Posts Tagged ‘semantics’

Strangely adaptive and pliable as all languages are, English is no exception. Incredible, how flexible it makes itself to the whims of its patrons, in their speech and their squiggles. More so among non-native users, which includes us Indians (This is not to imply that the native users are champions of English! Hello? Avar very vown George ‘Dubya’ Bush, I say! He wasn’t conferred the (dis)honourary title of ‘Butcher of the English language’ for nothing!). Despite holding a reputation for being the best non-native speakers of the language, we Indians also tend to weave English into our local vernacular in even quirkier accents, sometimes inadvertently morphing the real meaning or intent behind its usage and sometimes the word/phrase itself is beaten to death! We are perhaps even better known for that! Some of these usages would have anyone in splits, for the way they sound or mean. Let me illustrate a few such twisted usages, malapropisms, weird accents that I have encountered myself, some from friends’ experiences, and some other typical ones.

  • We had a Physics teacher in +2, who would always substitute the alveolar sound ‘T’ as in ‘tea’ with a ‘ch’ as in China (“Would you like some ‘chee’?“, “one, ‘chew‘, three,….., eightch, nine, ‘chen'”). Every time she had to stress on the ‘T’, she would quite audibly and emphatically say ‘ch’. She otherwise spoke good English. Once she missed a class and the next day she explained why – “I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to class yesterday. I had an appointment with the dentist and I had my wisdom tooth removed.” (I’d suggest reading the above quotes the way she would have said it, with a ‘ch’ for ‘t’!) Need I elaborate? Even the most inattentive guy in class felt a jolt when she said that. “What did she just say? Did she just say she had her ‘ch****’ removed? O My God!”, he smirked before bursting into an uncontrollable chortle. I cannot imagine her telling her children about the ‘Tooth fairy’! God help them!
  • The same Physics teacher once assured me, “One moment. I’ll come chew you”, when I stood up for a question during a study session as she was attending to another student! My first instinct was to frantically look for protection! “What if she’s rabid?”, I thought. I panicked too! But as it turned out, my fears were totally unwarranted. She was coming ‘to’ me, not to ‘chew’ me!
  • A prankster student disturbs our en’gross’ing mathematics class and our disgruntled lecturer expresses his vexation saying, “Hullo, lick here”, pointing to the blackboard! He meant to say, “look here”. Also, we never understood what exactly he wanted to raise when he always asked us, “Hullo, can I raise?” before erasing the board. A few of his very common utterances – “Naat nessary” (not necessary), “is eekolt” (is equal to).
  • My friend’s Chemistry teacher from school instructed them during a lab session – “Take Potassium Chloride on a deflagrating spoon and eat it. On excessive eating, you will observe…..”. My friend and his classmates almost had a heart attack, but then they realized she already ate the ‘h’ from ‘heat’!
  • Our Biology teacher from 9th standard insisted on us learning the names of the ‘fecies’ (species) of all the organisms we were studying!
  • A very common investigation aimed at identifying the owner of an unnamed notebook – “Eeyi! Who is this book ‘ma? Whoever it is come to staff room and take it ‘ma. Don’t forget who it is, okay?”
  • An ‘English’ teacher from +2 taught us John Keats’ masterpiece ‘Laa Belly Dam Sans Mercy’…..err….‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’! (O Whaat yails thee, knight-ut-arms, Yellown und palely laayitring? The sedge haas wither’d frum the lake, Und no burrds sing. And our ears bleed! As we listen to him woe-begone!)
  • Our 8th standard ‘English’ teacher wanted us to learn the ‘pony-tics’ of all the new words we came across! I know, so much for all my rants on improper English! *banging forehead against the nearest wall* It was not until later that year that I learnt the actual ‘phonetics’ of the word ‘phonetics’! Some of you may be wondering ‘Guru aisa tho chela kaisa?’, and I don’t blame you! But in spite of my ‘miss’guidance, I guess my English turned out to be fine.
  • A winter morning. A very pretty girl in my class, in 10th standard, was cold and was shivering. Even before I could feel sorry for her, she requested me to “off the fan yaa! Please!”. I could never muster up the courage to speak to her in English again!
  • Another teacher faced with the same situation, reacted thus – “Aeyi! Remove that! Remove that!” as he pointed to the switch!
