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How can you know if something is rude or not in English?

September 10, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Potentially, anything can be rude in English (or probably in most languages).

And this is because everything always depends on the context, situation, or how it’s done.

Here’s an extract:

Swearing is a perfect example of this. Saying a couple of bad words is something that’s normally seen as rude, but in British culture, it can also be seen as one of the strongest terms of endearment. Calling somebody an “asshole” can be aggressive in other cultures, but in British culture, it can also be an indicator of “you are my best friend now”.

Another example that one of my clients asked about recently is if it is rude to sigh in a meeting. Now is sighing rude? Well, it depends on the situation, context, and how you actually sighed. Let’s say someone in the meeting said “I’ve got a solution to this problem” and you sigh… that’s extremely rude. What was the intention behind that sigh? Do you want to express something with that sigh? And in that context… you’re most likely annoyed at the person and want to express it with a sigh. That’s why the intention behind that sigh is what’s considered rude. Always think about the intention, not the surface-level meaning of the English word.

On the other hand, if you sigh after a meeting you were nervous about like, “Right, I’m going to hand the chair over to you for next week. *sighs*”… That sigh is a totally different meaning from the one before. Because what you’re doing now is lightening the mood and indicating that you’re relieved that the thing you’re nervous about is now finished.

See the difference between the two? Totally different intention, totally different body language, totally different meaning within the context.

But again, the point is, you have to interpret words/actions based on different aspects. Consider the situation, overall dialogue, context, and the deeper intention behind it. And this goes the same for any English word, phrase, expression, and anything that’s so-called “rude”.

Now, if you want to learn English properly (and understand how to say something better in English), I can help. You can start with the one-hour free training guide I created. It will teach you the 5 key changes my best clients make to improve their English as higher-level English learners.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

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