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English language and culture

    England is the country of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Dickens and Beatrix Potter.The first is, by common consent, a hero of the human race, a titan of literature. The second three are worthy names in most literate households. But the work of the fifth is best known because she wrote about animals.

    The English are inordinately proud of their language. The Complete Oxford Dictionary runs to 23 volumes and contains over 500,000 words. Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 30,000 words (some of which he made up), twice that of a modern, educated English person. Most of the English manage on around 8,000 – the same as the King James Bible.
    Meanwhile, English is to communication what Microsoft is to computing: the world cannot do without it. One billion people use it; 80% of the Internet and 75% of the world’s mail is written in it, and 200 million-odd Chinese at any given moment are learning it. India has more native English speakers than England has.

Conversational Triggers
    Because conversation does not come easily to the English, they have developed a bewildering battery of metaphors with which everyone is familiar and comfortable. These include euphemisms for the avoidance of verbal confrontation with “tricky” subjects. Thus the English do not die, they “pass over,” “pass on,” “pop off,” “kick” the bucket,” “give up the ghost,” or “snuff it.” When they relieve themselves they “spend a penny,” “Wash their hands,” “answer the call” or, simply, “go.”
    To the English many such phrases are so familiar that they are not usually quoted in full. So “it’s an ill wind…”, “it never rains…”, “every cloud…”and so on tumble one upon the other and only the English know just how little they all really mean.
    交談對英國人來說不是件容易的事,于是他們就想出一系列含糊、隱喻的說法,對此大家都感到熟悉、舒服。這些說法委婉,使人們得以回避那些微妙的話題。于是英國人就不“die”(死),而是“pass over”, “pass on”, “pop off”, “kick the bucket”,“give up the ghost”或“snuff it”。他們方便是,說“spend a penny”,“wash their hands”,“answer the call”或干脆“go”。

許多這類的話語對英國人來說是再熟悉不過的了,所以,說話人也常常不完整地引用。于是,就有像“it’s an ill wind…”、“it never rains…”、“every cloud …”之類的話一句接一句,而只有英國人才明白它們其實真沒多大意思。

    “Nice” is the most overworked word in the English language whose meaning can only be divined by its context.
    The English grow up with “nice”. As children they are warned off antisocial behaviour with the reprimand “nice boys (or girls) don’t do that!” And by the time they totter into their first conversation, they can use the word with deadly effect. They may even imitate their elders by using it sarcastically – a favourites ploy – to put down bad behaviour: “That’s nice! That’s very nice!”, when the tone of voice says it all. Sarcasm is very much part of the English conversational stock-in-trade.


    The use of hand gestures in communication is viewed with deep suspicion. English hands are usually kept firmly to English sides in all conversation. But they should be in sight at all times. It is considered very bad manners to talk to anyone with the hands in the pockets, as if preparing an instrument of aggression or silently counting loose change.
    People will usually only use hand gestures when they are absolutely necessary, such as for pointing the way (index finger of the right hand extended) or for making a forceful suggestion (index and middle fingers of the right hand raised in a “V”).

                                                               Banch 摘自《英語沙龍》

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