Canadians do it. Italians do it. Brits and Mexicans do it. Chances are, you do it, too. We choose words—and turn phrases—that are difficult to translate. Our native languages are full of terms that are very hard—if not impossible—to translate into numerous target languages. In this increasingly global marketplace, we need to understand how our choice of words can negatively impact our message.
One resource that can help you better understand the implications of ambiguous word usage is a new book entitled Undiplomatic Activities, by former diplomat Richard Woolcott. The book chronicles the problems created when cheerful Aussies sling slang abroad. According to a report in The Week, Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, for example, tried to brush off a questioner in Japan by saying, “I am not here to play funny buggers”—which in Australia means to split hairs. The translator rendered it as, “I am not here to play laughing homosexuals.”
One more reason for adopting controlled vocabularies.