image Subtext, or: Understanding the true meaning of English and American polite expressions

Annie Hall Balcony Scene - it's all about the subtext
Click on the image to watch on YouTube the wonderful subtextual meanings between Annie Hall and Alvy play out as subtitles

Anyone who’s ever watched Annie Hall (1977), the multi-Oscar-winning comedy movie, will always remember the funny and famous “Balcony Scene” in which Annie Hall and Alvy Singer, the main characters, try to impress each other with what they’re saying while simultaneously thinking very differently.

George Bernard Shaw reasoned that, “England and America are divided by a common language,” and Oscar Wilde more wittily expressed the same thing in Canterville Ghost, as “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” But what the English and Americans both have in common when it comes to language is in the area of polite expressions and their subtext. In other words, we guiltily share a tendency to say something polite when in fact we may mean something else entirely.

Such language often becomes a stumbling block to real understanding, in particular for the many who read and speak English/American as a second language.

Therefore, for the sake of transparency – and in the spirit of good humour, too – here’s a funny, entertaining guide to what the English and Americans politely say and what they really mean by it all. Enjoy (and apologies that the image only shows “British” but the source and great content aren’t mine, so I don’t own it and therefore don’t think it right to alter it in any way). Oh, and if you want to tweet the image, click on this line or the image below.

What the English really mean
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