Saturday, March 06, 2010


A few random thoughts on the word Fluent

Fluent is a lovely word. Floooooent. Say it slowly, roll it around your tongue. It sounds delicious and it’s a perfect example of an evocative verb. Smooth and flowing, effortless and graceful. Our language is blessed with many such words, effervescent, languor and serendipity are among my favourites.

A gentleman by the name of G Joslin Vethakumer, I’m not sure of his nationality, is quoted as saying that that the beauty of the English language lies in its simplicity. He pointed out that if you say ‘I love you’ in any other language you will hear the difference (actually I think that je taime sounds rather nice too!) He goes on to suggest that in English it’s more than just a formal expression as it’s cloaked in a certain warmth and sincerity vital to make it reflect the delicate inner closeness you cherish in a relationship.

Sadly few of us can be said to be wholly fluent in our own language and this clumsy sentence I think proves my point! Foreigners learning English often fail to recognise Mr Vethakumer’s description of our language as simple and literal translations rarely work.You may recall that some time ago I carried out an experiment using the famous Babelfish online translator. I tried it again today. I typed in the words ‘very few of us are fluent in our own language’ and this this what I got:-

English to Italian – molto poca gente e fluent nella loro propria lingua

Italian to French – de beaucoup de peu gens sont coulantes dans leur sa langue

French to German – von viel Leutebitchen sind in ihrer seiner Sprache flussig

German back to English – from much people-little are liquids in their its language!

I remember hearing once of a teacher who was telling her students about the common mistake of using double negatives in spoken English. She explained that a double negative makes a positive, for example ‘I don’t want nothing’ actually means that 'I do want something'! She went on to say that on the other hand, a double positive never makes a negative. A voice at the back of the class called out ‘Yeah right’!



  1. "yeah Right" - sounds like your typical college student. Great post, Keith!

  2. Well said that kid!
    Very few - alot of less; not much to say on that one.
    One thing I do know is, we're all fluent in Chinese... whispers.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Too many of us, including myself, are not fluent in our own native tongue. This is why what I say is often taken the "wrong" way.

  4. i am with alone on the isle (hey so you are NOT alone!) I am fluent in ruining the eng. language!
    I just love the way you write Keith! xo

  5. ruining the eng lang does come to me when i m totally off my head!


    good one

    Frantic Fluency

  6. Enjoyed your takes on fluent, I too find it lush sounding.

    I am also enjoying Carry On Tuesday, nice concept... ;)


    Here is my take on your current prompt.

  7. I love this. Good old Babelfish. Literal is hilarious.

  8. That voice at the back must have been me!

  9. Loved the demonstration with babelfish. I recall running into a lot of trouble when I was trying to carry on conversations with someone in France and both of us were trying to use computer translators. It caused some funny misunderstandings.

  10. Yeah right? Was Steve there?

    Now I am gigglin as I see he has written a similar comment.

  11. Your opening reminded me of the lush sounds of Nabokov's opening in Lolita and sent me to the classics. Heart of Darkness (one of my favorite reads), was written by Joseph Conrad and not in his native language. Ah, but the rest of us can only read, appreciate, and edit, edit, edit. Nice post!

  12. Great entertainment. I was never keen on "Je t'aime" I preferred "Je t'adore" The first version sounds like you are taming a lioness! Which of course may be the case.



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