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When instant-messaging with a friend of mine (born in the USA), I used to say wait to interrupt her because I didn't understand something she said, or because she was talking about something for which she had a misunderstanding.

Every time I said that, she replied as if I said wait for me before moving away from my computer to do something, with the result that sometimes she would move away from her computer. This would not happen in a face-to-face communication, since she would notice I was not going anywhere, and there would not be a long delay between the moment I say wait, and when I say what I wanted to say; with instant-messaging, there can be a delay from the moment I write a message and when I complete the next one.

Is there a better/preferable phrase I should use in these cases?

In Italian, aspetta would be a common, informal phrase to use in these cases, but clearly literally translating it didn't have the expected result.

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I think wait or wait a minute is okay, and would sound softer, more polite, if you followed either expression with please; however, you also need to follow it up with an expression like I didn't (quite) understand that, or I didn't (quite) understand what you said; I didn't (quite) get that or I didn't (quite) get what you said. All of the preceding expressions could be preceded by Excuse me? and, in fact, when speaking to native English speakers, Excuse me is often sufficient on its own to communicate your intended meaning. Alternate, more casual expressions--which should also be followed by the same kind of explanatory follow-up statement to make your intended meaning completely clear--are: hang on, hang on a second, hold on, or hold on a second.

  • Surprisingly, wait a minute has an exact equivalent in Italian with aspetta un minuto. I thought it was an Italian habit to say un minuto ("a minute"), or un momento ("a moment"), but it doesn't seem so. :) – kiamlaluno Feb 20 '13 at 15:06
  • One concern is that text can be perceived with a negative intonation, and in the USA at least, Excuse me? can have an off-color meaning depending on intonation. It may be a little risky. – CoolHandLouis Mar 11 '14 at 20:33
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My solution, especially if this is someone you talk to frequently, is to make-up an agreed-upon word to mean exactly what you want it to mean. In this case, you can simply use aspetta.

A similar fun word: A favorite of mine is "tomawamaca" (toe' mah wah' mah ka) which means:

  • "Would you please take the clothes out of the washer and put them into the dryer?"*

Another one: I have a friend who thinks and talks faster than I do. But she'll also misunderstand something I say. Like if I say "yes" sometimes she'll hear "no". Now this is in real life and can cause some big problems! So she'll start going down a path of pure misunderstanding which doesn't have any ground in reality due to the misunderstanding. I made up a word "diley" (die' lee) which means all of the following:

  • "Wait! I'm sorry but I think there's a miscommunication. What you are saying now doesn't seem to be representative of what I said. Let's make sure we are on the same page!". To which, her response should be to STOP and say, "Ok, what?" meaning, "Ok, what do you think is the misunderstanding?" This works very well. ;)
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You can also say

I'm sorry but you('ve) lost me.

Its not so polite, though it does not indicate whether the speaker's communication is unclear, nor whether you are too slow to follow what the speaker is saying.

Basically you are asking the speaker to repeat or rephrase the most recent information, so you can try to understand it correctly.

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