What’s in a word?

When I was growing and all through my teens we all said “see ya (you) later” it is part of the Lancashire dialect.


It is how you said farewell/goodbye/adieu – not just to family and friends, but to the girl at the checkout, the man on the bus, to our teachers to our bosses – everyone.  It was a sign of endearment a way of reaching out to people.Then I did my degree and moved away – my “see ya later” was met by total confusion.  Friends would ask “when did we arrange to meet?” checkout girls would be totally bemused.   This phrase, my language, had a different meaning outside of my community.  It was no longer a term of endearment/farewell, it only had a literal meaning – see you later – that is we had an appointment.

Reluctantly, I had to adapt, I had to change what I said in order to be understood and not to be mis-understood.  Whatever words I used to say ‘goodbye’ lacked what I was trying to convey – but I was understood.

Some 25 years later I returned home – back to Lancashire.  When the checkout girl said to me “see ya later” my whole body smiled – there is a sense of  – I am back where I’m understood.

In every day life little mis-understandings like this happen frequently.  Most of the time we can shrug them off – but sometimes they hit us hard – we become upset sometimes angry.  Mediation can help unravel these emotions.  In the joint session a skillful mediator  will helps parties flush out different meanings to words, gestures and cultural norms – thus bringing a new level of understanding.  Understanding the meaning behind such little things can have a huge impact on how the parties develop their relationship.

Do you have examples of mis-understood phrases from your local culture?  If so I would love to hear about them – see ya later……

One Response

  1. Nick Wright says:

    Hi Karen. I could certainly relate to what you shared here. When I first moved from Middlesbrough to London to do detached youth work, I was bemused to hear the young people on the streets respond with, ‘Know what I mean?’ when they agreed with something I had said. I was also confused by their use of ‘With the firm’ to mean part of the local street gang and ‘On the firm’ to mean girlfriend of a street gang member. When they first talked about being with the firm, I thought they were telling me they had jobs in a local factory.

    How easy it is for language to confuse as well as clarify. I’m reminded of the comment that ‘the US and UK are two great nations divided by a common language.’ It’s so easy to misunderstand someone else, not only the words but the implied intention behind them and especially so in cross-cultural contexts where even the same words may mean entirely different things. This is where mediation can be so valuable, I guess, helping people explore subconscious assumptions and meanings to find fresh ways forward. Nick