Kindly Adjust

Recently, someone shared this on Facebook. Normally I give Facebook shares about as much attention as an email from a deposed West African dictator, but the title said “10 classic Indianisms: Doing the Needful and more” so I decided to carve out some precious time from my continuous partial attention strategy (it means “wasting time in multiple ways simultaneously”) to read it. I softLOLed  at the author’s “evil pseudonym” contrast to the very Indian “what is your good name?”, mildHehed at “passing out” and even learnt that “doing the needful” went out of fashion decades ago.

But then he said this –

There are many more pure grammatical “gems” in what we call Indian English. Perhaps in time I’ll list some more. And perhaps in the near future, we’ll get better at English

Oh really?

We will get “better” at English by following archaic style guides and grammar rules that have themselves evolved many times over the years?

Oh come on. We should be reinventing the language, not following someone else’s rules. Don’t tell me prepone is illegal. People understand it and it works. Prefixing pone is more logical than producing produce, refusing refuse and filling in a form to fill it out.

Would you rather say the insufferably bland “He collided with my trunk” or the insanely awesome “He banged my dickey”?

I passed out from college, and I passed out in college too. I gave many classes a pass and passed many classes too.

Revert back? So what if it means “Undo back”. It does no harm because it undoes the undoing. Also, it is not uncommon for “mistakes” and “wrong definitions” to eventually become acceptable simply on account of frequent use. Here’s a classic example. A 14th century French poem Roman de Fauvel about a vain and scheming horse named Fauvel, whose name comes from the combination of Fau and vel ( Veiled lie, in English). Even more interestingly, it’s a Danbrownesque acrostic made from the initial letters of a version of the seven deadly sins: flaterie (flattery/pride), avarice (greed/gluttony), vilanie (wrath), variété (inconstancy), envie (envy), and lacheté (cowardice). So, to Curry fauvel referred to the situation where we humiliate ourselves by combing the coat  (using a Curry comb) of the false leader, Fauvel. A 16th century book mispelled this as Favour and since then, despite bearing no resemblance to its incredibly sophisticated origins, it remains “Curry favour”. Do you see that reverting back?

Sleep is coming? Surely even your xerophobic sprawl of an imagination can picture a goddess of slumber coming home with lullabies and songs of the night to put you to sleep?

And we have a problem with adding a few extra redundant prepositions? Like “discuss about her” and “order for a pizza”? In what way does it impede our understanding? If I order for a pizza, did you somehow expect that the pizza will graciously thank me for ordering on its behalf? Let me give you an example. Which of the following sentences sounds…just to annoy you further…righter?

The men had a particular dislike to the captain appointed recently

The men took a particular dislike to the captain appointed recently

The men had a particular dislike for the captain appointed recently

If you were busy consulting Messrs Wren and Martin, don’t waste your time. All of the sentences above were acceptable at some point or the other, with the middle one just happening to be the most common format in use nowadays.

Languages change over time. Healthy, living languages change a lot over time. They ebb and flow and morph and transmogrify. If we want to smirk at someone asking us for our “good name”, laugh at someone telling us sheepishly that “sleep is coming” and wallow in the pedantic preference for “years ago” over “years back”, we are just being insufferable douchebags. When William Blake rhymes “eye” with “symmetry”, it’s acceptable because it’s um..William Blake and not some poor bloke with vernacular language medium education from a small town in India? How many conventions of grammar do you think Shakespeare broke when writing Hamlet? Or is poetic license not allowed for unlicensed poets?

As Stephen Fry points out

It’s only ugly because it’s new and you don’t like it. Ugly, in the way, Stravinsky, Picasso and Eliot were thought ugly.

According to the venerable Oxford dictionary, it is now srsly acceptable to prep for a party while LOLing at the omnishambles of the soft launch of your company’s phablet.

So to the rest of the english-speaking world and our own stuffy headed, elitist, English-medium educated, upper-middle-class urban language imperialists, I say – Do one thing. Do the needful and kindly adjust.

Don’t get friend-zoned by a language that has always preferred to make love to people who play with it.