Saturday, November 13, 1999
TODAY, a boot is the luggage compartment of a car. In the early seventeenth century, boot meant the fixed external step of a coach or an uncovered space on or by the step where the attendants sat. Later, it meant a low outside compartment for servants or other inferior passengers, at the front or behind the main body of the horse-drawn carriage. It, then, came to refer to the space under the seat of the driver or guard, used for luggage, and hence to the luggage compartment of a car.
How did the lavatory come to be called the loo? There are several theories. One suggests that the word took birth when considerate servants in medieval France shouted gardy loo [watch out for the water] while emptying a chamberpot into the street. Another suggests that Le lieu or the place was used as a Victorian euphemism which later got shortened to loo. The last and most plausible refers to the iron cisterns found in most outhouses in the early twentieth century, bearing the brand name Waterloo, later reduced to simple loo. Similarly, the word okay or O.K. has generated many such theories. The stories range from the equivalent in Choctaw [okeh, it is so] to the one in Greek [ola kala, it is good] to the Scottish [och aye, oh yes] and the initials of Obediah Kelly, a railway freight agent who initialled loading documents he had checked. The theory best supported by documentary evidence holds that O.K. comes from orl korrekt one of a number of similar humorous misspellings which were briefly popular in America in the late 1830s. Then, in the 1840 presidential elections, O.K. was adopted as an election slogan by the supporters of the democratic candidate Martin Van Buren, who was born in Kinderhook and nicknamed Old Kinderhook with his supporters forming the Old Kinderhook or OK club. The word caught the public fancy instantly; began to be used in all kinds of contexts. An interesting, though not too plausible, story says that OK comes from kayo, K.O. or knock-out if a boxer had not been kayoed he was O.K.
The word posh has a tale to tell too. On the voyage between the British Isles and the Indian subcontinent, cabins on the side, away from the sun the portside going out and the starboard side coming back were cooler and more desirable, therefore more expensive too. The well-to-do- travelled port out, starboard home and the initials P.O.S.H. were marked on their documents. So, the word posh came to mean smart, stylish, classy and quite well-off.
The processes of semantic change are quite the same in every language, Hindi being no exception. Sometimes when Hindi borrows a word from another language, the meaning of the word contracts. Language users making use of both languages do, at times, think of the meaning-restricted version and this is a step towards semantic change in the original version. There are some very clear instances when Hindi borrowed words from English during the British period and the meaning of the word, to put it simply, shrank. For instance, the word orderly means well arranged, systematic, disciplined, controlled, skillful and also an attendant. In Hindi, an orderly or ardali is just an attendant.
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