This quote is attributed to Winston Churchill in comments he made regarding Great Britain and the United States. While I’ve often found that Winston is a bit like Yogi Berra who is noted for his assertion that “I didn’t really say everything I said”, I believe that Winston would own up to this quotation.
One of the great things about living in the Philippines is that English is one of the official languages and it’s rare indeed that you can’t find someone who can help you out in English if you’re like me, a typically “monolingual” American.
But do be careful before you rush into things … just because the words are in English doesn’t mean you and the person speaking them have actually engaged in true conversation. One of the more subtle forms of “culture shock” involved with becoming comfortable living here in the Philippines is not only learning a new, native language, but relearning a bit of the English you thought you knew. A few examples to illustrate my point:
Overpricing: In the past few months there has been a lot in the news here about several large government contracts where the term “overpricing” has been bandied about. Now to me, “overpricing” means a supplier tries to charge a purchaser more than the market value for an item. As a guy who worked in government procurement for many years I’m no stranger to the concept. I always thought I got the best deal for the government I could … but I’m sure there were instances I could have done better … the term “Beltway Bandit” didn’t just arise out of thin air. But here in the Philippines,”overpricing” is a “code word” for bribery … when a contract is alleged to be “overpriced” it is an accusation that the government was charged too much and in return government officials accepted money from the person who did the “overcharging”. The real definition of that is “bribery”. One act is, at worst, negligent, the other is criminal. They are not synonyms at all. Perhaps the practice has developed in response to the extremely restrictive libel and slander laws here. Do not make the mistake of saying derogatory things like, “he’s a crook”, even in jest. That might be an ‘actionable’ offense … an libel cases can drag on for years and years.
Brownout: This is a pet peeve of mine. “Brownout” is a term that came from the US many years ago. Electric utilities developed a technique for coping with excessive power demands by lowering the voltage being supplied to the user. Since power changes by the square of the voltage in a circuit, small changes in voltage have a huge change in the power consumed. But brownouts are disastrous for many motor powered devices (such as air conditioners) and have even caused fires by overheating line (mains) powered devices so the practice was (at least officially) done away with. Today utilities cope with overwhelming demand by means of “rolling blackouts” … cutting all power to one area at a time while maintaining specified voltage in other service areas. More inconvenient, but a heck of a lot safer. In the Philippines, a power failure … the absence of power coming into your home … is called “Brownout” when in reality, it is a “blackout” or “power cut”. Why do the terms mean such different things? As my 2 yo nephew is fond of saying, “I dunno”. Confusing one with the other could be a shocking experience.
Comprehensive: Lest one think this is about picking on the Filipinos for incorrectly using English, let’s look at this word which is simple English with a simple meaning … encompassing everything. If you have car insurance in the US you very likely have a portion of your premium going to “Comprehensive coverage”. But it is not “comprehensive at all … it is coverage for physical damage that is not caused by a collision with another vehicle or fixed object or “upset”. Fell asleep and ran your car into a tree? That’s a collision coverage issue. Missed the tree and instead rolled the car in the grass beside the road? Ah, don’t be upset, that should be covered by the “upset” portion of your collision coverage. A vandal smashed your windshield … now that is likely covered by you “comprehensive”, which is, in actuality, anything but “comprehensive”. Here in the Philippines, a “Comprehensive Policy” essentially means what the word actually does mean in the dictionary … coverage against perils such as collision, upset, fire, theft, vandalism and so on. When I first saw my insurance policy quote before buying my car I almost jumped out of my skin … that mush for “Comprehensive”? Then when I saw how the word is used in the Philippines I found my “full coverage” insurance was actually a pretty good bargain.
Tomboy sometimes TB: Even though purists may correctly point out that American use of “tomboy” to describe a girl more interested in sports than make-up is a bit insensitive and sexist, but it’s still a part of most people’s language … and usually that’s all it means. A girl or woman who is interested in what are traditionally “male” things. It certainly has seldom, if ever, is making a statement about the woman’s sexual orientation. Here in the Philippines, you better be real careful about describing you niece or your wife’s cousin who happens to excel at sports or knows how to tune up an engine. When you say a girl is a “tomboy” it almost invariably means she is a lesbian and is sexually oriented toward other women. Why would this rather innocuous expression be reshaped into something that is absolutely no one else’s business and could be very hurtful to the woman and her family? Perhaps it’s a reflection of the goal of “delicadeza” at all costs, or perhaps it started long ago from some other meaning … but it is what it is and you’d be well advised to think twice, or even three or four times before ever uttering the phrase.
Okay, enough for now … what’s your favorite “separation by common language” issue?