My quest to cycle most of the major islands of the Mediterranean continues apace tomorrow, as I set off for the small island of Menorca, lying to the north east of Mallorca. I have already cycled Mallorca a couple of times, always off-season, and Ibiza and Formentera. Further to the east, I have spent a week each on both Sicily and Cyprus, but still in my sights are islands like Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Rhodes. I have visited Malta as a tourist, and the size of the island and the density of both population and traffic make it a poor destination for a cyclist like me.
Menorca, however, holds a lot of mysteries. It is small and basically has just one road that straddles the entire length of the island, about 50kms long. From this central spine, several local roads and tracks lead down to bays and beaches, all waiting to be explored. Around the entire island there is a bridleway, Cami des Cavalls, established by the British in the 18th century when they occupied the island for over 60 years. This route around the island was used by British coastguards (on horseback) to look out for invading forces.
The last remaining gin distillery is a lasting testament of the British presence, but much remains to be discovered in order to unearth other nuggets of information about the history of the British on the island.
Intrigued? Stay tuned…….
We Brits famously use language for a variety of reasons other than to mean what the words actually say. Take, for instance, the notoriously increasing use of reverse psychology in teenage language over recent years. Years ago, when something was exceedingly good, it was either ‘fab‘ or ‘ace‘, or some other monosyllabic grunt that obviously meant ‘very good’. But as we entered the nineties and noughties, these expressions morphed into ‘cool‘, ‘wicked‘, ‘sick‘, ‘insane‘ and ‘dark‘, and a plethora of other words too rude to mention here.
This habit of understatement (even reversing the meaning) really hit home a few years ago when, near Alicante in Spain, I entered our hotel restaurant one morning for breakfast and asked the waiter how he was (¿Qué tal estamos, hombre?) and he answered in a most uncharacteristic way for a Spaniard (No muy mal). I had never heard anyone ever use that expression before. So I asked him what he meant by it. And he replied “Well it’s what you British people are always saying: not too bad“. Now this got me thinking. What do we Brits actually mean when we say “not too bad“?
Are we simply undecided about our current condition and this is a convenient way of sitting on the fence? Are we afraid of really declaring our cards by saying we feel great or awful (as the case may be)? Or is it simply unBritish to be upbeat about our own physical and mental condition? What would a psycholinguist say?
Linguistic subterfuge in our use of language was further confirmed when a friend passed on an Anglo-EU Translation Guide. At the moment of writing, our Prime Minister, David Cameron, is confronting some of our EU partners with some very tricky questions and possible changes to the constitution of the European Union. I am absolutely certain that language will be very carefully selected to both declare our intentions publicly and to hide some of our real goals and objectives, with the hope that much will be lost in translation anyway. But back to the Translation Guide. It would seem that the reverse psychology of teenage language is also shared by adults at all levels. When someone says “I hear what you say“, does that mean they are really listening? No not at all. It really means “I fundamentally disagree with you”. But a non-British person may not appreciate the subtlety. So too for the following: “With the greatest respect” (I think you are an idiot), “That is a very brave answer” (I think you are insane), “Very interesting” (That is clearly nonsense), “You must come to dinner” (I’m really just being polite) “I only have a few minor comments” (I think you should completely re-write this) and my favourite “I’m sure this is my fault entirely” (It’s actually your fault entirely).
One of the plainest speakers in recent times has been the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos. A few years ago at the
Ibero-American summit, when Hugo Chávez was at his most rumbustious, Juan Carlos lost a little of his customary self-control. Chávez said some very negative things about Spain and Spanish politicians, and the King lost his rag just inches away from a live microphone, saying “Why don’t you just shut up!!” (¿Porqué no te callas?). A most unkingly thing to say at any time. The nett effect was that this linguistic sound-bite circulated the globe virally in a matter of seconds, it was picked up by a ring-tone company, and by the end of the
day they had sold over half a million ring-tones of the King shouting to Chávez “Why don’t you just shut up!!” For a brief moment, the King had done wonders for a small sector of the Spanish economy. And this led to many other spin-offs: mugs, scarves, T-shirts, framed wall-mounts, bracelets and a host of other things, all proudly displaying the defiance of their King in front of the iron man of Latin America. In fact my own study is now draped with a large scarf which shouts at anybody who comes in with the intention of disturbing me: “¿Porqué no te callas?“