Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 19:18:58

Verbal Patriotism

Updated: January 5, 2013 2:10 pm

India That Is Bharat


Once upon a time long ago, before launching himself on the high seas of English-language journalism, Satiricus thought of replacing his ignorance of English with knowledge of English. So in all his infantile innocence he started using the Oxford English Dictionary. And what is the result? It is that his poor English has become poorer. In fact he has found that when ignorance (of English) is bliss it’s a folly to be wise. Take, for instance, this column. When Satiricus writes this column does he write English or does he write in English? Satiricus does not know. But then, he does not need to know when neither does his reader know. Had he been a little more knowledgeable or a little less ignorant he would have found that to ‘write in’ means something different to send a suggestion or query in writing. But as Satiricus’s business is to send a column, not send a suggestion, this knowledge is irrelevant for him.

And in any case who needs standard English when substandard English is the order of the day in Indian journalism? We are patriotic Indians first, English-language journalists later, right? More importantly, Satiricus has found that for an English-language columnist in India it is actually dangerous to use a dictionary, as it only adds to his already ample stock of ignorance of the language. For instance, what does the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about the ox? Before finding that out Satiricus was blissfully under the ignorant impression that an ox is an ox and a cow is a cow, and that’s that. But the dictionary disagreeably disagrees. It says an ox is a bovine animal “used for milking”, while a cow is both a female bovine as well as a bovine “regardless of sex”. So the question of questions for Satiricus right at the start of the day is, when he puts milk in his morning cup of tea, does that milk come from a cow or an ox? Not being an Englishman, he is not sure. Fortunately, there is Sanskrit for the simpletons of India, in which “uksha”, the Sanskrit origin of ‘ox’, and ‘gau’, the Sanskrit origin of ‘cow’ are two definitely different creatures, and consequently even soft-headed Satiricus cannot expect milk from an uksha.

Unfortunately, as if such confusion worse confounded in Bharatiya bird-brains is not enough, it has recently come to light in a new book that an eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary had secretly deleted thousands of words with foreign roots, including Indian origins. On the other hand, however, being a journalist, that is, basically a wordsmith, Satiricus must say this is an excellent example of verbal patriotism on the part of the learned lexicographer. In fact his successor editors could keep up the campaign. So how about starting with those about 500 words whose roots have been given as Greek but those Greek roots are themselves rooted in Sanskrit, which is not only the mother of all Indian languages but, as Durant deplorably declares, even the mother of European languages as well? From there the learned lexicographers could proceed to at least 1000 words with prefixes and suffixes regretfully rooted in Sanskrit. Then, finally, the big leap backward eruditely eliminating those 40,000 words which Webster’s 18-volume English dictionary has described as “akin to Sanskrit”. After all this wondrous weeding out Satiricus is sure the remaining English would be doubly-distilled English. Then it can be called Queen’s English the English that the Queen of the English speaks.

But how is English the Queen’s English? Alas, a certain school-teacher in England has his doubts. For he has reportedly set up a society to preserve, promote and propagate what he considers “pure” English. Omigod! Does this mean the English Queen’s English continues to be perniciously polluted by infectious Indianisms?

True Lies

Not long back Hollywood had made a film called True Lies. Being a moron, Satiricus had wondered how such an oxymoron was possible. But now he knows. He now knows the truth about lies. It is that the fine art of telling lies can be mastered in just 20 minutes. In fact, after only 20 minutes of practice liars can become so efficient that they would be almost indistinguishable from truth-tellers, according to a study at a British university. See? Not for nothing were the Brits famous in historical times as “perfidious Albion”. That glorious history they seem to be patriotically reviving in modern times. For one of the scholarly authors of the said serious study has solemnly assured that after this study the difference between telling lies and being honest has been eliminated. Hallelujah! Dishonesty is the best British policy.

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