Sunday, March 01, 2009

another melange of malapropisms marches in

Malicious and inappropriate is the patentably Indian abuse of would in places where will was the only choice (and hence, there was no choice at all, really). If someone can tell me how and why this abusage was born, I would (right usage!) be much obliged. Here's a page that opens with a storm of examples. Replace every would you see with a will and you will (not would!) see the correct form of the paragraph.

Next up is a common nugget that enjoyed a short life when we were all in school, because the English teacher was constantly telling you about positive, comparative and superlative forms of adjectives (If your English teacher did not do this, please stop reading at this point and find something else to do, preferably something that does not involve reading or writing). I like to call this the reinforced comparative. You can't blame the users (or abusers, if you will) for trying to take a simple rule for creating comparative forms and choosing to ignore the other rules (after all, it seems inconsistent to have more than one way to do the same thing ... unless you're writing Perl). These hapless souls decide to use more as the prefix for comparative forms. This in itself would not have been so bad if we had people saying "this is more good than that" or "things are more clear now"; a little advice can usually help in such matters. What seems incurable is the replacement of the positive form with the correct comparative form after having exercised the simple rule. This unfortunately gives us egregious exhibits like "this is more better than that" or "things are more clearer now." Want an example? Try Sukanya Verma's notes on a slide in an old Rediff special (ironically about English in Bollywood).

We return to the land of mustard fields, IT stables and cinemalls for our next exhibit, another example of achieving symmetry in conjugation for database actions. If the noun for the verb select is selection, for delete deletion and for insert insertion, shouldn't it be updation for update? Given the host of inconsistencies of the English language, this is the kind of intelligence one might expect in a discarded prototype of an android learning English; this is the kind of linguistic competence people seem to (often incorrectly) assume that they possess. The lessons in English and English grammar in school do not, unfortunately, include a special session to warn the students that all languages evolve and there's enough going on already without them contributing something like this to the melting pot. It's interesting to see that people seem to forget the basic rules of grammar (which, all deities of sanity be praised, have survived the vagaries of time) and indulge, instead, in neological pursuits.

We end this rant into the darkness of despair with another example of the dreaded on a/an X basis. Our sample comes from a warning note on a prominent money transfer portal about currency exchange rates. The authors of the paragraph warn you that the rates change on a dynamic basis. It's nice to know that the rates are not the only vulnerable things around -- the foundation they stand on is also equally shaky. Unless they meant to use dynamic like corporate crapspeakers do, suggesting some sort of executive vitality that is lost on everyone else.


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Shriniwas K said...

I was once given minus marks from an English Teacher 5th or 6th Std for writing "A European boy entered" - The teacher insisted it was An European .. aaaarhhhhh (I wasnt in Vincents' but the nearby Local Parsi School as Ribiero did not like Marathi kids and wouldn't let me in ... )

Another shocker was the quick intro to American English when I started watching sitcoms ... "ain't", "bestest best friends", "whatcha, gotcha, atta boy, good ol" I wonder if what our Vingraji teachers would do if these words were used in essays

Shriniwas K said...

"Good one !"
isnt this also wrong usage ?

Jabberwock said...

George: I don't mean to depress you further but I know of several managing editors/copy desk heads in Indian media who think "A meeting would be held tomorrow at 10 AM..." is a perfectly correct sentence and look at you askance if you dare suggest otherwise. I'd pay good money to find out how this whole would-for-will business got started.

George said...

Jabberwock, thanks for stopping by. It is an honour indeed :) It might be useful to write a small piece that uses references to the appropriate rules of English grammar and explains why would is wrong. I can understand that there are situations like the ones you described (and, in my case, emails in my Inbox) that you can only hope not to have a lasting memory of :)

Shriniwas, thanks for stopping by. Phrases like "Good one!" "ain't," "bestest best friends," "whatcha, gotcha, atta boy, good ol" come with social and cultural baggage. A conscious use of such tropes in literature is quite acceptable, since the writer is telling us more about characters or places using the language spoken as a device. This is, of course, different from sloppily written books. "A Clockwork Orange," "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" are examples of the former. "American English" has some words that, for me, convey more about their meaning than the British equivalents; if you're up for reading a tome allow me to recommend H. L. Mencken's "The American Language."

Interestingly, it is a phonetic rule that says "a European" is correct and not "an European"; a lot of my rants start from abuses seen in the written word.

Surely you meant to write I once lost points instead of I was once given minus marks :)

Shriniwas K said...

Yes, I did mean I once lost points (moreover I have no idea where the term "mark" comes from, though its so widely accepted in all our academia! I think it refers to the check-marks on your paper v/s cross-marks)

Look at this link that says "Women needs .... "

I bet when you organized Fun-Da-Mental a decade back, TOI used to be much better!

George said...

Shriniwas, "marks" might also owe something to its abuse as a synonym for "points" (कितने marks मिले).
When I contributed to Fun-da-mental ("organised" would be an overstatement and unfair to the hard-working crew in the NIE department), I was working with people in the Newspaper In Education group. The TOI (its online version, to be precise) is a bigger entity sheltering tasteless web designers and ineffectual hacks, who pass off as writers. You might be right about the times (no pun intended) being better then -- the online portal wasn't such a big deal in those days; the print edition hasn't gone south yet (it's probably a matter of time, though).

I have to tip my hat to the spelling of your name; it ensures the correct Indian pronunciation of 'w' -- the 'v' only confuses English speakers who have different sounds for 'w' and 'v')

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