Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

We all have regrets.  Sometimes events don't work out as we wanted them to. When we look back on our failures, we ask, "How could I have made this better?  What should I have done differently?  What would have improved the outcome?"

When we want to change something that is too late to change, we are creating an unreal situation.  For this, we have to use hypothetical grammar.

oops-button-fotolia.jpg

Note in the above sentences, I wrote "could have, should have, would have."  In fast speech, Americans shorten these verb phrases to "coulda, shoulda, woulda."  If you don't believe me, start listening to your native-born co-workers.  They don't say "could...have, should...have" in natural speech.  That would sound slow and robotic.  Slow speech like that is reserved for emphasis, maybe to express anger or impatience.

In order to not sound angry or impatient, you need to learn to combine certain words together.  This week, I recommend you start with verb phrases. In addition to the three above, you can try these:      might have (gone) ---> mighta (gone)      must have (been) ---> musta (been)

The headline of a recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is "Shoulda, coulda, woulda for Vikings after loss to Bears." After losing in the final seconds of their football game, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier "wishes he had managed the situation better."  Notice the grammar of a regrettable (but unchangeable) event?

"Ohhh! I shoulda sent those files yesterday!"

"Ohhh! I shoulda sent those files yesterday!"

With this headline, the sports reporter emphasizes that whatever could have been done (should have been done, would have been done) is too late.  It sounds like making excuses for poor performance yet one more time.  Therefore, "Coulda, shoulda, woulda" is a way of telling others that excuses are not acceptable; they are responsible for the results.

Ask your American friends or co-workers when they might use "Coulda, shoulda, woulda" in a conversation. And stay tuned for more pronunciation tips to come!

Spelling note:Coulda, woulda, shoulda is mostly for speaking.  An acceptable way to write these words in email is could've, should've, would've.  If you are writing a business letter or technical report, spell them out fully: could have, should have, would have.

Images via fotolia.com

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.

Don’t Sweat It!

"Don’t sweat it!" What does that mean? This expression recently showed up in an article about how to attend your company's picnic.  The writer's advice: don't sweat the details and have a good time.

“Sweat” is an informal word for perspiration—when water comes out of your skin.  This can come from hard work or exercise.  Or it can come from nervousness.

If you are nervous, your American friends may tell you, “Don’t sweat it.”  If they say this, they mean, “Don’t worry; everything will be fine.”  (Note: this is an informal expression that would be too casual to use with your boss, customers, or strangers.)

Supermarket display in the personal care section  (photo: A. Headbloom)

Supermarket display in the personal care section

(photo: A. Headbloom)

This display for men’s antiperspirant uses the word “sweat” in a double meaning.  The company believes its product will reduce how much you perspire.  And they don’t want you to worry about it.

Ask your American friends for examples of when they would say, "Don't sweat it."

(photo: fotolia.com)

(photo: fotolia.com)

New Vocabulary and Pronunciationsweat = informal for perspiration [rhymes with "wet"] deodorant = a scent applied to the underarms (and sometimes elsewhere) to cover the odor of bacteria that naturally form in moist places anti-perspirant = personal hygiene material applied to the underarm to block pores from perspiring (and therefore reduce underarm moisture); may be scented or unscented Don't sweat the small stuff. = Don't worry about little things; keep focused on big-picture, high-priority issues. (A book with this title was published many years ago.)

(source: fotolia.com)

(source: fotolia.com)

Cultural Note The American belief in privacy goes beyond individual space and property. U.S. Americans also prefer that others keep sounds and smells to themselves.  Don't let your music invade my space, that is, turn down your radio!  And control your emissions of odors, that is, I don't want to take in your human smells!  This includes bad breath, body odor (also called "B.O.") from the underarms, foot odor, and others. Note how much shelf space is given to personal hygiene products in American supermarkets and pharmacies. 

If you don't shower daily and use masking scents, powders, or sprays, your co-workers may complain about you to the human resources officer, creating an awkward conversation for both of you.  Bottom line: if you work with Americans, I recommend you adapt your hygiene habits, unless you want to eat alone in the cafeteria!

