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28 March 2012

Confusing words #4: convenient/comfortable

A charming Russian lady telephoned me five minutes ago and asked: “Is it comfortable to talk right now?”
     I had not the heart to answer: “Yes, but really you should have said, ‘Is it convenient to talk right now?’”
     So I am making my unspoken thought public, hoping she will read this post. The problem results from the fact that in Russian the word удобный can mean either convenient or comfortable (in some senses).
     To ask if I am comfortable would be nice, in much the same way that the famous BBC Home Service programme, Listen with Mother, always used to begin: “Good afternoon children! Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time, in a big, dark wood, there lived a wicked old bear/witch/socialist/environmental activist/person with dubious taste in suits etc…” (delete as appropriate)
     But the lady who phoned me just now did not want to know about my physical posture. She wanted to avoid disturbing me if were “in a meeting” or otherwise engaged. That was polite of her, and I am grateful for her courtesy, which was why I could not bring myself to correct her English.
     But here it is, Katya, specially for you—and the 140 million other Russians who use the telephone. For me, this is a more convenient way to put the point across. I hope you will feel comfortable with that.


  1. I usually say: “Do you have some time/a minute to speak?” Might it be a psychological issue: I care about a person’s time, not his/her comfort or convenience?

    Aliona Vanova

  2. I prefer the pithy 'Is now good?'