Saturday, April 17, 2004


A wordy wicket


LANGUAGE keeps inventing and re-inventing itself, at times taking help from the goings-on around it. The Indo-Pak cricket matches have also given new contexts to old structures, juggling with meaning in places. Media is anyway a strong factor in creating neologisms and sense-reference relations; in this instance it has put together an entirely novel repertoire from the print media; touching diplolingo, cricket jargon and war-talk to come up with an unforgettable set of words.

The low-key reception given to the Indian team on its arrival set the ball rolling for puns and word games. ‘Lahore has been subdued (pun unintentional)’, concluded one report. The puns continued with the report on the meeting between the Pak Premier and the guests; ‘generally speaking’, ‘instead of baring his fangs, he showed his teeth smiling’. Of course, ‘where there’s a (good) will, there’s a way’. The face-painting observed at the matches led to a photograph titled ‘face-off’, an expression that refers to the taking up of an attitude of confrontation at the start of a fight or game.

While fans going to watch matches perform ‘border crossings’, the teams fight ‘fire with fire’, bowlers ‘put their hands up’, batsmen ‘bridge the great divide to bat for peace’ and losers ‘go down fighting, cricket wins again’. Words from cricket embellish reports of political haggling before the all-clear signal to the series: ‘After all the shuffling back and forth, the strokes and the edges, the googlies and the appeals, `85 finally left to a high-powered group to umpire the fate of India’s tour`85’

The origin of the name of the game of cricket is a matter of conjecture among etymologists even today. The explanation widely accepted is that cricket comes from the French criquet, meaning stick, and is traced to the Flemish krick. It is, however, not clear whether the original reference was to the stick at which the ball was aimed or to the stick or bat used to hit the ball. To complicate matters, the Flemish krick-stoel, a long, low stool that looks like the early types of wicket is still used in some local versions of the game.

When husbands are obsessed with a game, wives, for lack of company, feel like widows. There are golf widows and football widows; the latest to join the list is the cricket widow. A wife who is left on her own due to the husband’s passion for the game calls herself a cricket widow these days. These variants are a take-off on the grass widow. The grass widow is a wife whose husband is away often or for a prolonged period. The origin of this expression comes from the unmarried mother of the 16th century. A child created out of wedlock was assumed to have resulted from a couple’s adventures on a bed of grass and not the proper marital bed, hence, grass widow. This can be compared with the German strohwitwe or straw widow. Incidentally, widow comes from the Old English widewe, from an Indo-European root that means ‘be empty’. In printing, the widow is the last word or the short last line of a paragraph that falls at the top of a page or column and is, therefore, undesirable.


Munnabhai lingo further proves the thesis that language knows no borders or visas. Advertisements in Pak begin with the underworld’s standard tag Boley toh and the mounting Indian total had the media remonstrating with the bowlers on March 13: Subah ho gai mamu.

This feature was published on April 3, 2004