Saturday, April 12, 2003

Creative destruction

THE continuation of war may mean untold suffering and destruction. All kinds of pressures begin to tell on men and manners. Out of these pressures emerges language in changed shades. The word war game, for instance. A compound made up of war and game, it carries the sense of the horror of war along with the play of a game. Together, war game refers to a military exercise carried out to test or improve tactical expertise. It can be used in the form of a verb with a hyphen, war-game, to denote engaging in a campaign using the strategies of an actual military action. The noun war gaming also comes from here, with the same meaning. In recent communications from the USA, a new derivation has come into being with the acknowledgement that the enemy it is fighting against is different from the one it had ‘war-gamed’ against. Obviously, a word that the dictionary had marked as typical U.S. English one can become a part of global English. Then, the context of the situation gives a fresh dimension to its meaning. At first look, the meaning of war-gamed is the military exercise conducted to train the soldiers. But, considering public confession of ‘misunderestimation’, is it also a possibility that war-gamed refers to the diplomatic and political manoeuvres that took place earlier? The birth of a new word?

Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003
Describing people
March 1, 2003
A living language
February 15, 2003
The New Year - III
February 1, 2003
The New Year - II
January 18, 2003
The New Year
January 4, 2003
Lively lives
December 21, 2002
Fashion statements
December 7, 2002
Spreading wings
November 23, 2002

A frontline is the military line or part of the army that is closest to the enemy. It is made up of front that comes from the Latin front (forehead), denoting the front of a person and line, meaning a row of people. Line originates from the Latin linum, meaning flax. Ropes made of fibre came to be called linea, leading to today’s line, whether of people or things. Frontline also refers to the position of people most influential in a debate or movement.

Handiwork is today being used in the context of fixing responsibility for certain acts. Handiwork means something that a person has made or done or the making of things strictly by hand. It is not a compound of hand and work; it comes from the Old English handgeweorc, from hand and geweorc, meaning something made.

An advocate is a person who fights a case on behalf of a client in court. By virtue of this function of being a representative, an advocate is also a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy as in the case of an army chief supporting a particular act. The word advocate is made up of the two Latin words: ad (to) and vocare (to call); advocate being call to one’s aid. A foremost advocate is the supporter most prominent in position like, for instance, a Pentagon chief. Fore is an Old English prefix that means before in time or previously.


Hindi has a large corpus of words that belong to a group in which words are created from the same base but are quite diverse in meaning. Phonetic change of a very simple level often brings about a semantic change. The deadly hathiyar or weapon is thus related to the harmless hathaura or hammer, hathauti or manual skill, hathi or elephant, hatheli or the palm of the hand, hattha or a handle, hathiyana or to cheat and hathri or the wheel of a spinning machine. All these words are kinsmen because they all come from hath or hand.