Monday, November 19, 2007

Right. Absolutely.

This post is about the way English use their language. Two words and the meaning behind them.

Absolutely is a word that some Brits tend to use a lot. Absolutely is a word to back up whatever you were saying or to happily agree with another person. It reminds me of how the Germans use the word genau (meaning - exactly. Read more about the genau phenomenon here). Basically when you hear it, you can take it to mean yes and the person just wants to be a bit more emphatic about it. Be careful, because it can be used to overcompensate for the person actually being not 100% certain of the answer. As an example, there's a good quote in the movie The English Patient. The hero (Lazlo) and heroine (Katharine) have crashed their plane in the desert and Katharine is badly injured.
She asks Lazlo, "Will we be alright?"
He answers, "Yes. Yes, absolutely."
Her reply is "'Yes' is a comfort. 'Absolutely' is not."
A useful thing to remember when you hear the word.

Right is a different story. When a Brit says the word, "right" after you have made some sort of statement, it doesn't mean they agree with you. It means, "I heard you what you said and I understand the words and I'm acknowledging that you said it. However, I'm not convinced that you are correct in what you are saying but I'm too polite to immediately say so, or I need a minute or two to get over the shock of what you told me."
It usually has a certain tone to it as well. The pitch goes up on the long I sound and then comes down quickly to finish on the T. That's more the surprised acknowledgement "right". If it's a longer sound on the R and the pitch goes down the entire way, it's likely that the speaker doesn't believe you for a second or is very unhappy with what you said.

Speaker A: "Did you know that Prince Philip is from Vanuatu?"
Speaker B: "R/igh\t" (That's news to me and I'm not quite sure what to say to you now)

Speaker A: "You have done this all wrong and you are going to have to do it again."
Speaker B: "Rrr\ight" (You're my boss so I'm not saying anything else but if I could...)

Of course, this isn't the hard and fast way either word is used. Just something I've noticed over the course of living here that seems to hold true a good part of the time.


Tom said...

Reminds me of that old joke

A English linguistics expert is lecturing at Sydney University.
He begins by saying. "In English, we all know that a double negative is a positive, however in some languages a double negative is still a negative, in Russian for example....however, he continues, in no language is a double positive ever a negative."

Just then a deadpan voice pipes up from the back of the hall, and says..Yeah,.. right!

jane said...