Monday, October 26, 2009

Bees In The Bonnet

The other day we were talking about the traffic snarls in Bangalore. “Once the Metro is made, the road congestion will reduce,” someone said. Something seemed wrong in that sentence. The subordinate clause was okay, it was the principal clause that felt like a morsel of rice with a stone in it. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “…the congestion will decrease.”? On referring, I found that the two are more or less synonymous. But decrease means to cause something to become less or to become less. Whereas reduce means to cause something to become less . (There are several other differences as well but I refrain from teaching. ) After that I have noticed people using the two as and where they please and the stone gets my teeth each time.

Less appears to be a harmless little word, but it can increase my blood pressure. For one thing it is often used with countable nouns where fewer would be correct; as in there are less organizations that promote eco-friendly drives. My OED says that ‘less is now commonly and more increasingly used with plural nouns instead of fewer’ but it also adds ‘this is still thought to be incorrect English and careful speakers prefer fewer’. Call me outdated, but I writhe to see The Hindu being careless. (What’s more, even the computer doesn’t show it as an error.) But what gets my goat is the use of lesser. It is like saying worser or betterer. Less is already in the comparative degree. An –er isn’t required. Granted lesser is used to refer to something that is not as great as another. (Do go to that delightful book, the dictionary, for the pleasure of words)

Everywhere we see the use of the double comparatives or double superlatives such as she is more stronger or she is the most strongest. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh….. need I say more? Of course Shakespeare did write, “That was the most unkindest cut of all.” But then I will allow Bill anything.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Instead of writing "Smoking is Injurious to health" or even "Gutkha causes Cancer", if they wrote that it causes hairloss or baldness, people would get scared into dropping the habit.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Speech Ability

"Gaaldhi gauldhi gaaldhi gauldhi gaaldhi gauldhi....", went 3year old Sivakumar a.k.a Gopi, peering into a book open on his lap, copying his elder siblings who were booklovers all. Gopi hadn't yet learnt the alphabet,but he so wanted to read just like the others. Gopi's gibberish was a preamble to the gift of the gab that he achieved later. Now in his 80's, Gopimamma or Gopes to us nephews and nieces has a colourful vocabulary which would require a separate post to explore.

Succeeding generations have inherited the vibrant lexical competence. I have a cousin who as an infant made a new language with grammar, lexical sense et al. Each of her sentences ended with a 'la la' refrain. Here's a sample:

Babootamma boo tata lala
Ammu Angi opi lala .

The meaning:
Babootamma = Babu's mother
boo = train
tata = go
Ammu = (a proper noun referring to her)self
Angi = Babu's baby bro ( his gurgling sounded like 'annnggggi')
opi = carry
In short; Babu's mom go in a train, I shall take care of the baby.
No wonder that she later became a University topper and now rubs shoulders with the acronym worthy.

Another cousin in infancy was the epitome of innocence, with his deep dimples and soft, quiet ways. When he began school he got along well with his teacher, Miss Martin. He kept asking her if she had a kangutty. She finally asked him what it was. Murali offered to show her and proceeded to pull down his shorts to enlighten Miss Martin. The fellow had invented the word. And now it is a er- family heirloom(?)As for Miss Martin, I'm sure she remembered Murali to her dying day. Today he has 2 brats of his own.

When all my cousins and I went to schools from the same house, there were many secrets to share. We were then adept at using the 'p' language- wepee weper apadepept apat upusiping thepe lapanguapage. This enraged the adults naturally. Another habit which I use even now is anglicising by adding a 'fy' to vernacular, like edukkafy, kulikkafy, koluthafy.

I suppose every family has lexical heritage of its own. But will such histories be made in future?