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Britons' use of passive-aggressive language and sarcasm is LOST on Americans, survey finds



'You really MUST come for dinner some time...': Britons' use of passive-aggressive language and sarcasm is LOST on Americans, survey finds

  • Americans 'often misunderstand passive-aggressive subtext in British phrases'
  • Expressions like 'I'll bear it in mind' were shown to two groups in YouGov survey 
  • But when asked how they interpreted it, there was stark difference in perception

By Faith Ridler For Mailonline

Published: 13:23 EST, 12 January 2019 | Updated: 16:02 EST, 12 January 2019

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Americans often have trouble understanding Britons' use of sarcasm and passive-aggressive language, a survey has revealed.

Common expressions like 'I'll bear it in mind' and 'with the greatest respect' were shown to Britons and Americans by YouGov Omnibus last month.

But when the two groups were asked how they interpreted the phrases - there was a stark difference in comprehension.

In fact, according to a Tweet by YouGov, 'half of Americans wouldn't be able to tell that a Briton is calling them an idiot'.

Common expressions like 'I'll bear it in mind' and 'with the greatest respect' were shown to Britons and Americans by YouGov Omnibus
Common expressions like 'I'll bear it in mind' and 'with the greatest respect' were shown to Britons and Americans by YouGov Omnibus

Common expressions like 'I'll bear it in mind' and 'with the greatest respect' were shown to Britons and Americans by YouGov Omnibus

The most significant variation came with the phrase 'with the greatest respect'.

Around 68 per cent of Britons believed it to mean 'I think you are an idiot' while 49 per cent of Americans interpreted it as 'I am listening to you.'

A similar discrepancy was revealed with the phrase 'I hear what you say'.

Around 48 per cent of 1,729 Brits quizzed thought the expression meant 'I disagree and do not want to discuss it further' - but 58 per cent of 1,952 Americans heard 'I accept your point of view'. 

But when the groups were then asked how they interpreted the phrases - there was a stark difference in understanding
But when the groups were then asked how they interpreted the phrases - there was a stark difference in understanding

But when the groups were then asked how they interpreted the phrases - there was a stark difference in understanding

When shown the sentence 'you must come for dinner' more than half of Britons believed it was merely a polite gesture.

On the other hand, 41 per cent of Americans would have expected an invitation in the mail.

'While not all the phrases show a difference in transatlantic understanding, there are some statements where many Yanks are in danger of missing the serious passive aggression we Brits employ,' YouGov said.  

The survey was inspired by a popular meme circulated by Buzzfeed in 2013.

The YouGov Omnibus survey was inspired by a popular meme circulated by Buzzfeed in 2013
The YouGov Omnibus survey was inspired by a popular meme circulated by Buzzfeed in 2013

The YouGov Omnibus survey was inspired by a popular meme circulated by Buzzfeed in 2013

The table showed a series of phrases catagorised by 'What the British say', 'What the British mean', and 'What others understand'.

Each of the 15 expressions listed were shown to the groups alongside two potential interpretations and 'don't know'.

Those quizzed were then asked to choose the option they believed most closely resembled their own perception.

But although the results weren't perfectly accurate, the survey did show that most of the stereotypes listed on the table were indeed correct.   

Most Britons and Americans asked believed 'I was a bit disappointed by that' to mean 'I am annoyed at that.'

The majority of both groups also interpreted 'very interesting' as 'I am impressed'.

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