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The following sentence is from this past November 7th’s New York Times article titled “Rove’s on-air rebuttal of Fox’s Ohio vote call raises questions about his role”, dealing with Karl Rove’s clear contradiction with Fox News’s call regarding Ohio voting for President Obama:

“So at 11:33 p.m., Megyn Kelly, an anchor known for her no-nonsense style, began her walk down the hall and did the questioning. The leader of the decision team, Arnon Mishkin, laid out its case, with some help from a more polished television presence, Chris Stirewalt.

“Arnon doesn’t do TV very often, and Megyn can be very pointed,” Mr. Clemente said. “So I said let’s have Arnon with the facts, and Chris — because he’s on TV every day — to put it in English.”

I don’t understand the exact meaning of the ending phrase, “to put it in English”, because all concerned are Americans speaking the English language. Is this a jocular, or does it simply mean “to speak plainly”?

I suspect I would offend the native English speaker, if I ask him/her “please put it in English”, as it may sound like he/she speaks circuitously, or badly.

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"... in (plain) English" is a (usu. sarcastic) way of saying "stripped of jargon, this is what it means" -- look up the idiom "in plain English". –  Kris Nov 12 '12 at 4:40
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Though it may sound’s sour grapes, I wouldn’t be bothered if Arnon Mishkin’s instruction were “put it in plain English.” But I felt it odd to say “put it in English” to American audience, because it sounds like an American demanding a non-English speaker to speak in English. –  Yoichi Oishi Nov 12 '12 at 21:26
    
No, that would be too naive, and bland. The idea is to put a sting into it by implying that the statement was not quite English in the first place, being alien to the general (even native American) English speaker. –  Kris Nov 13 '12 at 4:57
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7 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The more common way of expressing this idiom is to say, "put it in plain English," as opposed to just "put it in English." There is also another common expression, "Can you put that in English, please?", which is used to ask a speaker to restate what they've said in simpler, clearer language.

Mr. Clement seems to have conflated these two phrases when he said, "put it in English," and that he essentially meant "put it in plain English."

This fits the context, since Arnon does not have experience speaking simply and clearly to an audience, whereas Chris does.

Here are the Wikipedia entry on Plain English and the Free Dictionary explanation of the idiom in plain English.

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+1 Perfect answer. –  Kris Nov 12 '12 at 4:37
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Here are the keys:

  • “The leader of the decision team, Arnon Mishkin”
  • “Arnon doesn’t do TV very often”
  • “Chris — because he’s on TV every day — to put it in English.”

Arnon is a stats guy, an inside guy, and probably a corporate guy. He ordinarily speaks and writes to his peers in a jargon-ridden polysyllabic noun-heavy technical-corporate dialect distinct from ordinary conversation. He's not used to communicating with the public in language they understand and respond to, and he doesn't understand how to work the camera.

So the team brings in Chris, who is used to communicating with the public and has extensive on-camera experience and an established on-camera presence. Chris “puts it in English” which the public will understand and respond to.

Arnon speaks about matters in his special field using an English understood by a small population of professionals. Chris translates that into an English understood by just about anybody over 12 years old.

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Your hunch is correct: it means to speak plainly, or to put it into words. It just happens to mention English because that is the language they happen to be speaking.

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There's an absence of the word "plain" to make it more sarcastic than a more neutral phrase. The chosen Chris will 'translate' other people's words into English. There are other choices of phrases for describing Chris' TV appearance charm or for speaking plainly. The exact wording used is a stab at the others for speaking corporate speak that is not understandable as English.

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Yes - the 'unhedged' version works better. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '12 at 9:19
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This phrase is equivalent to saying "put it in layman's terms", i.e. those that the average person can understand.

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When it seems redundant (i.e. no language barrier or translation issue), "in English" means

  • no jargon
  • no technical terms
  • no big words
  • clear and easy to understand

I've heard "in English?" or "in English, please" as a response to someone else's speaking, basically accusing them of breaking some or all of the above. A quick way of saying that because something was too technical or complicated, it was like speaking another language.

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In this particular case, the popular interpretation "to express it in commonly- and widely-understood terms" appears to be correct. However, I do feel compelled to mention that in other contexts "to put it in English" might be intended to mean "to explicitly state what would otherwise be implicit or unacknowledged."

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