It sounded better in Spanish

There’s a sign in the gym at my church that says “No fumar.” No fumar – it   sounds so official, so important. Fumar sounds, well it sounds bad. It brings to mind pictures of nuclear plants, radiation, fall-out shelters. Turns out that fumar sounds bad because it is but this sign is referring to “no smoking” or literally, “not to smoke.” Somehow “no fumar” instead of “no smoking” gives so much more import, sounds more official, more “take notice.”

While driving in Ireland on vacation, I saw signs written in both English and German that said “Attention: Drive on left.” The German  had so much more punch – Achtung. Achtung. It really sounds important, makes you want to sit up straight, and well, pay attention. The signs were placed on the downhill drive of curvy mountain roads that for the most part, lacked guard rails. White-knuckled American and German drivers, whose instincts told them to move to the safety on the right on this steep and dangerous descent, were constantly reminded to stay where they were supposed to be. Achtung, Achtung, all the way down did the trick. 

The right words, spoken or written, are like soothing music to our ears and minds. Reading a well-written book, article or blog is a joy. The same sentiment, in awkward or harsh-sounding prose, conveys a different meaning and leaves the hearer/reader in a less-happy state of mind. When stern warnings are needed, the right words convey the importance of the message, without offending the reader.

Today, think about your words, written or spoken. Do they convey the meaning you want to give? Are there better words to convey your point? What words do you use to draw attention or squelch bad behavior, without crushing the spirit?

(Images courtesy of Google. Original photo credits unknown.)

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14 thoughts on “It sounded better in Spanish

  1. Good post, Huffy. I tend to do better at written communications. I can take the time to choose the proper words and edit my sentences until they perfectly convey my message. When I’m speaking, I don’t always trust my quick, New York speech patterns when the words are flying out of my mouth faster than my brain can process them. I don’t like eating foot. 😉

    • Well I can’t attest to your speaking skills, but your writing is definitely right on. I can tell you’re a careful writer.

      I try to do the same with my writing – I edit, proof, re-edit. Most blog posts have multiple drafts. Sometimes bloopers still slip through, or something I meant as innocent is perceived as mean. I feel terrible when that happens, and like you, don’t want to eat feet.

  2. When I was a kid, I loved to say “Achtung!” because it sounded so spitty…and yes, important.

    I absolutely identify with using the right words to not only convey the meaning, but the feeling as well. There is a sort of a sproing of the heart when that happens, when I know, without a doubt, that what I have written clearly and easily conveys both. It’s like I have crafted a little gem of words. I love it when that happens. It didn’t take me long, either, to find out this has nothing to do with long, important-sounding words. Anglo-Saxon is a wonderful base language to get the point across (much like German and without the 15-connected-word sentences). Latin-based words are, for the most part, graceful. Using a mixture of the two (which are the main base languages of English) can produce such amazing results.

    Thanks for this interesting and humorous look at what tools we writers use.

    • Glad to hear I’m not the only one who gets that feeling from “Achtung.”

      I think your “sproing of the heart” is what many writers feel, but perhaps have not verbalized as such, when their writing is successful. I heard similiar comments from folks when I wrote about my year in review and read similiar pieces from others. Writers are waiting for that feeling that lets them know they hit the mark.

      Ironically, this piece was quite a struggle to write. I knew what I wanted to say, but had a lot of false starts getting it down, and almost abandoned it to sit in “drafts” several times.

  3. Great post and good reminder about being careful with our words.
    Sometimes there is nothing wrong with our words and our meaning of them; yet a person can be somewhere else in their own reality and think something very different.
    I’m glad when I receive a comment from a person whose view of what they read is different from what is meant. That gives me the opportunity to reply and clarify. Especially cool when it develops into a great communication between them and me 🙂

    • Very positive Ann. Some would not welcome comments like that. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that you’re good with your words.

      I had one blog I wrote early on that I intended to be satire, but more than one person perceived it as mean-spirited. I ended up trashing it because I didn’t want to be perceived that way, and tried to be more careful from then on out.

  4. Seeing that last sign….my first idiot impulse was to, of course, grab the edges of the sign….. 🙂

    • Of course you would! I wish I knew where that sign was so I could see it in person, and meet the person who had the good sense to come up with such a satirical sign. That would make my day.

  5. I liked the last sign, too. I saw something a while back about where “vandals” had hacked those electronic highway signs to say things like, “ZOMBIES IN AREA. RUN!” As signs go, I thought it was effective. 🙂

  6. I was just telling GK yesterday that almost every statement sounds smarter if you say it with a British accent. Try it.

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