Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Communication Breakdown

Considering America and Britain share a common language, I am always amazed how difficult it can be to speak to American colleagues on the telephone. A typical conversation will go like this,

"XYZ Helpdesk, Can I take your name please"
"John Smith"
"Tom Schmidt, How can I help you Tom?"
"No it is John Smith"
"Did you say, Don Schultz?"

This seems to be a telephone issue only and I guess extra context like non verbal communication can help fill in the gaps in the missing parts of the conversation. The above is not a one off issue and I have encoutered it on numerous occasions at a variety of organisations that I have worked at. Before you start to blame me, for having a strong Northern accent, it is just not true, I have a relatively neutral accent, and have no issues when communicating to European colleagues who are speaking English as a 2nd language.

The written word is not a problem when communicating between Britain and America, and even the bastardisation of the English language by Americans is a hurdle in this process. Every child spells colour as "color" when they are learning to write. I have no great issue with the cross usage of s and z, and when studying at university at invariably used z in words like "organization", because the majority of the text books originated in America. Besides anything that makes the use of the letter "Z" easier in Scrable is good by me.

In recent years I have taken to listening to a handful of WoW related Podcasts. In particular the WoW Insider Show, The Instance, and The Hunting Party Podcast. All of these shows have a heavy American influence, with only the Instance offering a solitary Brit, in the form of the irrepressible Turpster.

Turpster comes across as slightly odd to the British because he has developed an Anglo-American way of speaking, and will often substitute without much thought the American word or phrase, rather than the British equivalent. Examples of this include:

Freeway - Motorway
Sidewalk - Pavement
Gas - Petrol
Fall - Autumn

The crash site between Turpster and Scott Johnson is over pronunciation, and they use it for dramatic effect, words like herbs, oregano, and aluminium.

American swear words have become a staple of the English language due to the popularity of American film and television. The reverse is not always true and the British often have a laugh at the expense of an unsuspecting American.

Joss Whedon is an American producer/director who uses this to great effect in works like Buffy and Angel. In order to see if Joss had any British connection, I checked the wiki page and noticed that he spent 2 years in at Winchester College and is a big fan of Monty Python. Joss always has at least 1 token Brit in his shows and liked to play verbal tricks with James Marsters (Spike) and American playing a Brit, and Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndam-Pryce) also an American but with some experience of living in Britain.

In the last 2 episodes of the WoW Insider Show they have read out letters from a guy called Knobhead, the presenters struggle over the pronunciation but think noting of reading it aloud. I have no idea if this is considered offensive in America but in Britain it is strongly associated with Dickhead. The Urban dictionary describes Dickhead as "a person who is an idiot and shows it all too well".

This got me thinking, Knobhead of Kilrogg, is likely to be a character name, so next stop was the Armory. Below are my random findings from the armory.

Knobhead - 59
Dickhead - 23
Wanker - 1
Dickwad - 1
Twat - 20
Twatchops - 1
Pillock - 64
Bairyhalls - 31
Fanny - 205
Maryhinge - 59

Blizzard have strict guidelines on naming policy. This includes

Extreme Sexuality\Violence
Sexual Orientation

This is obviously not very rigorously policed by Blizzard, even though you can now easily report people for violation of the naming policy. In fact it is well worth having another look at the policy because I reckon at a rough estimate that 90% of player names violate this policy.


  1. The burning question I have is, how are you able to speak to an American when calling a helpdesk? I'm more likely to be talking to someone in India or Singapore.

    It's common practice when staffing the help desk, to poll everyone in the client technologies dept. and select the individual with the thickest, most inscrutable accent and position them as the primary point of contact.

  2. Yes, I know the large corporations hate their customers so much that they have switched operations to Mumbai and other countries where they can pay them a bowl of rice for a weeks work.

    I have also been unfortunate enough to have to deal with internal IT Departments based in America. It mostly ends up communicating through e-mails.