other, there is still much to say about the wisdom of all of us thinking a bit before we speak.