Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/6/13 9:47 AM

Humour: Yes, this is English, too!

Yes, this is English, too!

“In his masterpiece “Leaves of Grass”, Walt Whitman  says: “The English language befriends the
grand American expression….it is brawny enough and limber enough and full enough….it is the
medium  that shall well nigh express the inexpressible.”

One wonders. One really wonders. All the more when one reads sentences that – really and truly – run like this:

“It had just gone 11. After scoring  some stuff at the strip mall downtown, eating pretzels  till I was sick to my stomach, I ran into this chick,  Sue, who really cleans up nice. Sue wanted to  know if the uni `do’ was on this day month. I said I  wasn’t sure; okay, I felt like an ignorant schmoozer  but I wasn’t going to beat myself up over that.

“I noticed a couple of frat boys ahead of us who were ogling Sue and I wanted to smack them upside their fat heads but Sue was talking, she wanted me to weigh in, this was some serious stuff going down, and before we knew it, we were out the door.”

That, now, is English. Of a sort. The kind used by people in the vast land known to us as the United States of America.

Out here in India, thankfully, we still use British English. However, what is increasingly happening these days is wrong English masquerading as a hip trend. Which is why people keep saying ‘anyways’; any schoolteacher of the old school will tell you the word is ‘anyway’.

Another popular term one hears is ‘courtesy of’. That second word is so redundant, it shrieks its wrongness out loud.

Let’s not confuse wrong English with slang, with words like wassup, dude, whatever or chill. Let us also not confuse it with the way  we have indigenised the English language, moulded it to a comfortable fit and made it ours, so to speak. Which is how and why we happily use `believe you me’ and `I’ll explain you’. Well, in some indefinable way,  it works.

All across the length and breadth of this land of ours, different brands of English is being spoken and spoken sans hesitation.

Alongside Hinglish, we now have Banglish (Bengali English), Tinglish (Tamil), Malglish (Malayalam), and of course, that special one-of-a-kind, Laloo-glish, pioneered by our pioneering railway minister. In the northeast, they speak it differently, ditto in Mumbai.

This indigenisation  reaches its peak in `don’t stare badly, Blackface’,  which the reader will realise on some pondering is the transliteration of the famous ‘buri nazar wale,  tera mooh kala’.

Popular lore has it that Salman Rushdie opened the floodgates to our brand of English; early readers of the film magazine Stardust will remember Hinglish invented by its then editor, Shobhaa

Today we have writers like Vikram Chandra who firmly believe that English is an Indian language
and who pepper page after page with colloquiums with nary a glossary anywhere in the book. That, now, is another example of true indigenisation.

The media continues to be a confused lot though. Are they following archaic colonial traditions of language, being what they consider reader-friendly (talking in the reader’s supposed patois?) or is it the aforementioned nonsense-as-trend thing?

Well, something must explain why we read of train passengers being `looted’ or gratitude `being paid’. Sometimes, it is the sheer inability to get a handle on the foreign language that is English.

`After he was  burglarised, he became a sadder and wizened man’ reads one unfortunate report,
while another talks of being `spell-binded.’

Then again, may be all of it is just the insidious influence of American English.

One has to admit this Yankee virus does a good job of mangling the mother language; it has no style, no class whatsoever.

So, dear reader, this is a call to arms: it is time to rediscover – and use -good English.

Think about it. You have nothing to lose but your ignorance.

This ran in INDIA ABROAD of some undefined date and year.


EnglishEnglish usagehumourlanguageslang

Sheila Kumar • March 6, 2013

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