That’s not what I meant: used to


Who doesn’t have problems with false cognates or words what seem to mean one thing and actually mean another? I thought I could bring you examples of this kind of problem in this new section of the blog called “That’s not what I meant”, because that’s usually what happens: you say something and people just go “what?”. And then you realize that they understood something very different from what you thought you said; actually they understood exactly what you said, only it was not what you meant…

Our first example is a classic: used to. I can’t say whether this happens to speakers of other languages (please holler!), but Brazilians tend to use “used to” when they actually mean “usually”. This became very clear today, as I was working a booth in a very interesting event where I’m working as an interpreter.

The speaker decided to speak English, and her English was quite good, except she said “company A used to do things very well”. One of the members of the audience asked her “used to”? And she said, “yes, used to”. As a Brazilian listener I could easily tell she meant “company A usually does things very well”, but as I was not interpreting at the time, there was nothing I could do to avoid this miscommunication.

And that’s why, folks, it’s very important to learn and practice vocabulary, so you usually (at least) say what you mean to say!

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Quem não tem dificuldades com falsos cognatos ou palavras que parecem ser uma coisa quando na verdade querem dizer outra? Pensei em trazer exemplos desses problemas nesta nova seção do blog, chamada “That’s not what I meant” (“Não foi isso que eu quis dizer”), porque é isto que normalmente acontece: você diz algo e as pessoas ficam com cara de interrogação. Aí você percebe que elas entenderam algo muito diferente do que você pensou ter dito, só que você não queria ter dito aquilo…

Nosso primeiro exemplo é um clássico: used to. Não sei se isso acontece com falantes de outros idiomas (por favor, manifestem-se!), mas os brasileiros tendem a utilizar “used to” quando na verdade estão tentando dizer “usually”. Isso ficou muito claro hoje, quando eu estava na cabine de um evento muito interessante no qual estou trabalhando como intérprete.

A palestrante decidiu falar inglês, e o inglês dela era bastante bom, só que ela disse “company A used to do things very well” (a empresa A costumava fazer as coisas direito). Um dos ouvintes “used to”? (costumava?) e ela disse, “yes, used to” (sim, costumava). Como uma ouvinte brasileira, percebi claramente que ela queria dizer  “company A usually does things very well” (a empresa a costuma fazer as coisas direito), mas como eu não estava interpretando nesse momento, não pude fazer nada para esclarecer o mal-entendido.

E é por isso, pessoal, que é muito importante aprender e praticar vocabulário, para que você normalmente (pelo menos) diga o que quer dizer!

2 Comments

Filed under That's not what I meant

2 responses to “That’s not what I meant: used to

  1. Wow, Carol. Hope the company didn’t lose business or anything.
    Sometimes I wonder… since the most probable source of the problem is L1 interference (“Eu costumo”), why do we insist on addressing the problem without going back to its original source?

    • carolinadavilaenglish

      Well, Luiz, luckily it’s an academic event, so there’s no business involved… But I totally agree with you, when we’re talking about adults, we should always take L1 into consideration; I daresay we should even use sentences L1 and in English in class to compare meanings. But that will open a whole new can of worms…

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