Men can get embarrassed as easily as women, but it’s trickier for a man to get pregnant. This is one of the many false friends and other traps that lie in wait for Spanish speakers of Business English. These are important errors because they can make you feel stupid at an inopportune moment, and in my next few blogs, I want to highlight the worst of them so that you can at least know your enemies.
Locate your Problem
A cold sore on your lip is always irritating, but you should never refer to it as herpes, which the English reserve for problems of a more intimate nature. Similarly, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever want to tell anyone you are constipated in English. You might have a cold, and you might even say that you are blocked up if you’re having problems breathing, but constipation is ONLY understood as the type of blockage that is cured with a laxative…
Too Much Information
Mucus is the nasty liquid that flows from your sinuses like tap-water when you have a cold, but with bodily issues, the English are much less comfortable than many nationalities and prefer just to say we have a runny nose. For the same reason, you don’t have to learn the difficult pronunciation of gastroenteritis or diarrhoea. Depending on the circumstances, English people will discreetly mention that we have food poisoning, a stomach infection or more colloquially, bad guts.
As with many languages, apparently innocent English words can have scandalous second meanings. Eggs are harmless for us, but balls and nuts are dangerous. The nickname Dick used to be short for Richard, but its modern application is mainly anatomical and it’s probably no coincidence that one of the last famous Richards to be rebranded as a Dick was Nixon. Extreme caution should be exercised when presented with supposedly ‘childish’ synonyms for the word cat, and if you have to specify that a chicken is male, it’s best to use the US option rooster rather than the old English word cock, which is only really safe in compounds like cockpit or shuttlecock nowadays.
The only time you’re likely to hear the word cock in polite company is when the English are trying to pronounce the French chicken dish coq-au-vin. Food is another minefield of false friends and tricky pronunciation and in my next blog, I’ll be looking at all the problems English can cause you in a restaurant.