Kindly Adjust

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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.


45 responses to “Kindly Adjust”

  1. P James Magic Show Avatar

    P James Magic Show 9841072571

    1. Nirvana Avatar

      P Kakkoos James.

    2. Ramachandran Kalyanasundaram Avatar

      K Ram Supermagic Supershow 007008009

  2. Bratt Avatar

    While what you say about the need for languages to evolve, and everybody’s right to participate in its evolution, maybe some level of uniformity is helpful. After all that’s what grammar is for. Native speakers are genuinely befuddled by such “Indianisms”, and at the end of the day, many of the examples in that article are grammatically wrong. If you learn a language, you might as well pay attention to detail and get it right, instead of doing a half-assed job and justifying it saying “most people get what i mean”. Of course, you can pick on the word “right” in the previous sentence, but English isn’t our own language that we can mangle as we choose to. We share it with many other parts of the world, so passing off poor command of the language in the name of style and evolution does not seem very acceptable.

    I have noticed that many such examples arise as word-to-word translations of phrases from native languages, despite differences in grammatical structure, so it reveals a discomfort or unfamiliarity with the language structure. Of course, this is quite obvious and nothing earth-shattering, but I found it interesting to spot them.
    For example, “years back” is an illustration of the “munnadi-pinnadi” ambiguity in Tamil which has been successfully milked by Crazy Mohan.
    “do one thing” is just “onnu pannu”
    “sleep is coming” is “thookam vardhu”
    Other examples are “don’t do like that” from “apdi pannadha”, or “that and all I don’t know” from “adhellam enakku theriyadhu”

    1. krishashok Avatar

      I’d argue that English’ richness comes precisely from its ability to both borrow vocabulary and phrasing from other languages. We don’t now say that Germans with poor command of the language passed on Blitzkrieg and Weltschmerz to English, do we?

      1. Tamizh Avatar

        Yes, and that holds true for any language. On the same note, watch this brilliant video by ZoggFromBetelgeuse

        1. Shyama Avatar

          English is perhaps one of those rare languages that welcomed people to come and indulge and enjoy it as they please. Though in this country (and many others) speaking “wrong english” is highly mocked, over time, isn’t that what evolved into a completely acceptable form of the language. It is perhaps cuz no one claimed ownership over English that we feel like we can manipulate it as we want!

          1. veezmoe Avatar

            @krishashok – there is a huge difference between vocabulary and language! Blitzkrieg is a word, while “sleep is coming” is a grammatical blunder which is unacceptable! There is another perspective – do you think you will be able to accept any native Indian language being butchered by people of a different origin (let alone natives?) I find this particular article immature and a little sarcastic in its own way! Sorry if that is rude.

            1. Naive Native Avatar
              Naive Native

              @veezmoe The native English forfeited their right to complain about non-natives butchering their language when they spent three centuries butchering, terrifying, exploiting, abusing other people of the world. I find your criticism hollow and without merit. Sorry if that is rude.

  3. Srini Avatar

    Reminding of Major Sundarrajan – What i mean to say-Na enna solla varenna –

  4. Sripriya Avatar

    How long does English need to be the (second) official language of India, before it becomes “our own language”?

  5. gruber76 Avatar

    It’s funny how quickly the colonized becomes the colonizer. In any event, as a “native” speaker from the states, I feel the need to point out two more things about the original FB article:

    First, most of these are no more difficult to follow than colloquialisms of various U.S. regions. Why should Britishisms, from an island of 68 million English speakers versus roughly thrice that in India, be considered more “correct”? Because of longstanding racism. Quite.

    Second, at least one of these “Indianisms” are only awkward to specific “native” speakers. I grew up in Midwestern America and have what is know in this country as a “newscaster accent.” I have definitely used the phrase “a few years back” unironically, and noone looked at me askance. I would venture that some others here are perfectly acceptable to a larger population than the author is acknowledging.

    1. G Kumar Avatar
      G Kumar

      i find a lot of merit in whay he says. Words are nothing but verbalised thoughts and it is best expressed in one’s own way. Anything which is not toally incorrect can be an acceptable presentation

  6. venkyhere Avatar

    too much serious article – i didn’t understand first time reading only !
    next time very much surely, please write funful article wokay ?

    1. wingedream Avatar

      jokey! jokey! lovely , I say !

  7. Ashwini C N Avatar

    When writing or speaking, there are two important factors : The idea that is to be expressed and the manner in which it is written (content). To ensure that the idea is expressed clearly, we need to ensure that the content is worded appropriately. Unless we clearly express what we have in mind, the other person would not be able to comprehend what we write/speak. And to express the idea clearly, in a universally acceptable way, shouldn’t more importance be given to the right usage than the common usage? Languages evolve, yes they do. But at the cost of incorrect grammar?

    1. Meenakshi Avatar

      While expressing your opinion on correct grammar and words to match intent, shouldn’t you be saying “at the cost of correct grammar”? Just saying ………………..

      1. wingedream Avatar

        grammarily speaking.You right !

  8. Satish Avatar

    I agree with your point about people being allowed to use words and phrases from other languages in English without fear of judgment or mockery. But what about grammar? When we hear people making statements starting with “he don’t” instead of “he doesn’t” ; “I hope” instead of “I think” ; “I couldn’t able to” instead of “I wasn’t able to” etc, do we let it slide or do we try to correct it?

    Without a proper understanding of the language, would we be able to appreciate meaningless drivel (like the one below)?

    Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, I must protest in the strongest possible terms my profound opposition to the newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions upon the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and will, in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a constriction of the channels of communication, and culminate in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis, which will render effectively impossible the coherent and co-ordinated discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!

    Hacker (befuddled) : You mean you’ve lost your key?

    1. RvI Avatar

      Haha, I love Yes Prime Minister. There’s an even more long-winded line I believe, I cannot recall it at the moment.

    2. wingedream Avatar

      Remember Amar Akbar Anthony and Amitabh with that number on alliteration ?

  9. Sri Avatar

    To paraphrase what someone said, ‘The English left India as they couldn’t bear what we did to English’! Maybe same could be said for America;)
    But the beauty of English is it’s flexibility and adaptability, ain’t it. Probably good that it doesn’t have an equivalent of Académie française.

  10. Yohan Avatar

    “Years back” is neither wrong nor an Indianism. Just look at all these academic papers that use the phrase:

    Here’s a real mistake Indians often make: using “marriage” to mean “wedding ceremony”. Marriage is the whole institution.

    Another small pet peeve: using “would” instead of “will”. Maybe only newspapers do it. “The service would be offered on January 31st”. But will it or won’t it? 🙂 I think it has something to do with an attempt at politeness. In Indian languages sometimes out of politeness you remove all definitive statements/clauses.

    But of course, Stephen Fry nails it. Where’s the love?

    Also: if you love Indian English, check out “All About H Haterr” by GV Desani. He invents his own twisted Indian English. Quite hilarious.

  11. sethisan Avatar

    You should consider using a colon instead of a period after the sentence: “Here’s a classic example.”
    The sentence about Fauvel that comes immediately afterwards is one of those subordinate clause thingies — I forget the exact grammatical term — which cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Just try reading it out by itself to see.

    The colon would fix that, as well as better reflect the connected relationship between the two sentence fragments.

  12. sweetyshinde Avatar

    All languages are open to colloquial twists. Therin lies the beauty. Communication first, grammar later.

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  15. usha Avatar

    My cousin in Chicago answers ‘Indian English’ when asked about the language they speak at home : )

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    Tanis Thomas

    i Loved the way you’ve written this article.

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