Saturday, May 6, 2000

Words from our times

THE very idea of words changing frequently in terms of sense and reference can lead to a very sick linguist, fine; but now we have the sick building to complicate matters. A building in which the environment is a health risk to its occupants, especially because of inadequate ventilation or air conditioning is termed sick. This leads to the sick building syndrome, a set of adverse environmental conditions found in a sick building which lead to symptoms like headaches and nausea in the people who work there.

One had hardly got over the hippie when in came the yuppie. Made up of the initial letters ofYoung Urban Professional or Young Upwardly Mobile Professional, yuppie came to India in the 1990s and stayed on for keeps. An extraordinarily successful coinage, the word sums up a whole social group, its lifestyle and aspirations. It also led to several derivatives: yuppiedom, yuppiness, yuppification and yupspeak. There were also offshoots like yuffie (young urban failure) and yummie (young upwardly mobile mummy).

  As times change and needs change, words too go through alterations in order to fit into changed scenarios. Entrepreneur, for instance. Who is a person who uses entrepreneurial skills from within a large corporation to revitalise and diversify its business, rather than setting up competing small businesses? An intrapreneur, of course! Substitution of the simplest kind — intra, the Latin for within, on the inside, in place of the entre — gives a hybrid word of Latin and French elements.

Recently, when the whole world was engrossed in the Y2K song and dance routine, a word that has been around for a long time emerged in a new light entirely. Compliant. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, when it entered the lexicon from the Italian complire, it meant ‘to be courteous’ or later, ‘to be agreeable’ and was used as a verb, ‘to comply’. As an adjective, it came to mean ‘civil’ or ‘well-mannered’ and in a negative sense, ‘compromising’. One of the meanings, ‘to fit in’ or ‘to adapt’, was used for objects. The same meaning is used today, when being millennium-compatible means that a company or a product won’t fall apart at the turn of the century.


The word moha shows clearly the philosophic base common to so many words taken by Hindi from Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, the original meaning is ‘a state of mind, ignorant of the reality of life’. In Hindi, the word refers to the blind affection we feel for our near and dear ones. As per Indian philosophy, these relationships are a part of the maya of this world, hence a part of man’s ignorance — the evolution of the word is quite clear.

— Deepti

This feature was published on April 29, 2000