Monday, 1 June 2020

Elementary Ignorance

Updated: February 11, 2012 12:22 pm

India That Is Bharat

 

In the considered opinion of English-language journalist Satiricus, it is a given that an English-language journalist does not know the English language. Well, who does, anyway? Not many, in the land of the English, it seems to Satiricus—but for the dons of the dictionary. And they do not have to use their lexicographical learning only on tortuous tongue-twisters like procrastination or obfuscation. In fact, they do not have to be ancient academics anymore. Rather, they need to be pragmatic progressives. For the papers reported the other day that “pragmatic” is slated to be named the “Word of the Year”, as the Merrian-Webster Dictionary has found it to be this year’s most-searched word in English since the US Congress voted to increase the American national debt ceiling. Now, that is interesting. For everybody knows that America is now deep in debt, but not everybody knows that deeper debt and a higher debt ceiling are one and the same thing.

But if being deeply in debt prompts being pragmatic, why should the Brits lag behind the Yanks? For while, as was recently reported, cash-strapped Americans are selling an island to raise money, cash-strapped Brits are selling an aircraft-carrier for the very same reason. Then are the Brits less pragmatic than the Americans because a British ship is less in size than an American island? Oh, well, pragmatic means logical and practical, so maybe the logical and practical answer to Satiricus’s question is that knowledge of the English language is not necessary for journalism in the English language. This column proves this.

Talking about words and their meanings, it is interesting to see that in England, the home of the English language, no one knows what a “pothole” is, because it has not been defined. According to a recent report, Britain’s transport department, which is currently carrying out a census of potholes in the country, is faced with a unique problem. It cannot count them because nobody knows what is a pothole and what is not. The said department admitted that the government’s own ‘Pothole Review’, ordered by the transport minister, has failed to define a pothole. The review said: “There is no national standard definition of a pothole, only guidance based on best practice including risk assessment and defect threshold.” This is indeed serious. For the British lack of a national standard for an acceptable pothole may well mean that the Brits suffer from substandard nationalism. Should there be such a horrible hiatus between patriots and potholes?

But while, on the one hand, Satiricus is sad at this sorry situation, on the other hand, he admires the finesse with which the Brits cover up their elementary ignorance with obtuse officialese. Satiricus likes “risk assessment”, and he loves “defect threshold”. It is clear to him that risk assessment means, do you just sprain your ankle when you fall in a pothole, or do you break your leg? Putting it officially it would mean if you get away with just a sprained ankle the pothole in which you so stupidly fall does not deserve to be defined as a pothole. But what exactly is defect threshold? Does it mean a defect in the road, or does it mean the defect that developes in your limb when you stumble in the hole? Maybe it depends on the official difference between a hole and a pothole. And if they don’t have a dictionary that explains this vital difference, Satiricus has a brilliant suggestion—they can ask the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. They are the celebrated experts in potholes that are deeper than the blackholes of the universe.

 

Durable Slogan

History repeats itself. And that includes the history of a slogan. So it was in the fitness of things that 40 years after Indira Gandhi came up with the slogan “garibi hatao” her grandson Rahul should go back to it. Satiricus, of course, is happy with this history. For he likes this slogan for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is so durable. It began nearly half a century ago and was used for years. Then it was inherited by the son, who prepared an improved edition, albeit with the same soporific sense. And now the grandson has resurrected it in its (very) original form. Secondly, this slogan is not subject to fickle changes in circumstances. Had poverty been really removed, would it not have been outdated? Fortunately, that was not allowed to happen, so the slogan remains ever-fresh and useful to three generations—from mother to son, from son to grandson. And finally, slogan—vachané kim daridratā?

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