Good Communication Skills Have Never Been So Important

I got an email the other day from a blog reader who tells me that there are now more non-native English speakers than native English speakers. That leaves ample opportunities for linguistic subtleties going unnoticed. I suppose it can happen to native English speakers as well.

Here is an example:

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post entitled “You will not find any LemonJellos in Malaysia.” The blog post referred to new laws in Malaysia that banned a variety of non-standard names for children:

Parents will not be able to call their babies after animals, insects, fruit, vegetables, or colours.

Numbers are also not allowed, so little James Bonds cannot flaunt their 007 status on their ID cards.

Other restrictions stop parents giving children royal or honorary titles as names or calling their little ones after Japanese cars.

I ended the post with a plea to blog readers to help us find the ever-elusive twins named OrangeJello and LemonJello:

By the way, we are still looking for OrangeJello and LemonJello. Despite many good leads, we have not found them. If you know how to find them, please contact Dubner and/or me. There is a small gift for you if you lead us to them.

A few days ago I got a friendly email from a woman in Malaysia. Here is what she wrote:

Just read your column. I know of two stores that sell Jello in Kuala Lumpur. Look in the Ampang area for the two expat groceries. I can’t vouch for what flavors are currently in stock but they do sell a variety of Jello flavors. Hock Chun on Jalan Ampang also might sell Jello. I believe that the grocery in KLCC also sells Jello.

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  1. kw says:

    That is too classic to be true, she may have hoped that you’d fall for her sarcasm, hence the joke is on you!

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  2. Ome90 says:

    They say that you should take pride in the country’s honour.

    How about naming your child after the national fruit, Durian? Or the national flower, Hibiscus? Or perhaps the national anthem, Negaraku?

    In the terms of conventional wisdom proposed by John Kenneth Galbraith, it’s overated, baybeh.

    So what if I name my future son ‘Colour’? Hey, it’s not A colour.

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  3. Joe says:

    17. lol

    She was being sarcastic! That was the best post.

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  4. Frank says:

    My wife taught at a school with an OrangeJello, who had a brother named LemonJello (not sure if they were twins or not). OrangeJello by my math would be 17-18 years old at this point. This school was in Inglewood, CA. My wife swears she saw the name OrangeJello on the school roster, but only heard from another teacher about the brother, so there is always the chance that half of this story is urban legend.

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  5. rosemarie b says:

    I once saw an artwork that read: “an artist who doesn’t speak English is not an artist”, or something in this sense. It is quite telling, isn’t it? AND it’s so true. Does anyone know who came up with this phrase? I am very curious to find out the origins of such insight and the opinions of those who ponder upon it.

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  6. Davey says:

    My mother was trained as a nurse and, while still in nursing school, she was observing a birth being made by a woman who already had 7 or 8 kids. On the way into the delivery room, somebody asked the mom-to-be what name she had picked out. The woman jokingly replied that she had run out of choices and didn’t really have a name picked out yet. The baby was delivered, a healthy girl, and as the staff members were finishing up, cleaning the mother, etc., one of them said, “There’s the placenta.”

    The woman spoke up, “Placenta, that’s pretty.” And then, she named the child Placenta Bell—whatever.

    My mom swears it’s true.

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  7. Davey says:

    Jeez, just remembered. My daughter goes to school with a kid named Stainless Steele.

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  8. Rachel says:

    Living in China, I have run into people with all sorts of interesting English names they’ve given themselves. My personal favorite is a cashier at the local Walmart whose English name on her nametag is Green. A girl I met once introduced herself as David (my roommate and I suggested perhaps she might reconsider something like Megan, which she did).

    On the note of the Malaysian names, my closest Malaysian friend goes by Alien. I didn’t find out until a few months after meeting her that it was not actually her given name, just a nickname she’s had for years and decided to use as her name.

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