  • Our principal from +2 was once very disappointed in us over our behaviour in class and conferred on us the title “Dankees und kemmels!” (Donkeys and Camels).
  • A Malayali acquaintance once introduced me to his ‘bust-front’! Now, now don’t let your mind wander away. The guy was only introducing me to his ‘best-friend’! (Thank God!)
  • Now, growing up in the company of such ‘chompions’ of the English language was a task in itself. Engineering first year: Our Inorganic Chemistry professor teaches us about the availability of Sulfur around the world – “Ouruu sulfuruu isuu avai-lay-bull innuu ouruu….ouruu A-mary-ka, very much it is.” Wow! How informative! A student once broke a beaker during a lab session and the professor yelled out – “Whaat ees that ees? Whaat hep-end? Whaat is the break?”
  • One of our college buses proudly sported the name of our institution – “### COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND TECHNALAGI” for over a month until the college administration was informed of the reckless ‘flaw’nting! Hell no! I’m not disclosing the name of our college. This was disgraceful enough!
  • On a hot summer’s day, a classmate in Engineering complained – “O My Goooood! The sun is falling into my eyes! Please close the window no?”
  • You know how some people are sticklers for the flawless Wren-and-Martin-English grammar doctrines. So much so, that sometimes their steadfast adherence borders on redundant redundancy!(:P) I hate to admit it, but my dad is one of them. He once texted me – “Your mother, Yamini, has left for Chennai to meet with your aunt, Jyothi. She, your mother, will be back in a week’s time. – Ramana”. What was he thinking? Well, may be he thought I was so used to calling my mom ‘Amma’ and him ‘Nanna’ that I forgot what their real names were. Or perhaps he figured that while filling out forms, I’d write – Mother’s name: Amma, Father’s name: Nanna, so he wanted to remind me of their real names on a periodic basis. May be I should check my passport once! No offence Nanna! I still love you! I really do!
  • And then there’s another breed which does not feature the word ‘formal’ in its vocabulary at all! A new student arrived at the university and was desperately looking for funding opportunities. My friend B suggested he email and set up an appointment with one Dr. S, who had a few openings. He told him Dr. S was a Telugu too and that he was quite helpful to Indian students, esp. students from Andhra. B was blissfully unaware of what the guy wrote to the professor. A couple of days later when B inquired into the progress he made, the new guy informed him that the professor hadn’t replied yet. B was sort of taken aback, knowing Dr. S was the kind of person who immediately replied to the most insignificant of emails from students. He asked the new guy what he had written and B almost fainted when he read the note. This was his request for an appointment, no, an order for a Graduate Assistantship (GA) : “Hello S Anna, B Anna told me you have GAs. Please give one.” I almost died laughing!
  • This happened to my uncle. He once paid a casual visit to a family he knew well. This was the hostess’ offer for refreshments – “I have many samosas inside. Shall I vomit up and give you?” (The poor lady only wanted to warm them up a bit!) My uncle promptly refused the offer. He promised himself he’d never eat anything at their house ever again!
  • I always tuck my wallet in the ‘back packet of my jeans fant’!
  • A Gujarati technician testing a microphone system at a school function – “Hello, hello, Mic tasting. Tasting 1,2,3. Hello, hello. Haan, haan! sab barobar chhe!“(Namak, mirchi, masale, sab barobar chhe!)

This is the story of my ‘English’ life, people! All these incidents and faux pas are real and I did not make anything up, if that’s what you’re waiting for me to admit! Really, all this is true! I hope you’ve had as much fun reading them as I’ve had writing about them! I’d like to end this post with three really funny newspaper headlines and some of my favorite ‘Bushisms’ (Source: www.innocentenglish.com) :

  1. Two convicts evade noose, jury hung.
  2. Milk drinkers are turning to powder.
  3. This was a heading when Obama won Wisconsin: “Obama beats Hillary in Wisconsin. Hillary runs to Texas.”

(The real newspaper sources are unknown.)

And last but not the least, I dedicate these ‘Bushisms’ to the man himself, Dubya!!

“You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” –George W. Bush, interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006

“After the bombing, most Iraqis saw what the perpetrators of this attack were trying to do.” —George W. Bush, on the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, March 13, 2006, Washington, D.C.

God Save the Queen and Her Tongue!!

Cheers!