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What the British Really Mean When They Say Certain Things

What the British Really Mean When They Say Certain Things
on July, 03 2013

A survey was conducted a few years ago, which revealed that the British don’t really speak their minds. Seventy percent of those surveyed say “maybe” when they really mean “no.” The British invented English but somewhere along the way, the English that they use is a version that other English users do not fully understand. The British are known to say certain things when they really mean something else.

Beating around the bush

There is so much that the rest of the world needs to know about British phrases that there ought to be a guide made for tourists who have scheduled a vacation in the British isles, or will be meeting up with a group of Britons. Double meanings and superfluous words characterize British English in the same way the direct talk is what New Yorkers are known for. The British beat around the bush in style.

This has not only led to many serious arguments and misinterpretation, but also to the harsh impression that the British have a penchant for saying things that are polite on the surface but with a palpable undercurrent of scorn. Even many British subjects agree that the sarcasm they are known for is often misinterpreted. Unfortunately for them, they often end up in rather awkward situations.


Another good example is “How do you do?” When Britons use the sentence, it’s a greeting more than anything. As a matter of fact, for the British it is a formal greeting and not an invitation for the other person to enumerate his or her woes. Another good example is the rather vague, “Cheers.” The Americans use this to toast someone’s good health with an alcoholic drink. When Brits use the word to end an e-mail or a phone call, some Americans do not always understand why.

The British habit of skirting around and using long-winded words and phrases just to hide behind what they really mean is not necessarily an exclusive British trait. In another survey, it was found that the average adult wastes 1.7 million words in a lifetime as they struggle in their everyday interactions to make a point.

Just being polite

A majority of Brits who say “I quite agree” do not agree at all. Similarly, “I understand what you’re saying” is the diplomatic way of saying “I don’t want to discuss it further and I absolutely disagree.” Here’s another tip for the uninitiated. “You must come to dinner” is not a concrete invitation. This is easier to understand because it is not only the British who say things to that effect. “Let’s get coffee” and “We gotta have lunch sometime” are just some of the things we say when we meet someone in unexpected situations. It does not always mean that we’ll be texting or calling to set a date soon.

The British say in their defense that they do not make the extra effort to be vague (or obnoxious). As a matter of fact, some attribute the troublesome double meanings to the extreme effort of being polite, only ending up even less courteous in other people’s eyes.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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