Mate Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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Language experts will tell you that some languages, such as Thai and Vietnamese, are tonal. This means that one word can have six completely different and unrelated meanings depending on the intonation used, so where you think you are asking for a doner kebab with garlic mayonnaise and picked chillies, you are in fact asking the man behind the counter to smile in the manner of a man who has sat on a bullfrog. It is not recommended that those who are used to atonal languages should experiment too heavily with tonal ones, unless they can easily afford bail.

Strangely, though, most atonal languages do have at least one word that can convey an astounding number of meanings with just a flick of the vocal chords. One of the most versatile is the Australian word 'mate', which has all but replaced normal communication in some of the more remote areas of the continent. All of the following sentences can be happily replaced by the single word 'mate', as long as the correct intonation is used:

Jeez, mate, I feel as rough as a wombat's tongue.

Watch out for that truck, mate!

Another tinny, mate?

Wor, mate, check out the maracas on that one.

You're me best mate, mate. In a platonic way, of course.

Mate, you're grinning like a bloke who's just sat on a bullfrog.

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