There are many English words that are used ‘traditionally’ in Sri Lanka that have the completely opposite meaning to what it truly is defined as.

  • What is 10 into 5?

A Sri Lankan would answer that question as 50

while the Westerner would respond to it as 2.

We say ‘Divide the cake into 5″ which is correct usage.. However, the average Sri Lanka uses the word ‘INTO’ to mean MULTIPLICATION.  The school going child would recite his/her time tables as 2 into 1 is 2, 2 into 2 is 4… and yes, that’s how I grew up too.

However, moving to New Zealand where I completed my high school studies before proceeding onto my degree, I remember answering the teacher’s question implying multiplication but using the term into.  My classmates reacted to my statement as if I was wrong. I looked at them quizzically.

As soon as I went home, I ran to my Oxford dictionary (no, I’m ancient and this was the day and age before we freely had access to computers let alone the internet.. it was the day and age of electronic typewriters!).  I was so embarassed when I realised INTO is actually divided by.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines this as:

used as a function word to indicate the dividend in division dividing 3 into 6 gives 2

I have been struggling to teach ‘correctly’ while tutoring as the child goes back to school and hears ‘into’ from the teachers..

How can we make a cultural change, to shift from the completely wrong usage to the intended usage?


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