Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Elbow Grease

One of the jobs I do at work is to process requests for information from propective students – prospectuses (prospecti?), course booklets, that kind of thing. We often get requests from overseas where students have do not speak English as their first langauge but have been taught to communicate in a very polite and formal manner, which in itself is odd since most of the information requests come via email which is largely an informal communications medium.
Sometimes the politeness goes a little too far. I can’t remember the exact contents of the email, but one I had to process today went something like this:

Sir, In the name of God I declare that I am [name], a boy of 21 years of age and a Nigerian citizen. I have heard many great testemonials about your exquisite school. I wish that you and your colleagues are in good health and that your elbows are well-greased.

I wouldn’t exactly call the university ‘exquisite’, unless you’re referring to the sandwiches in the student union bar, but I had to hold in the laughter when I read the elbows comment. I’ve never, ever heard that comment be made before as a compliment. Whoever taught English to this person is either very misguided or in a on a very cruel joke.


  1. I have found that people from some foreign countries where English is not the first language can be very polite and wordy in their speech or text. India especially can be noticeable in this regard. It’s refreshingly amusing.

  2. Yeah I get this same sort of thing sometimes working on Nothing as comically good as that though. 🙂

  3. The other thing, of course, is that it could be a flattering idiom in the original language that just doesn’t translate well. “May your elbows be well-greased” might sound laughable in English, but it could be that in the original language it’s a well-known gesture of goodwill.
    Something to think about. 🙂

  4. It sounds like a 411 scam letter.
    I love the elbow grease comments; I might have gone with the ‘may your loins be fruitful, and full of fruit.’