Lost in Translation

The myths around words and the use of language to define culture is central to our ability to communicate effectively. This is a light hearted story for the holidays……

If the next time you see a Kangaroo it looks confused the reason may be in the name. Capt. James Cook arrives in Australia in 1770 and sees a strange animal….

He asks local Aborigines what is it called? They don’t understand Cook and reply ‘I don’t know’ in their local dialect “kan-ga-roo”……………

The world then had a new species the Kangaroo. But if they didn’t know and he didn’t know who does??

As with all good stories, this one contains enough truth to be plausible. A later explorer, Captain Phillip K. King, recorded in 1820 a different word for the animal, which he wrote as “mee-nuah” so it was assumed that Captain Cook had been mistaken.

However, the Guugu Yimidhirr people to refer to a certain species of kangaroo as gangurru which is pronounced almost identically to kangaroo so all that may have happened is a specific name was applied to a whole species.

Next time you are tempted to drop a great technical term, or hip jargon into a conversation think of the kangaroo myth first. If you don’t know they don’t know what’s the point?? For more on this see my PM Network article of the same title from December 2010: view the article


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