Culture and Language
Language and Manners
Speaking Politely in English
Believe it or not, language is a part of culture. As such, a language is subject to the "rules" of a culture regarding language, e.g., what is polite and how to speak politely.
The aim of this page is to help non-native English speakers become POLITE English speakers.
Degrees of Politeness
(from least polite to most polite)
Sometimes it is difficult to understand a foreign language because of the cultural references. For example, if a Korean were to say, "I had a pig dream last night," an American might think that it was a dirty, disgusting dream, since to Americans pigs are thought to be dirty animals. And yet, every Korean would understand that a pig dream is a fortunate dream, since pigs are fed very well by their masters. To live a pig's life is good and a symbol of opulence.
Some examples of Cultural references in English:
Foxy woman: a beautiful woman (in Korea a foxy woman would be a cunning woman)
To work like the Devil: to work hard, (because in our culture, the Devil is said to work very hard to bring souls to fill the depths of hell)
To be on Cloud Nine: to be in a heavenly, God-like, joyous state, (because in our culture, there are nine levels in heaven and the ninth level, Cloud Nine, is where God resides, and where one can experience the ultimate rapture)
To be pushing daisies: to be dead, (because culturally we planted daisies on the graves of the deceased)
A buck: a dollar bill (because as Merriam-Webster's Dictionary points out: "archaic : a deerskin regarded as a unit of exchange in early dealings with American Indians;" And so, a "buck" is used metaphorically to mean a dollar bill, the unit of exchange for Americans)
To be down to earth: to be practical (as opposed to having lofty ideas or ideals, which can never be realized) because in our culture is a prized virtue to be sensible and being practical is part of being sensible, and being is is practical to keeps ones goals and expectations within reach, and we cannot reach far off of the earth.
Scrooge: Scrooge was/is a fictitious character in a Charles Dicken's book who was a miser. Hence the word scrooge has come to mean miser.
Quixotic: Quixotic comes from the fiction novel Don Quixote . Don Quixote was idealistic and utterly impractical; he was especially full of rash lofty romantic ideas. He was chivalrous, but his chivalrous actions were always doomed to fail. He was rash and exotic in his romantic life. So, to be quixotic means to be like Don Quixote.
Pecksniffian: the word originated from Charles Dickens's novel, Martin Chuzzlewit. In the book, Seth Pecksniff, put on airs of being a respectable and moral businessman. Yet, in reality, he was a despicable and immoral person; So, to be pecksniffian means to be like Seth Pecksniff.
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