“Can you give me a hand?”

Being blind, I often request assistance when crossing busy roads. A couple of days ago I stood at a busy crossing in London’s Victoria Street. When a gentleman approached I asked “can you give me a hand please?” When he answered in the affirmative I thanked him and took hold of his arm just above the elbow.
“That’s my elbow”, he said offering me his hand. I explained that it was, in fact his arm I required and we crossed the road together.

During our short transit across the road and into Victoria station, my companion mentioned that he was from Norway. His command of English was excellent. However the misunderstanding which arose when I requested “a hand” made me realise how those brought up in a country/familiar with it’s culture use expressions, on a regular basis without considering whether they will be understood by the person with whom they are communicating.
As many of you will be aware, “To give a hand” has 2 meanings:
1. To provide assistance and
2. To applaud/clap a person/group of people.
There are doubtless many other expressions which I use on a daily basis without giving any thought as to whether my meaning will be correctly interpreted. In future I shall try to remember to ask “can you help me cross the road please?” which is a wholly unambiguous request.

I would be interested to here from my readers (both here in the UK and abroad) regarding their experiences of using commonly employed expressions and being misunderstood.

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11 thoughts on ““Can you give me a hand?”

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    It doesn’t happen quite so often now, but there were a lot of situations similar to this between me and Kelly when we first got together. Things like him wondering why I would want cheese on my chips (me meaning fries, him thinking I meant what we call crisps and he knew as potato chips).

    Reply
  2. Aishwarya

    I am Indian and English is my first language. I often use expressions and phrases without actually thinking what they mean literally and when I speak with people who struggle with English, I am often mistaken because they take literal meanings of what I say! And in my head I’m a big grammar nazi as well!!! 😮 so I constantly get distracted by wrong usages etc.
    One of the blogs I greatly enjoy reading is Niall’s blog called English Language Thoughts (https://englishlanguagethoughts.com/) where he discusses usage and phrasing…I am sure you will like it too 🙂

    Reply
    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comment. I see that I am not alone in using phrases without thinking about whether others will grasp their meaning. I must confess to being human and making grammatical mistakes from time to time although (as a poet) I can always claim that they are not errors but are, in fact done for poetic effect …! Thanks for the blog recommendation, which I shall check out.

      Reply
  3. robbiesinspiration

    I can see how someone who is not English first language could misunderstand what you said. I live in Africa and there are many languages and cultures. Common English phrases are often misunderstood here as are figures of speech like onomatopoeia, similes and personification.

    Reply
  4. Cyranny

    Very interesting point to bring up… I speak French, and words don’t always mean exactly the same thing, depending if you live in France or here in Québec. My favorite example is the word “gosse”. In France, people refer to their children as their “gosses” but here, in Québec, it means “Testicule”… You can imagine the chuckles, when a French man offers people in Québec to see a picture of his “gosses” 😛

    Reply

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