English is a language that often seems to divide rather than unite its speakers from various parts of the former British empire. For example, when Americans speak of ‘boots’ and ‘bonnets’, they are referring to things you wear, but in British English, of course, the words refer to the front and back of a car, or what Americans call ‘trunk’ and ‘hood’.
So it’s bound to happen that when you study abroad, someone will occasionally do a double take when you say something that sounds perfectly ordinary to you but weird to them. Here are a few examples.
1. Stop eating my head!
It’s a reasonable request, no matter what you mean. But unless you make sure your friends understand that you want them to stop pestering or nagging you, that problem is going to remain unsolved.
2. Out of station
It’s not just for young wizards catching the train to go to Hogwarts. What Indian muggles call ‘out of station’, other English speakers call ‘out of town’, or just ‘traveling’. Basically, it just means that someone is not in a particular location.
3. Joint family
In cultures where people live with only their siblings and parents, and move out of their parents’ homes when they start college, people may not quickly understand what you mean. It doesn’t help that ‘joint’ has more than one meaning. We once had an American friend ask if a joint family had anything to do with cannabis.
4. Pass out
Sometimes college students do foolish and dangerous things that make them pass out. But if you do everything right, you get your degree. In India, graduating is often called ‘passing out’, and alumni are ‘pass-outs’.
5. Freak out
When your Indian friend says he freaked out last weekend, don’t assume he had a terrifying weekend that sent him into a panic. He probably just went to a fun party.
Can you think of other Indianisms that confuse people around the world? Leave a comment below, or tweet to @braingainmag with the hashtag #WordNerd.
Previous WordNerd posts are here.
By: Uma Asher
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How We Are Divided by a Common Language
Our weird obsessn. w. abbrevs.
English in The Digital Age