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Let's put it another way

Let's put it another way tests you on euphemisms.

Just like anyone else, English-speakers are born, die, have children etc. ~ but there are a whole range of less direct ways of speaking about these experiences. We usually call these 'euphemisms' and we can be fairly confident that your own language has similar, politer expressions, which may work the same way as ours or use different images again.

Of course, it's very important that you are aware of these things so that you don't miss a 'clue' (e.g. about someone's medical problems) and find yourself creating unnecessary embarrassment.

Let's see, then, how English 'puts things another way'. We apologise in advance for raising these matters, but they are all part of life ... and, therefore, of language!

  1. There are plenty of conversational clues about a woman being pregnant (presumably in the more delicate earlier stages, where you would not be able to tell by looking quietly at the shape of her).
    ONE of these is NOT relevant or appropriate here; which one?
    The old pretence that babies arrive in a cloth and are delivered by a stork (a long-legged bird) is very old-fashioned on all sorts of counts; you would be most unlikely to come across it now.
    Answer 1 is occasionally used, though the feet of a baby less than one year old ('this time next year') are unlikely to be 'pattering' ~ as it takes longer than that for a baby to learn to stand, walk and then run; but the sense is reasonably clear.
    Answer 2 is rather solemn but does make sound medical sense; Answer 4 is very casual!
  2. 'Hello, is that Gemma? This is Susie. Listen, I don't want to be a nuisance, but I've got a terrible headache this morning and I don't think I'm going to be able to drive into work. Can I call you again at lunchtime and let you know if I'm up to it for this afternoon?'
    Which is the LEAST likely explanation for such a phone call?
    Susie's call may, of course, be entirely genuine; but the 'headache' is (for right or wrong) a very standard way of dodging any or all of these other issues.
  3. You are re-visiting old friends and ask about their neighbour, whom you remember as 'a bit of a character'. Your friends pause a moment, look at each other slightly mysteriously, then one of them tells you: 'Ah yes, Mr Snodgrass: well, let's just say he's gone away for a while.'
    What do they probably mean?
    Answer 2 may well be the most likely: he is serving time 'at Her Majesty's pleasure' (i.e. according to the punishment laid down by the Law of the Land, as signed into effect by the monarch). There are, of course, numerous other expressions for this experience.
  4. 'Where's Andy this morning?'
    'Dunno; but he came back plastered after midnight, so I doubt he'll be moving before lunchtime at the soonest.'
    What's been happening to Andy, then?
    'Plastered' is one of innumerable English expressions meaning 'drunk'. The other suggestions are each colourful and variously plausible, but the much most likely scenario is Answer 1.
  5. You ask a friend about her parents and what they do in life. She tells you, 'My father's been pushing up daisies for the past five years'. What is she trying to tell you?
    The reference is to what happens when a body decays and 'new life' (in this case, pretty little everyday flowers) is the next stage in the great biological cycle.
  6. You are shortly going to meet a friend-of-a-friend, whom you have discovered to have a hobby in common with you. The mutual friend 'in the middle' ~ who has made the connection / introduction ~ offers you a word of warning before you go in to meet his other friend: 'He knows his stuff all right, but it's only fair to tell you that he's no oil painting'.
    What are you supposed to understand by this?
    'No oil-painting' is a somewhat oblique, and rather cruel, way of saying that in an age before photography, nobody would have spent time and effort painting a portrait of this person because he looks so peculiar.
  7. You have tried some particular British food that was new to you, and it has upset your digestion. The following day you are aware that you might need to go to the bathroom/toilet at fairly short notice and at any moment, so it won't be practical to go off on an outing with your friends. How do you best explain this to them?
    Answer 1 is clear enough and polite; Answer 2 may be medically true but is somewhat indelicate, and 3 is both informal and rather rude. Answer 4 is more or less possible but it would (with all due respect) probably sound rather silly coming from a non-native speaker.
    If such circumstances did arise, you would not be the first person to have such a reaction to 'foreign' food; so it would be no bad thing to know what to say in order to keep the situation from becoming even more awkward!
  8. 'Good evening; Mrs Hugh? I'm Inspector Dominick from Whitchurch Police. I'm so sorry to disturb you, but may we come in for a moment please? Perhaps there's somewhere we could sit down ... '
    What is the most likely implication of this developing conversation?
    If you have ever watched detective fiction on the television, this scene (or others like it) will probably prepare you (and 'Mrs Hugh') for the worst.
  9. You are about to be introduced to another friend-of-a-friend: this time, a lively-mannered man who is clearly full of interest and experience ('the life and soul of the party'). Your friend tells you quietly, just beforehand, ' ... But do be a little careful; sometimes he can't keep his hands to himself'.
    What are you supposed to be careful of, as you go to meet him?
    Answers 3 (and, to a lesser extent, 1) are understandable assumptions, but the real warning is in Answer 2.
    A truly responsible friend would probably not take you near any such person in the first place, but it is still worth 'knowing the code'.
    Among young 'society girls' in the past, there was a whole such code where they shared experiences about young men they had met. If the initials 'NST' were mentioned, this apparently meant that such-and-such a young man was 'not safe in taxis'; i.e., that he had been known to take advantage of the semi-private environment to 'make a pass' at a girl.
  10. 'Bob will be along in a moment; he's just nipped out for some fresh air, as he wasn't feeling very well.'
    This may well be a polite understatement: what's actually going on? Pick what you believe may be the truth.
    Any of the others is possible, but Answer 2 would be a classic case for this level of 'white lie'.

Author: Ian Miles

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