Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mind Your Language

This is my response to Sunayana's Red Marker Blogathon, which has been going on since the 1st of June and has lots of indignant grammar-worshippers up in arms. As I told Sue, I kept waiting to decide which was the pettest of my pet peeves but the procrastination meant that by now, all my grievances are already taken. I could have aired my complaints abt SMS styles n hw im puzzld wid d things ppl rite al d tym, but then SMSese is not a language in my book, so I won't discuss it.

Instead, I'll talk about a few mistakes that people make:
  1. "To no end": This basically means, "without any result", or "in vain", as opposed to the phrase "no end", which means, simply, "endless". "She complained no end" means the woman would not stop complaining, whereas "she complained to no end" means her complaints made no difference.

  2. "Rest assured": When you are trying to stop someone worrying, you say "rest assured, it will be done," or "don't worry, it will happen." Unfortunately, I find a lot of people saying "You can be rest assured...", forgetting that "rest" is a verb here, and you cannot "be rest", you can straightaway "rest", in an assured manner!

  3. "Few" vs "a few": "Few" means very little. One could say "The pouring rain meant that few people were out on the streets." On the other hand, "a few" means "some". To illustrate, "I met a few of my friends." but, "in my hectic schedule, I have been able to keep in touch with few friends." When I say "the suggestion for a picnic found few takers," I mean not many people were interested and that there's no picnic on the agenda, whereas "the picnic idea found a few takers," means there were some people who were interested and so, pack your hampers.

As a professional editor I'm always spotting and laughing over mistakes people make in the language. Sometimes, I even take a photo. Unfortunately, given the power English wields in India, pointing out someone's poor Hindi or Bangla is usually laughed off, whereas correcting someone's English is a more delicate matter. But over the years I've come to realise how the power of expression is of supreme importance. Few of my colleagues at the ad agency I worked at in Dubai spoke correct English. But sometimes they said things that, though grammatically dubious, were emotionally/practically spot on. Yet, they hankered after my corrections, afraid of looking foolish. I would be requested to draft leave applications, CVs, covering letters and, even the language for a wedding invitation. It reflects poorly on our world that people are judged by their English when so few have access to good English teaching. I had a teacher in class 1 who insisted that the name of the colour-changing reptile was not pronounced as "kameleon", but as "CHameleon", as in "check".

On that note, here is a gem I got from Anando, who studied at a school with a good convent-sounding name in the heart of what is now Jharkhand.

A little boy reached school late. The teacher was in the middle of the lesson. He glowered at the boy and said "Why are you late?" The boy quaked in his shoes, and said, "Sorry Sir, I was stuck in a jam." The teacher fumed and corrected the boy: "Jam is what you put on your bread. Jaaam is what you get stuck in."

But wrong Hindi (or any other language can definitely get you into trouble). A relative, who speaks poor Hindi, lost his ring. Requesting the maid to look for it when she swept the house, he said (to her horror), "Mera angootha kho gaya hai." (Angoothi means "a ring" and angootha is "thumb").

Although this relative found his "angootha", I shudder to think what happened to the sweet Bengali gentleman who, seeing a young girl getting soaked in the rain while he stood dry under his umbrella at the bus-stop, offered, "Meri chhati mein aa jao."


Anonymous said...

chameleon , you don't say ? My teacher said "Ch"ameleon and when I said I thought it was Kameleon and it was a reptile that changed color. She didn't bat an eyelid and said "that's different. This is a chameli ka phool that changes color". Bloody phool !!

and chaati is howlarious !

Sue said...

Chhati mein aa jao indeed!

Thanks so much for your post. Now I have to scrap yet another idea for my own contribution ('few' vs 'a few').

Maybe I'll blog the Huggies story, though.

Thinking Cramps said...

Anon: It's your comment that's howlarious :) It sounds like those made-up words that people come up with: see

Sunayana: Yes, that poor man hasn't been heard of (or from) since. And hurry up and tell us the Huggies story.

Thinking Cramps said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thinking Cramps said...

Also, Sunayana, do talk about "few" vs "a few" as well. Am sure your style of explaining it would be different, and possibly clearer.

Diligent Candy said...

ha ha ha

aapke parentzes aapko toilet kar sakta hain par mein aapko bilkul toilet nahi karronga

Sue said...

Nah, I think you're quite clear. But yes, the Huggies story must be told.

Thinking Cramps said...

Candy: Hahaha....yes, we're pretty "in-toiletable" :)

Sue: Yes, it must.

Spin said...

Hey! "Chhati mein aa jao" happened to somebody my father knows, how do you know it?

Thinking Cramps said...

Spin: Really? This is an old story in our family. I must find out where it came from. Will let you know if its traceable!

dipali said...

Can't stop grinning!

eve's lungs said...

This happened to a transporters' daughter in Baruni famed for the oil mafia among other varied Mafioso - a sales manager at an oil depot gallantly offered her the use of his chhati . I woont dwell on what followed . The officer had to decamp the next day .

Hilarious post Ana . I come across such gems every day - I note down a few but forget the rest and mind you, there's only solitary me having a mean chuckle at others' expense

SMM said...

Helllooo...stumbled on to your blog and was constrained to add my two bits.

My Bong uncle desperately trying to patao a girl in a bazaar in Allahabad some 30 years back decided to show off his hindi (and thus, his love for her by learning the language) in front of her UP friends much to her horror - "Idhar bahut masa hai"

*Masa = mosha = mosquito*