A tip about shortcuts

June 9, 2020

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday brings another “Tips & Tricks” topic, this time from Kenneth Fisher (@sqlstudent144). Kenneth’s trick to being different to previous ones is that he insists on anything we suggest not being SQL-related.

It reminds me of the Shortcuts piece that Jess Pomfret (@jpomfret) prompted four months ago, where I wrote about a language shortcut I remembered from high school. Well, since then I’ve picked up duolingo, and have now spent time each day for about eight weeks learning Polish (I’ve been a little curious ever since I went there last year), and completed the ‘intro level’ for all the other 34 other languages they have on the site. I find languages fascinating, and often wonder why I didn’t find phone apps for learning them years ago. I have to admit that I still need to learn the endings of Polish words much better than I know now, figuring out which cases end in -ego and which end in -ami. I’ll keep improving though, and one day hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time in other languages too.

One thing I discovered recently is about how you can seem much more natural in a language by being across the shortcuts that they use. My shortcut post from February talked about how I used the pronoun ‘on’ in French to avoid having to remember so many verb conjugations, but in Polish there are some things that are even better. The most obvious of which is how you say Happy Birthday.

If I look up the Polish translation for Happy Birthday, it tells me “Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin” (literally “All the best on the occasion of your birthday”). Don’t be surprised at how scary that seems to pronounce, as long combinations of consonants are all the rage in Polish. I really can’t tell how to say “Wszystkiego” properly – I know “w” sounds like a ‘v’, and that ‘sz’ sounds like ‘sh’, but ‘vsh’ doesn’t seem any easier to say either.

But what Polish people say (as I spotted on Facebook by seeing how Polish people say Happy Birthday to Polish people) is “sto lat”. Just six letters! And it’s way more Polish than saying “Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin”. “Sto lat” literally means “a hundred years” (which means you can even get away with writing “100 lat”) because the cultural thing to do is to tell someone you hope they live to be a hundred years old. Polish people realise this doesn’t translate properly into English, so they don’t say “100 years” to English-speaking people when it’s their birthday.

So to me it’s a great shortcut that has let me impress some of my Polish friends.

One thing I’ve found in life is that shortcuts betray a deeper knowledge of something, whether or not you actually have that deeper knowledge. When I used to catch taxis to the airport, I could tell if the driver was a local or not by the roads they’d take. Satnavs always recommend a slower route between my place and the airport, thinking that a wider road will be faster than the parallel narrower one despite having more traffic lights. The traditional “It’s okay I know a shortcut” when driving suggests you’re more familiar with the area than the passengers, and is the kind of thing tested in London taxi drivers’ “The Knowledge” (sorely missing in my town).

Fluency in any environment, whether navigating streets, a language, or even a computer system, is most typically demonstrated by the tips, tricks, and shortcuts that you develop. It implies that you’ve learned things that work better for you, and a style that works for you. That you’re a local. When I say “sto lat” to someone in Poland, they can tell that I’ve made the effort to what they do (even though “Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin” would be much harder).

So take the time to learn shortcuts, particularly in the tools that you are starting to use more regularly. Explore your neighbourhood. Know what’s around you, and then do things the best way.

Be a local.

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