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Nshima & Curry
Nshima & Curry
BREAKING DOWN THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Speaking at a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld tried to clarify the situation in Iraq. "Reports
that say something hasn't happened are interesting to me,
because as we know, there are known unknowns; there're
things we know we know," Rumsfeld said. "We also know there
are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some
things we do not know. But there are also unknown
unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
If you have no clue what he's saying, don't worry. It's not
always easy to understand American English -- even if you
live in America. I have a master's in English from an
American university and I'm still baffled by Rumsfeld's
statement. Perhaps I need a Ph.D.
No wonder people in other countries are constantly
scratching their heads, wondering what Americans mean. Many
of these foreigners are fluent in British English, but that
doesn't help them figure out simple things, such as how to
get an egg from an eggplant. Or how to get some rest in a
In my ongoing effort to promote world understanding, I tried
to explain the language differences to an American college
Me: "While a Briton, searching for an object, would ask,
'Where is it?' an American would ask, 'Where's it at?'"
Student: "Wow, that's quite a difference. No wonder they
can't find those weapons of mass destruction!"
Me: "Here's something else you'll find interesting: While
Americans study math, the British tend to study maths."
Student: "I prefer math myself. I'd rather not study more
than one of them."
Me: "That's understandable. Here's another difference: While
Americans use the word 'butt,' the British use 'bum.'"
Student: "Really? And what do they do with their cigarette
bums? I toss mine in a trash can."
Me: "I think they throw theirs in a dustbin -- along with
all their dust. Here's another: While Americans use the
word 'period,' the British use 'full stop.'"
Student: "That doesn't make sense. How can it be a 'full
stop' when she's going to have another next month?"
Me: "Good question. Speaking of women, American men might
refer to them as 'chicks,' but British men call them
Student: "Chicks are cuter than birds. I don't think we'd go
nuts over the Dixie Birds."
Me: "Probably not. Here's another difference: In America,
people get engaged; in Britain, phones do, too."
Student: "That makes sense. One phone gives the other a
Me: "Yes, of course. But in America, phones get busy."
Student: "Yes, and people do too. Especially on their
Me: "I wouldn't know about that. Here's another: In America,
students use erasers; in Britain, students use rubbers."
Student: "Really? No wonder they have fewer teen
pregnancies. You can't erase everything, you know."
Me: "Well, of course not. Here's another: While an American
might live in an apartment, a Brit would live in a 'flat.'"
Student: "Flat? That's interesting. I've heard people in
California use the word 'flat' for 'apartment,' but only
after an earthquake."
Me: "Ah, yes. In Britain, they'd call that a double flat.
Here's one you'll really like: While American kids enjoy
cotton candy, British kids enjoy candy floss."
Student: "Candy floss? You're kidding. Don't tell me they
also enjoy candy toothbrushes! Their dentists must be
Me: "I'm not sure about that. As Donald Rumsfeld might say,
that's a known unknown."
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