Tricky Words in this week's OVI
Titles of government members are particularly tricky in translation, because each country has its own approach to using them. The Minister for Foreign Affairs in
Slovakia is the equivalent of the Foreign Secretary in Britain, and the Secretary of State in America. What is more, someone who is called "Minister" in Britain may be lower in rank to the
"Secretary" (but in the comedy series "Yes, Minister" he really was the Secretary, maybe to aid international identification of the series itself).
Perhaps this is an Anglo-Saxon tendency - to give higher-reaching positions in the hierarchy lower-sounding names - to prevent the title making the person big-headed.
The title "secretary" has a lot more meanings than "sekretárka". Based on the word "secret", it also means "tajomník", so the Communist regimes had their Party Secretaries, and the United Nations
Organization has its Secretary-General.
The question this week is: why do English-speakers use the phrase "How do you do" when introducing themselves? It must be to make life difficult for foreign students,
who either think it means "How are you?" and answer politely "Very well, thank you" (but wrongly - an appropriate response is "Pleased to meet you"), or take it literally (doslova), like one of
Walt Disney's dwarfs responding to Snow White's "How do you do" with "How do we do WHAT?" And Roxette's song plays it both ways: "And I say… How do you do, do you do, the things that you do?" The
point is that "How are you (doing)?" is a real question about our current, temporary state of health, whereas "How do you do" is a greeting phrase with general, timeless meaning.
Please send questions about English language habits to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will choose one to answer each week.