It’s English, or else!

Brian Ferry

English is an odd language.

But, it’s the only one I know well at all, so I have little choice but to use it.

Use English, or else…

‘Or else.’

Threatening words.

I’m thinking of a movie in which the antagonist was faced with a command from authorities. When the bad guy failed to obey, the sadly underprepared, ill-equipped, and soon to have his role in the movie abruptly end officer checked his protocols which instructed him to repeat the command and add ‘or else.’


But is it? Really?

‘Else’ means ‘instead’ or ‘in addition.’

So, if I say to a young person for whom I have some responsibility, ‘clean up this mess, or else,’ I am introducing the possibility of there being an option.

Clean up your room, or do another thing instead.

Clean up this mess, or do not clean up this mess.

That’s something else.

Clean up this room, or go about your business.

That’s ‘else.’

Clean up this mess, or watch a movie while eating ice cream with gummy bears on it.

More else.

The natural response, of course, is a cheerful, ‘I choose else.’

Despite the popular usage, I think this is a case where it is important to be more specific.

Clean up this mess, or this space will remain disgusting.

That should give the intended target an explanation of why I think cleaning up the mess is a good idea.

Clean up this mess, or you will not see the light of another day.

That should give the intended target the sense that I mean business.

Clean up this mess, or no phone for a week.

Did I go too far?

So, if you want to talk to me so I’ll understand, use English.

Use English, or else… speak some other language.

I won’t mind. But I won’t understand. I’m stuck with English.


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