Sunday, July 22, 2007

Anglo-American miscommunication

The Word today focuses on a crucial difference in the meaning of to chat up in British versus American English: In the US, it mean something like to shoot the breeze, but in the UK it's to flirt with, to hit on (see graphic on the right). The Boston Globe apparently ran a story about drawbridge operators who …
pass the time listening to music, smoking cheap cigars and cigarettes, and chatting up the State Police officers who patrol the area.
It doesn't sound like classic singles bar type action to some Globe readers, but it does remind me of something that happened when I was a beginning student of linguistics: A (Scottish) linguist was giving me advice on fieldwork in a community where I didn't have contacts, but knew people who did. He advised:
Why don't you just go right out there and knock them up?
I had no idea whatsoever that was supposed to mean — the only interpretation I could get was an impossible one — and must have looked bewildered. Noticing that, he added:
Then have your mate go and knock them up.
Took a minute to straighten out. We all have cross-cultural misunderstandings involving fieldwork, but usually not quite like that.

So there, Mr. V, one of your contributors has posted, finally. You can stop with the late night phone calls.

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