I’m currently reading The Terror, an intriguing and aptly-titled novel based loosely on the real-life mid-19th century lost Franklin expedition, which set out to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Franklin refers to Sir John Franklin, the expedition’s leader. Throughout the book, he’s referred to as Sir John Franklin, and after a few times I thought that was interesting because he also of course had a naval rank, which could be used alongside Sir. But would it come before or after Sir? Continue reading
No, not at all.
Which is the correct answer?
On Thursday 15th June 2017, roaming charges were abolished within the EU. And there was much rejoicing. Roaming charges were one of those things that for a long time I kind of just accepted. Living in Ireland, the rest of Europe usually felt far away enough that it seemed somehow appropriate that using my phone would be more expensive whenever I went there. But recently I drove for about 45 minutes from Belgium to the Netherlands, and suddenly it seemed entirely absurd that I had to pay a fortune (rather than nothing) for using data, just because I’d crossed a fairly arbitrary line. Why should it cost more in a different country? Was I inconveniencing the phone company in some way? Did they have to do more work to drag the data over the border and into my phone?
On Sunday, I naturally found myself thinking about how scary a mummy actually is, as a horror character. I think I’m with Homer Simpson on this one:
Ooh, pretty creepy. Still, I’d rather have him chasing me than the Wolfman.
Even more naturally enough, for me anyway, this in turn got me thinking about how we talk about being afraid in English. It’s quite easy to translate adjectives like afraid, scared and frightened into other languages because fear is such a primal feeling that we tend to think of it in the same way across languages. Terror and horror might be more complex, but the basic sense of fear is one we all recognise. A sentence like…
I’m afraid of spiders.
… isn’t hard to translate, or for a learner of English to understand. But what about this famous line from 2001: A Space Odyssey:
I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Imagine you’re an English teacher and you have to explain a) what I’m afraid means in this case, and b), why we specifically use I’m afraid instead of other phrases. The first task’s not too bad: you could just say it means I’m sorry, and that’d be good enough. But what about explaining why we use it?
If you’re a generous person, you may have been saying you’re welcome a lot recently, to all those you’ve given gifts to. What do we mean when we say you’re welcome? It’s almost an afterthought: the most important information being conveyed in this part of the conversation is the thank you. Saying you’re welcome is really just wrapping a bow on the thanks, acknowledging the grateful receipt of it. When you think about the actual meaning of the words, they make the most sense if you consider someone thanking you for giving them something. What you’re saying then is that they’re welcome to whatever it is you gave to them, even if it’s something intangible like help. Even so, it still feels a bit redundant, because surely that could be taken for granted: you wouldn’t have given it to them if they weren’t welcome to it. Continue reading