What’s in a Word…”What”… – The Universal Word of What…

Whilst in UK and having met people from all walks of life, cultures, languages and countries I’ve had time to learn the universal word of “what”, as a youngster I was always taught that it was rude to say “what” and always use pardon or excuse me in its stead; which is quite right but as time has gone by and coming from Zimbabwe, having started to learn French and Spanish from a young age and more recently started to learn Polish and speaking Shona (native language of Zimbabwe) fluently I’ve come to learn that there is no rudness intended going from another language because its how it is translated.

Often if a Shona speaker in Zimbabwe did not hear you they’d say  “chii” (pronounced ch-ee), translated into English this is what. French is the same thing and is “quoi” – (pronounced qwa), in Spanish it is “que” (Pronounced as ke”. Polish is “Co” (Pronounced S-aw).

As a youngster I’d always be told when a worker would say “what” in English. For instance was “damn rude”, in Shona there is no word for pardon or there is excuse me which is “pamsoroi” but, as far as my history has taught me, individually I never recall someone saying “pamsoroi” unless they wished to get passed someone. From what I gather from the other languages I’ve bothered to pay attention to, I’ve heard and said “chii’ ‘quoi’ ‘que’ or co” in conversation.

I do believe that acceptance needs to be brought to this word from English speakers as saying “what” is not a matter of rudeness nor ignorance but more so a matter of translation. So, my question is; does the ignorance not stem from the people who regard using the word “what” as a matter of rudeness?

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Guy Taylor

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