Do You Understand English?! 

If Shakespearean English is the benchmark, then not many of us know English. Even simple interactions sound odd and wordy. Take the opening of Hamlet: 

BERNARDO:        Who’s there? 
FRANCISCO:       Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself. 
BERNARDO:        Long live the king! 
FRANCISCO:       Bernardo? 
BERNANDO:       He. 
FRANCISCO:       You come most carefully upon your hour. 
BERNANDO:       ‘Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco. 
FRANCISCO:       For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart. 

You can kind of understand what is being said, but some sentences seem too flowery like  “unfold yourself”, too wordy like “you come most carefully upon your hour” or jumbled up like “for this relief much thanks”. Remember it’s only downhill from there in terms of understanding Hamlet! 

Are You Hank Marvin (starving)? 

But that’s historic “olde” English you may argue. So let’s look at some contemporary versions of English starting with cockney rhyming slang, which originated in the East End of London. Can you understand the following sentence? 

It nearly knocked me off me plates – the septic was wearing a syrup! I couldn’t believe me mincers, so I ran up the apples, got straight on the dog to me trouble and we had a Turkish.” 

It’s hard to understand, but the words true meaning is what they rhyme with. Here’s a dictionary to help translate: 

plates-of-meat = feet 

septic tank = yank 

syrup of figs = wig  

mince pies = eyes  

apples and pears = stairs  

dog and bone = phone  

trouble and strife = wife  

Turkish bath = laugh  

So it would translate to: 

It nearly knocked me off me feet  – the yank was wearing a wig  I couldn’t believe me eyes,  so I ran up the stairs , got straight on the phone to me wife and we had a laugh ” 

You can find more rhyming slang terms here.  

Singlish, lah 

Other variations of English can be found in the countries once ruled by the British. Take Singapore, there “street” English or Singlish has developed over the years. It mixes Chinese, Malay and Indian influences with “standard” English. If you ever go to street markets you’ll hear this distinctive form of English. Some of the modifications include: 

There are also new words like “wah lau” which is a sign of exclamation: “wah lau, i have so much work”. And of course, we can’t forget the addition of “lah” to the ends of sentences. It usually softens the sentence, so “drink lah” (“just drink“) or “okay lah” (okay, don’t worry about it). 

My English is First Class, yaar 

Staying in Asia, Indian English or Hinglish is worth understanding. Some of the unique features include: 

Like Singlish, Hinglish also has some random filler words. One is the sound/word “toh”. It would be used in a sentence like “he toh is very rude”. No-one quite knows what it means, but it pops up all the time in English conversations in India. 

Yo, Dude, It’s Like Totally Cool English 

Of course, the biggest standard bearer of English are the  Americans, who have developed their own version of English. Americanisms include the phrase “what’s up?” – which means “what is the update?” or “what is happening?”. There’s a whole bunch of American words that may not be understood by non-Americans: 

ballpark – doesn’t mean stadium, but rather expectations. “I hit it out of the ball park” (I did much better than expected), “here’s a ballpark figure” (here’s my estimate of the figure) 

flake – doesn’t mean “flakes” on a croissant, but rather someone who can’t be relied upon: “he’s such a flake”. 

going postal – doesn’t mean you will be sending something by mail, but rather someone is about to get very very angry. Originates from overworked postal workers who went on shooting sprees in the 1980s. 

Monday morning quarterback – doesn’t mean someone playing American football at 9am on Monday, but rather someone who criticises someone else after the event. 

A subgenre of American English is American slang spawned by hip hop.  New words include: 

stunting or flexing – showing off (eg “you needa stop flexin’“) 

mane – man (eg “gimme that drink, mane”) 

trill – someone who is well respected. It combines “true” and “real” (eg “We all got families to feed. So all I can do is be trill”) 

homie – very close friend. Derived from “homeboy” or someone from a similar background as you. 

balling – to be rich. (eg “Dat mane is balling”) 

lo, HAY (hello, how are you) 

Finally, the digital era has taken English literally into a new  dimension. This has created “text messaging” English, which are often acronyms that shorten words. Well known ones are: 2nite (tonight), BTW (by the way), FWIW (for what it’s worth), IMHO (in my humble opinion), and OMG (Oh my God). But here are some less commonly known ones: 

143 – I love you 

7k – sick, really cool 

BEG – big evil grin or a wannabe 

CUA – clean up afterwards, see you around, 

DBBSWF – dreamboat body, shipwreck face 

ESH – experience, strength and hope 

GAHOY – get a hold of yourself, or adolescent suffering from “teenage” issues (acne, breaking voice) 

J5M – just five minutes 

KYR – know your rank or role 

ONNA – oh no, not again 

PXT – please explain that, or picture message 

SHID – slap head in disgust 

TOBAL – there oughta be a law 

u8 – you ate? 

YTTM – you talk too much 

So before you think you know English, think again, and learn some English. Even the BBC is recognising this with its own (Nigerian) pidgin english site


Bilal Hafeez is the CEO and Editor of Macro Hive. He spent over twenty years doing research at big banks – JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, and Nomura, where he had various “Global Head” roles and did FX, rates and cross-markets research.
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(The commentary contained in the above article does not constitute an offer or a solicitation, or a recommendation to implement or liquidate an investment or to carry out any other transaction. It should not be used as a basis for any investment decision or other decision. Any investment decision should be based on appropriate professional advice specific to your needs.)

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