Lost In Transatlantic Translation

One of the perks of working closely with someone half way round the world is that the time zone shift means you regularly begin or end your day with your colleague’s voice in your ear. It’s like having a long distance relationship, only with no sex and more business talk than personal banter. Come to think of it, that’s exactly like a long distance relationship.

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This morning, I mentioned to Nat that I was peachy keen to be on the line with her. A moment of silence followed while she unpacked the phrase, which though it is English, is no way English at all. There’s been a lot of that “two countries separated by a common language” thing going on of late, what with all the Muricans jonesing for a definition of a Cheeky Nando’s.

The internet is having a grand time with this, as a legion of Brits is competing to offer the most colloquial and opaque definitions to the poor, befuddled Americans. Exhibit A:



We colonials are, of course, loving it since, a) we still feel culturally inferior despite the whole superpower thing and b) the mellifluous gobbledygook of British slang sounds charming to our ears. I’d love to be able to “bang on about our best m8, Cyril, who is the Archbishop of Banterbury himself,” but I’d sound like an ass.

The spread of Cheeky Nando’s fits the general pattern of shareable nonsense. Internet memes trade on language. Doge, my personal favorite, endured because of its precious but idiotic grammar, and memes, in general, go wide proportionate to the charm of their peculiar linguistic structures. After all…



Cheeky Nando’s is different. While it is associated with the “ok” sign, there is no iconic picture that must accompany its use. Nor does bind an internet tribe together based on shared meaning. A Cheeky Nando’s is untranslatable to Americans since we lack the cultural context to make it intelligible. That’s the whole joke. It’s an internet meme that isn’t a meme at all since the only cultural material transferred is the delight in mutual misunderstanding (with a side order of benign tribalism). Even the brand itself has gotten into the act, and I hope some savant in their operations department has just floored it on the expansion plans for the US.

This whole episode has bonded me to Nando’s before I’ve even smelled its famous Piri-Piri. It should also serve as a reminder to those of us who communicate for a living of the enduring tension between redolent slang and anodyne formal speech. The former communicates more to fewer. The latter says less to more. But when you hit the balance between them just right, you’ll want to go have a Cheeky Nando’s to celebrate.

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