English. It’ s one of the most widespread languages on planet Earth. Roughly a billion people speak it as either a first or second language. It is often used as the official language of business, international trade, and diplomacy.
Yet, even among native speakers, English is not universally understood.
4 Britishisms I Learned From Doctor Who
Ah, The Doctor. That loveable, ancient, time-travelling madman in a blue box.
If you’re not familiar, The Doctor is the lead character in the BBC’s long-running science fiction series, Doctor Who. He’s an alien whose spaceship is also a time machine. In it, he travels throughout history and the universe using brains, bravado, and far-fetched technology to fight monsters and evil robots.
The Doctor is famous for fast-talking gibberish. He confounds friends and enemies alike with babble about timey-wimey, science-y stuff.
But as an American watching the show, it’s not talk of quantum locks, vortex manipulators, or pocket universes that throw me off. It’s the everyday expressions; the ones I haven’t encountered this side of the Atlantic.
4 Britishisms I learned from Doctor Who
For a man who is supposed to be over 900 years old, The Doctor sure has a way with the ladies. And why not? He’s brilliant, funny, handsome. . . and he’s got a time machine.
But when I first saw this scene from The Girl in the Fireplace,
I had no idea what snogging was. Not that it was all that hard to figure out.
#2 Stag Night
The Doctor’s way with the ladies sometimes leads to tension with the fellas (or blokes - but that’s another word I never hear Americans say). For example, the time he crashed Rory’s bachelor party in The Vampires of Venice. Only bachelor party is not what they called it:
When I read the title of this episode, the words The Lodger had no meaning to me. I also hadn’t yet figured out that flat means apartment.
But I quickly learned that if a strange man shows up on your doorstep with a bag full of money, go ahead and rent your spare room to him. He might just save you from the sinister alien living upstairs.
When I hear torch I think, “burning stick.” And quite frankly, burning sticks would have looked right at home as The Doctor and Queen Nefertiti ran from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Apparently, though, torch is just another way of saying flashlight.
Since we don’t have a TARDIS translation matrix...
In a professional setting communicating with precision should be your highest priority.
Localization is the process of adapting communications (especially marketing materials) for a particular audience. Its importance is epitomized by embarrassing mistranslations, like the time KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good” became “eat your fingers off” in China.
Cultural faux pas can leave your customers baffled, or worse, offended. And that’s just not good for business.
Localization, even within the English-speaking world, helps your customers relate to you. So when you’re targeting the US market, adapt your communications to use a voice familiar to your audience.