|Saturday, April 5, 2003||
THE current US-Iraq crisis has enriched English. Whatever the ultimate outcome, language is the gainer in any such fracas.
Sending journalists to the place of action to live there to cover the scenario produced ‘embedded media’, journalists giving ‘an ant’s view of the anthill’. Daily use of the term embedded media has led to these reporters being called embeds. So far, embed has been used as a verb, as a noun this is a new coinage that should find its way into dictionaries soon. In the news recently, the word embed has been used as a noun at least three times.
Fence-sitter has also
been in the news, thanks to the urgency of naming countries ‘for’
and ‘against’ the war. The shortening of defence created the word
fence in Middle English, leading to the sense of a barrier or
enclosure. Later, the idea of an enclosure led to the expression ‘side
of the fence’ in order to refer to conflicting sides in a particular
situation or a debate. This further gave rise to the expression ‘sitting
on the fence’, meaning ‘to avoid making a choice’. This phrase
created the back-formation ‘fence-sitter’, in tune with words like
baby-sitter. A back-formation is the creation of a simple word from a
longer structure. Surprisingly, baby-sitter and house-sitter have
found a place in the dictionary but fence-sitter has not. Perhaps, the
dictionary editors would like to sit on the fence and wait for this
crisis to make the decision for them!
Pre-empt is another back-formation from pre-emption, that refers to the act of forestalling. Pre-emption comes from the Latin praeemere, which is made up of prae ‘in advance’ and emere ‘buy’. Historically, in North America and Australia, it referred to the right to purchase public land before it was placed before all bidders. Today, it means the purchase of goods or shares by one person or party before the opportunity is offered to others. Pre-empt, in the context of the world today, refers to the taking of an action in order to prevent an anticipated event happening. The etymology of the word contains elements of trade and commerce as well, giving another dimension to today’s events.
Within this arena of
vested interests lies the village of Ganoda in Banswada, Rajasthan,
where the inhabitants are working hard to keep Sanskrit a living
language by making it the second language of their people. Through
door-to-door teaching, posters and synchronised shloka-recital,
they are trying to make theirs a model Sanskrit village.