The greatest enemy of clear language is insecerity – George Orwell

There is a scene in Dreamland (the Australian title is Utopia) a satirical, “bureaucracy comedy” – think Twenty Twelve or W1A, in which Tony, the boss of the National Building Authority is trying to explain to the head of a Spanish contractor company they’ve hired why there have been delays to the project.

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There is a translator between the two, who keeps clearly breaking what would be the normal flow of conversation and either over or under translating things, until at one point he stops entirely as the Australian boss waffles niceties and clich├ęs, hiding behind corporate-speak. The Aussie boss asks: “You’re not gonna translate this”and the translator replies: “I do not know what you are saying”.

 

 

At work, an Italian staff member asked to lend a pair of headphones. She then questioned herself, asking whether it should be lend or borrow.

I told her it should be borrow, but a lot of people use lend to mean borrow.

She then said that the reason she got confused is because in Italian, lend and borrow are the same word; ‘presta’.

It reminded me of a story of a hacker who typed with clearly “broken” English. In order to try and identify the identity of the hacker, a linguist was tasked with determining the mother tongue of the speaker, based on the specific grammatical mistakes he was making – on the basis that mistakes made in a second language are not random, rather (usually) a misapplication of the same grammatical rules of the speaker’s mother tongue.
Here’s the super interesting part: the hacker was using fake broken English – that is to say, he was a native English speaker, deliberately making mistakes in order to try and throw investigators off the scent – the mistakes were too random, not based in any specific grammatical structure.