Living languages constantly change. New words and phrases enter a language and old ones are forgotten. Often adaptations are gradual but occasionally a new phrase, like WTF (see the above Google NGram), quickly burst into a language and even infiltrate other languages.
When observing the development of my first language – American English – I am always intrigued when I encounter a phrase that has become part of the common vernacular since I left the States 30 plus years ago. I especially pay attention when I, as an ex pat, am no longer certain of the phrase’s meaning or intention.
One such phrase I have difficulty in deciphering is when a speaker predicates the start of a statement with the words: “I need you to understand that …” or its cousin “What I need you to understand is …” Whenever I hear one of these phrases I am immediately put on guard. Usage would seem to indicate that the speaker is about to communicate information which is of personal importance to them and/or controversial and that they:
- assume that I already have an opinion regarding this information.
- believe to have prior knowledge of this assumed opinion.
- hold this assumed opinion to be incorrect.
- by uttering this phrase now have carte blanche to hold a monologue correcting me of my presumed opinion.
I am led to this interpretation because I often see it as the start to long ranting blog posts: What I need you to understand about my anxiety, sexuality, feelings, obesity, …
I am confused, however, when I see the phrase used as below.
The above example is not congruent with my understanding. Here my interpretation is that phrase is meant to indicate that the question is ludicrous. I equate it with a verbal eye roll. Is there something I am missing in my interpretation?
Any other expats out there with phrases or words in their first language that confuse them? Leave a comment.