Prima Donnas, Jerks, and Other Bad Apples at the Office

In a recent article called "Why it's so Hard to Deal With Office Jerks,"Stephen Balzac talks about why we tolerate bad behavior among our co-workers, even when they are really unpleasant people. His final suggestion is to fire these "bad apples" before they destroy the whole office. From the analogy with rotting fruit, Balzac is referring to an old saying in English: One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

Balzac gives good reasons for getting rid of such poisonous workers, even though they are often the most productive workers on the team.  His business advice is sound, but a big attraction is his use of many terrific slang expressions for the office.  Below are explanations of the tricky vocabulary he uses.  After reading the list, check out the article via the link above.

Sometimes the really productive workers are the biggest jerks.

Sometimes the really productive workers are the biggest jerks.

I have highlighted the top ten most useful expressions for you to know.

Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts

palpable = able to be felt

sidelong glances = short looks to the side

set Jim off = made Jim angry

set Jim off he did = This word order is for emphasis. It means: Making Jim angry is what he did.

laced into = attacked, strongly criticized

in no uncertain terms = very clearly, without any doubt

top player = best performer

cut him some slack = be flexible with him, don’t monitor him so tightly

lest = so it won’t happen that

not go there = avoid it, don’t talk about that topic

drag on = continue for too long

get on with = get along with, have a good relationship with

bad apples = people with rotten personalities (like spoiled fruit)

No one approached... = Nobody was even close to (his level).

egregious = horrible, offensive, obviously bad

contagious = spreading, infectious

bite back = criticize in return, attack back

pick on = criticize, be unkind to

edgy = nervous, on edge, uncomfortable

irritable = grumpy, in a bad mood

jerk = person with bad or rude behavior

spiral = increase, continue going

pretty much everyone = almost everyone

thrive = grow, prosper, succeed

After all, = Here’s a logical reason for this.

take = tolerate

obnoxiousness = being really unpleasant or rude

or whatever = or other bad traits

ambiance = atmosphere, environment

take his pick = have a choice of whatever he wants

all the while = the whole time, during

disengage = disconnect, retreat, pull away

mushy = soft, (about fruit/vegetables) over-ripe

this apple is pretty mushy = this guy is pretty bad (We expect apples to be crisp, not soft.)

skyrocket = to increase dramatically, to shoot upward

refrains I often hear = repeated stories that I often hear

inevitable = unavoidable, inescapable, destined to happen

What took you so long? = Why didn’t you do this sooner?

Stephen Balzac is a writer on leadership and organizational development. Contact him at  steve@7stepsahead.com.

What Do Americans Mean By TGIF?

On Fridays you may hear co-workers or classmates say “TGIF!” This is a common acknowledgment that the end of the work week or school week is here, and the weekend is ready to begin. As you are learning, Americans are very fond of acronyms and abbreviations.  In this case, TGIF stands for “Thank God It's Friday.”

TGIF

If you want to start using this expression at your school or workplace, there are three things you should know about saying it correctly.

First, it’s pronounced /tidʒiyai'ɛf/, with stress on the final letter.

Next, there is no –s at the end of “Thank” because it is a verb, not a noun.  You are probably familiar with the noun form “Many thanks!”  The meaning of TGIF is sort of like “I thank God” or “We thank God (that it’s the weekend).”

Also, the word “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.”  Many of my Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking friends try to say “is” because in their language, the word “it” is optional.  In English, “it” is grammatically required.

Getting over the hump: Quitting time on Wednesday is 3/5 of the way to the weekend!

Getting over the hump: Quitting time on Wednesday is 3/5 of the way to the weekend!

Finally, let me make a cultural observation.  Some people are not accustomed to using religious language.  If so, you can substitute “Goodness” for “God” in similar expressions.  For example:   • Thank goodness my paycheck came today!  I’m traveling tomorrow and my bank account was at zero.   • I left my apartment key in my room.  Thank goodness my roommate was there when I got back home. By the way, did you know that some Americans call Wednesday “hump day”?  A hump is a small hill.  If you see the week as an obstacle to arriving at the weekend, then you are happy when Wednesday is done and you are more than halfway through the week.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

One restaurant chain knows people like to celebrate after work.

One restaurant chain knows people like to celebrate after work.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.