A few weeks ago in her weekly column, Katherine O’Leary wrote: “Cows are already going to the dairy, ready for the next breeding season.” As is my job, I query anything that I don’t understand as maybe others won’t either. I hasten to add that I did query this particular line with a few others before picking up the phone and was none the wiser. So I rang Katherine and she howled in laughter down the phone at me: “I could write an entire column on you not knowing what that means, it’s just the polite way of saying that the cows are bulling.” Enlightened, and semi-laughing at myself, I replied: “Well why can’t we just say the cows are bulling so?”

Language is a strange thing and lots of things can be lost in translation. Dialect and accent can add another layer of complexity. I was marking a paper once, in my teaching days in the UK, and the student had written on the top: “Amii, your Irish accent was particularly strong that day and I couldn’t understand a word you were saying.” I badly wanted to point out to her that it was all on the PowerPoint presentations that I had laboured over, if she had taken the time to read it.