Peter T. Daniels
2020-01-04 18:16:20 UTC
it off previously because it began with a story about Hofstaedter's wretched
Ton beau de Marot) had a piece about the word "serious" in East Africa.
The (former) NPR East Africa reporter explained that when someone there asks
you (in English) "Are you serious?" it means 'Are you going to do something
about it?', and from an official it's usually a request for a bribe.
He then played an excerpt from a Secy. of State John Kerry press conference
in Addis Ababa, where Kerry rather valiantly brought up the problem of press
censorship, naming an individual who had been imprisoned for anti-government
writings. He took the prescripted questions from local reporters, and ones
from American reporters (which probably wouldn't have had anything to do
with Ethiopian affairs anyway), and then he was supposed to stop, but instead
he called on a local guy who hadn't been on the official list of questioners.
This fellow asked, "Thank you for mentioning that reporter, my question is,
are you serious about the issue?" And Kerry, somewhat miffed, said, "Of
course I'm serious. We take press freedom very seriously." The NPR reporter
caught up with the Ethiopian reporter on the way out and asked if he had
meant 'Are you going to do anything about it?' and the fellow said Yes, of
The State Department didn't reply to inquiries as to whether Kerry had
misunderstood the question (it would have taken great foresight for the
US embassy to have acquainted him with the local meaning of "serious,"
so it doesn't seem like it would have been a major gaffe to admit that
he hadn't understood the import of the question).
So my question is, has the OED recognized this local sense of the word?
(Kerry was SoS from 2009 to 2013, so they've had plenty of time even if
the sense was unknown to them before that.)