May 272015
 Article Comments Off on Speechless but not stumped

Through the marvels of modern technology (LinkedIn and email), I am privileged to serve as ad hoc advisor to a journalist in Islamabad. He is determined to replace the Victorian British taught in the schools with American-slanted, contemporary English usage.From time to time–sometimes several times a week, sometimes with weeks or months in between–he will send me a couple of sentences and ask for corrections.

It’s a wonderful experience because it forces me, a native speaker of American English, to think about why I say and write the things I do. Often a certain word will land clumsily on my ear and I will have to think through the connotation.

Recently, for example, he asked whether “You stumped me” could be translated as “You made me speechless.”

That answer, certainly, was “no.” But why?

What I came to, and told him, was this: Being “stumped” is an intellectual thing. You could stump me by asking who’s leading in the American League. (I don’t follow baseball, but apparently the Twins are doing well enough right now that even I have heard about it.) Being “speechless” is an emotional thing–I am touched or shocked by what I have just seen or heard and therefore can’t come up with an appropriate (or in some cases tactful) response.

(Oh, and I am pretty sure an American would say “you left me speechless.”)