Just for laughs: Mind your language!

OK, it’s the end of the year, and everyone is away on vacation, so here’s something light-hearted — no lessons, no takeaways, nothing.

At the bank, I had these two colleagues, Larry Soh and Gerard Loong [names changed]. Both of them had come from the “Big 4” audit firms, and they swelled with pride when they talked about their background — which was about a million times a day. Since I did not share this exalted background, they avoided communicating with me unless absolutely necessary.

Ours was a new unit, so we had to constantly keep applying for access to laptops, the network, applications and so on. We were trying to get a shared folder created for our unit. Seeing that both guys were somewhat techno-challenged, I offered to help, but they did not take me up on it, and Larry listed himself as the point of contact. He then got flummoxed and annoyed when the network guys asked for details about the cost centre, SBU code and suchlike.

For several days, Larry kept fretting that the folder had not yet been created, not yet been made accessible, and so on. One day, when I returned from lunch, I got e-mail from Larry. The note said, “Dear all, I had posted a file in our shared folder.”

Upon seeing this note, I figured that Larry had had trouble with the folder yet again. He sat barely four feet from me, so I turned to him. Here is the conversation:

Me: Larry, you’ve said you posted it — and then, what happened?

Larry: Read my e-mail.

Me: Yes, I just did; that’s why I’m asking you…

Larry [annoyed]: I said read my e-mail!

Me: Yes, I did; that’s why…

Larry got up, stomped across to Gerard’s desk, and muttered, “Dumb bitch!

Overhearing this, I was stunned. Why was I a dumb bitch?
I read his e-mail yet again, but I simply could not figure out what mistake I had made. Anyway, in an attempt to be helpful, I decided to navigate to this folder and see if I would encounter any problem. Lo and behold, the file in question was very much in that folder!

It then occurred to me what Larry had meant: “I have posted a file in our shared folder”!

Of course, over the months and years, I encountered many more such masterpieces in English. I have now realised that every region contributes its own set of culture-specific errors — while most of us speak (and even think in) English, it is loosely based on the grammar of our vernacular. For example, in English and in most (all?) Indian languages, there are distinct ways to express these different meanings:

Expression Tense Meaning
I drank —— Simple past ——
I was drinking —— Past continuous ——
I have drunk —— Present perfect I have drunk it just a little while ago; the stuff is probably still inside my system.
I had drunk —— Past perfect I took it quite a while ago; there’s no guarantee it’s in my system now.
I have been drinking —— Present perfect continuous ——
I had been drinking —— Past perfect continuous ——

On the other hand, certain other languages do not have so many different ways to express something in the past tense alone — of course, they have eloquent ways to express other concepts.

Well, after this experience, I made it a point to interpret a sentence in various ways before reacting!

[Actually, I have observed such usage among some Indians too — which is surprising, considering that Indian languages permit these distinctions. A classic one I often hear is “His father had expired last Friday”  (instead of His father expired last Friday) — suggesting that the father came back to life 🙂 ]

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One thought on “Just for laughs: Mind your language!

  1. Pingback: Audit: hoodwinking with nested references | Organization: A Misnomer?

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