Let’s not call a “spade” a “big spoon”

I’m always amazed at the way English is not one but many languages. Maybe, by not being a native speaker and moving around a bit between different English speaking areas, I’ve become more aware of the potential misunderstandings than most of my British or American or ex-British-colonies friends.

One good example is the term “motivation”. I’ve been discussing motivation issues with some African colleagues recently; they were talking about how motivation determines whether or not groups of local experts get their work done. I could only guess that the Americans in the room thought about someting completely different than what we were talking about.

So I said: “When I moved to Ghana, I was quite confused when I first heard people talk about motivation. You know, in Germany motivation is something like a feeling, your inner drive to really want to do something. And I know that, at least in Ghana, motivation is something that puts some weight into your pocket…” One of the Africans looked at me: “What do you mean, a feeling?” And after I went on explaining it and saw the Americans nodding in agreement, he laughed: “Ok, let’s not call a spade a big spoon. When we say motivation, we mean money.” What impressed me was that there seems to be agreement about the use of the term in East, West and Southern Africa.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Eva! see this:http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2008/07/29/visualizing-social-networks-in-excel/
    another netmap, so interesting for you in many ways…

    ciao, josien

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