The games that shape our language

by @edent | , | 1 comment | Read ~197 times.

One of the joys of working with a diverse set of people from all around the world, is that English idioms are a constant source of bemusements. "It's raining cats and dogs" is quickly mapped to the more poetic "Es gießt Schusterjungs".

Recently, I mentioned how our team had a "get-out-of-jail-free card". Whereupon a person messaged me privately to ask what I meant, and if there was any real risk of us going to prison? I started explaining about the board game Monopoly.

"Ah! In my language, it's called 'Pagu la grandan subaĉeton, aŭ mi enfermos vin. Vi peco de feko.'" Which I think is beautiful.

Monopoly has also given us the stock phrase "Do not pass go". As well as "I'm not playing, this game is rubbish. Why do you have to ruin Christmas every year, Brian?"

I find it interesting how phrases from games worm their way into a language. If you describe organising something as being a bit like "Tetris" - I dare say most of the world will understand what you mean. If you triumphantly shout "Check Mate!" there's a good chance English-speakers will get the reference.

But some phrases have long outlived their games' popularity. "Level pegging" comes from the game Cribbage (which no one has played since colour TV was invented).

There are dozens of phrases like this - go read this thread and contribute more

I do wonder what modern games will give rise to such memetic linguistics? While people often talk about a final challenge being like a "Boss Level", it's rare that a specific game becomes so embedded in our culture.

Can you imagine being in an Important Board Meeting and saying, "We need everyone to give it their best Fus Ro Dah!"?

Perhaps they already do, and I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Oh well. Back to square one.


One thought on “The games that shape our language

  1. I have been privilaged to give lot of conference talks to international audiences. I'm always mindful to speak clearly and avoid idiom. I did once have to clarify, after I referred to someone "getting the sack", and saw blank looks in the front row.

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