A Lesson in Hermeneutics: What the British Say v. What the British Mean (Skinner)

I just ran across this hilarious table on the internet and thought that many of you would appreciate it. It is made up of empty phrases commonly uttered by Brits and their translation for those of us who would otherwise misunderstand. Enjoy. 🙂

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided
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4 thoughts on “A Lesson in Hermeneutics: What the British Say v. What the British Mean (Skinner)

  1. That’s a fun list. I think it illustrates the fact that sections of British society are “high context cultures”, relative to north America, for example. I should add that the part of England where I grew up is a lower context culture. The extremes, I think, are Japan (high context) and Germany (low context). In Germany your boss might just say “you’re fired”, whereas in Japan your boss might say “I have enjoyed working with you” and hope that you get the hint that you are fired.

    This difference between high and low context cultures is important for understanding the NT, I think. For example, when Paul says “I commend you for xyz”, he really means “you have not done very well at xyz and need to do much better”. Paul was quite “British” in that respect. Hmm… I wonder if anyone has studied whether different parts of the Roman empire used more implicit communications styles than others. Any thoughts?

  2. I have never lived in the UK nor am I British… But when I speak I mean “what the British mean.” Where did it pick it up!?!? I think it goes hand in hand with “academic” lingo.

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