Found in Translation (50 Things You Don’t Mean and What You Really Do)

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“The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,

Are also on the faces of people going by.

I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, ‘How do you do?’

They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.’”

–Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”


What a wonderful world it would be…if we could just say what we mean. If we dropped all the pretense associated with word choice and cadence, syntax, punctuation and every other stripe of linguistic jiu-jitsu. If only we could hit each other with Vulcan mind melds, y’know, verbally; always make straight for the meat without getting knotted up in our own ledes. We’d be happy hounds, cantering ‘cross shitless, conversational Elysian Fields, love abundant, harmony (and nary a dookie) all around. Whether in the workaday world or the good old sister-and-brother-hood of letters, at the holidays with the extended family or at home with the ever-volatile nuclear unit. Maybe even the world of politics would benefit from a little truth in vocalizing…


Corporate Warfare 


  1. “You are a valued contributor.”

Translation: “Get the fuck back to work.”

  1. “The financials look good.”

Translation: “I have no idea how the financials look.”

  1. “Revenues are way up.”

Translation: “We had to cut prices because nobody wanted our product.”

  1. “The value of our intellectual property is more or less incalculable.”

Translation: “We’re on the verge of bankruptcy.”

  1. “He’s tough but fair.”

Translation: “He’s an asshole.”

  1. “She just has really high standards.”

Translation: “She’s an asshole.”

  1. “How’s your family?”

Translation: “I’m thinking of firing you and trying to gauge how likely you are to go postal.”

  1. “Is this the best you can do?”

Translation: “How’s your resume looking?”

  1. “We actually have a negative tax rate.”

Translation: “We’ve done some really shady shit.”

  1. “Maybe you and your team can take that on.”

Translation: “You’re overstaffed. Start figuring out who to fire.”


Politics 101


  1. “Well, I guess if you believe that strongly enough.”

Translation: “You speak in Shitwitanese, but I don’t want to argue with you about it again.”

  1. “You raise an important issue.”

Translation: “I have no idea what you just said.”

  1. “Agree to disagree.”

Translation: “I’m tired of explaining this to you.”

  1. “The Second Amendment really should have been the First Amendment.”

Translation: “I definitely have a gun in my car. And I probably have one in my sock.”

  1. “Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”

Translation: “Religion means Christianity. And freedom is overrated.”

  1. “The most important thing is good old-fashioned common sense.”

Translation: “Books is for suckers.”

  1. “The billionaire class.”

Translation: “The guillotine had its benefits.”

  1. “Small government.”

Translation: “Why aren’t there debtors’ prisons anymore?”

  1. “Bankers.”

Translation: “Capitalism.”

  1. “Political correctness.”

Translation: “Women and dark-skinned people complaining.”


Hell Sweet Hell


  1. “It really looks great on you.”

Translation: “I have no idea how to answer this question.”

  1. “You and your sister go watch TV.”

Translation: “There is not enough Xanax in the world.”

  1. “We haven’t had a date night in a long time.”

Translation: “I’m on the verge of screwing the vacuum cleaner.”

  1. “I’ll always care for you.”

Translation: “I don’t want to fuck you ever again.”

  1. “That’s fine.”

Translation: “Nothing is fine.”

  1. “The dog’s missed you all day. I think he’s in the living room.”

Translation: “The dog threw up and/or took a shit in the living room. He and one or both are there waiting for you. By the way, where the fuck have you been?”

  1. “Kitty just needs to warm up to you.”

Translation: “If Kitty were big enough, she would rip you limb from limb.”

  1. “Ask your mother.”

Translation: “No.”

  1. “Get your father to drive you.”

Translation: “No.”

  1. “My wife invited her parents to visit. Her father was special forces.”

Translation: “I will be sleeping with one eye open for the next few weeks.”


Home for the Holidays


  1. “This looks wonderful.”

Translation: “Is there an escape hatch to this house?”

  1. “Are you supposed to serve x with y?”

Translation: “The Martha Stewart Holiday Dinner Guide Volume VI, Section 4, Verse 11 states quite clearly you are not supposed to serve x with y.”

  1. “My mom’s turkey is so good. I’ll get you the recipe.”

Translation: “Is this turkey or a suede jacket from 1968?”

  1. “I need a drink.”

Translation: “I need a hell of a lot more than a drink.”

  1. “You look great.”

Translation: “I expected you to look much worse.”

  1. “You look good.”

Translation: “I expected you to look much better.”

  1. “Can we all try to get along this year?”

Translation: “I’d be OK if this turned into The Purge: A Christmas Miracle.”

  1. “I don’t want to impose.”

Translation: “I’m going to be a pain in the ass.”

  1. “I didn’t realize you were inviting Uncle Willie.”

Translation: “Is there cyanide in the cranberry sauce?”

  1. “Look how many children you have!”

Translation: “I knew I should have stayed in my sensory deprivation tank.”


Writing Workshop


  1. “I can see you put a lot of energy into this, but it’s just not working for me.”

Translation: “How much time did you waste on this monstrous literary homunculus?”

  1. “Your writing is very cinematic.”

Translation: “Your dialogue/story/plot (choose one or more) is/are so good I can barely contain my envy. But I’m going to do my best to make you feel like shit about it all the same.”

  1. “I’m not sure how to respond to this. I write ‘literary fiction’.”

Translation: “I may say I’m talking about your writing, but I’m really talking about mine.”

  1. “I wouldn’t have written it this way.”

Translation: “I’m a narcissistic twat.”

  1. “Everyone is doing so well.”

Translation: “I hate how well everyone is doing.”

  1. “Who is it you read?”

Translation: “What would possess you to write this shite?”

  1. “I’m just trying to help.”

Translation: “I am absolutely not trying to help, but I fear I’m in the process of being called out for my lack of helpfulness.”

  1. “This is amazing.”

Translation: “I may never recover.”

  1. “Dense.”

Translation: “Soporific.”

  1. “Challenging.”

Translation: “Dense.”





About Kurt Baumeister

Kurt Baumeister’s writing has appeared in Salon, Electric Literature, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, and The Good Men Project. His debut novel PAX AMERICANA will be published in 2017 by Stalking Horse Press. A graduate of Emerson’s MFA program, Kurt lives in Virginia. Find him at
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