5 Things You Shouldn’t Say in English (if you want to be polite)

Translation is dangerous! Sometimes words and phrases that work in one culture are rude in English.
This video is about cultural differences and how to be polite in English. We look at 5 things you shouldn’t say in English unless you want to be rude or get a black eye.

  • Grandma and grandad/granddad
    Aunt and aunty
    How old are you?
    How much do you earn?
    You’re looking fat.

We talk about cultural differences that can cause problems if you translate and also the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt if you want to be polite.

Click here to see more videos on everyday English
Click here to learn how to use the phrase ‘of course’ politely

Things you shouldn’t say in English

Are you saying things you shouldn’t in English? We need to talk.
Hi, I’m Vicki
And I’m Jay.
And this video’s about things you SHOULDN’T say in English.
So it’s about what NOT to say.
That’s right. There are some things that might work in one language and one culture, but when you translate them into English they become rude.
Give us an example.
Grandma.
Grandma?
Yeah, and Grandad. Like that comment we had on one of our YouTube videos.
Right. I know the one you mean. It was funny.
Yeah. Let me explain. We love getting comments on our videos. Usually people say really nice things and thank you all for that.
It’s very motivating for us. But we had a funny comment a while ago. Someone wrote and they said ‘I just love your video, Grandma.’
Technically speaking they were correct. I am a grandma. And I love being a grandma. But grandma also has another meaning in English. We use it informally as an insult to talk about people we don’t know.
So it’s a rude thing to say.
Exactly. An insult is when you say something that’s rude in order to offend someone or to upset them.
Grandma can imply that someone is very old and feeble
Feeble means weak and ineffective. We might call someone grandma when we think they’re mentally or physically slow.
Grandad or grandpa is similar. It’s also used as an insult.
So if an old person is taking too long to do something we might say ‘Oh hurry up grandma.’ Or ‘Get out the way Grandma.’
So what did you think when you read that comment?
I wasn’t sure what to think. Obviously we are a little old for YouTubers, but still… Then I thought maybe it’s just an English mistake.
So not an insult?
Yeah.
So what did you say to them?
I just wrote ‘thank you’.
You didn’t ask them what they meant?
No. Perhaps I should have asked. I wanted to know what they meant, but then I thought, don’t feed the trolls.
‘Don’t feed the trolls’. This is a useful expression. There are trolls on the internet.
Trolls are people who make rude or nasty comments because they want to get an emotional reaction.
Don’t feed the trolls means don’t respond to them.
Yes. But in this case I didn’t know if the comment came from an internet troll or not. I probably should have asked.
But then another viewer did ask.
Yes, they came to my defence. That was nice. They said, hey, why are you calling her grandma? Be more polite. And then first viewer wrote back and explained. In their culture, for them, Grandma was a term of respect and admiration.
So they were trying to be respectful?
Yes, maybe grandma means experienced and wise. But in some cultures you can use grandma and grandpa to show respect to people you don’t know.
So there was a happy ending to this story.
A very happy ending. It’s good to give people the benefit of the doubt.
That’s another useful phrase – the benefit of the doubt.
Yeah. If you think someone might be doing something bad, but you’re not sure, you can decide, hey, I don’t know so I am going to presume you’re not being bad and you’re being nice.
You give them the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, and if you want to be safe, don’t call people grandad or grandma in English.
Unless they’re YOUR grandma or grandpa. Then it’s OK.
Yes, or unless you want a black eye.

Get out of the way, grandma.

A black eye is a dark area of skin around your eye that you get if someone hits you.
Now there’s another term like grandma, that’s dangerous in English.
What’s that?
Aunt or Aunty. Be careful how you use these words.
I pronounce them Aunt or Aunty. In English an aunt is a family member – it’s the sister of your mother or father.
Yes, but there are cultures where it has another use and people call lots of older women aunt. It’s a term of respect again and also affection.
Usually we only call blood relatives aunt in English.
Yes, there might be a very close family friend that children call aunty, though it’s not usual in British English.
It’s unusual in American English too.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes people I hardly know contact me on the internet and they write Dear Aunt or Dear aunty.
That sounds very weird in English. Why do they do that?
I think they’re translating and trying to signal affection, but it doesn’t work
It sounds too familiar.
Yeah. It suggests we have a personal connection that we don’t have so it’s uncomfortable.
OK, so aunty is another thing you shouldn’t say in English.
Yes. Don’t use it. And I have some more.
Oh tell us.
Well, sometimes people ask us questions that don’t work in English because they’re too intrusive and too direct.
Can you give us some examples.
OK. ‘How old are you?’ is one, and another one is ‘How much do you earn?’
Wow, they’re very intrusive questions….. much too direct. People really ask these questions?
Yes. In some cultures you might ask them to get to know someone, so they’re more friendly then because they show you’re interested in them.
And they’re not rude?
Well no because you expect vague answers. Vague means not clear, not detailed.
But they just don’t work in English. They’re really rude.
Yes, they’re way too personal. Don’t ask them. Don’t go there.
‘Don’t go there’ means don’t bring up that subject of conversation. You’ll get a very bad reaction if you do.
Or a black eye!
Any more questions?
No, but I’ve got one more thing you shouldn’t say in English.
What’s that?
This happened to a friend of mine. He was travelling in China and he met someone he hadn’t seen for a while and they greeted him with ‘You’re looking fat’.
What?!
He was horrified, really shocked.
Well of course. We all want to look slim, like me. Why did they say that?
It was a direct translation that didn’t work. I think they meant to say you’re looking healthy and prosperous.
So they meant to say ‘You look well’ or ‘You look healthy’.
Exactly. We’d say something like ‘You look great. Jay, you’re looking good.
Thanks, of course I do. So the important lesson here is to be careful how you translate.
Yes. And also remember that when we’re communicating with people from other cultures, these translation mistakes happen so we have to give people the benefit of the doubt.
That sounds like great advice. What do you think?
Perhaps you know more things that don’t translate well into English from your language. Write and tell us in the comments if you do.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel and see you next week everyone. Bye.
Bye-bye.

Click here to see more videos on everyday English
Click here to learn how to use the phrase ‘of course’ politely

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