Saturday, June 12, 2004


Creativity unleashed

The debate was on writing Teachers’ Day in the Devanagri script or mentioning it as adhyapak divas. The parent insisted that the essay’s title should be adhyapak divas, the child argued that the Hindi teacher had written Teachers’ Day in the Devanagri script, so this is what it shall be. One look at the number of English words written in Devanagri in the Hindi print media and the puritans can take a backseat. Sentences like ‘jeet lee war border paar’ or, ‘high court judges leave par’ force a language user to stop searching for the exact Hindi equivalent of English words. After all, one doesn’t want to face the fate of the chap from UP, admonished by a bus driver for confusing him with English words like sachivalaya when he could have used a simple Hindi one like secretariat. Can English words written in Devanagri be termed neologisms?

In these days of tumultuous political happenings, the print media sometimes registers emotions like ‘shock and awesome’, creating the mirage of a neologism. Shock as a noun refers to a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience. Taking the recent context of the elections into account, the origin makes sense. Shock comes from the mid-sixteenth century French choquer, a verb that refers to ‘throwing troops into confusion by charging them’, obviously giving rise to the notion of ‘a sudden violent blow or impact’. Awesome is the adjective derived from awe, the noun, and means ‘extremely daunting or impressive’. The origin of awe lies in the Old English ege, which meant ‘terror or dread’. Whether shock functions here as a noun or a verb, awesome doesn’t fit in after the ‘and’ as conjunction. Perhaps, instead of using ‘awesome shock,’ the idea was to impress the reader with the sudden reversal of political predictions and destinies, by reversing the word order as well.

Creative use of the language is the order of the day, so it seems. In another context, a very senior official expressed strong emotions on an unpleasant event with the words: "I am disdained at this uncivilised behaviour`85." Mrs Malaprop is dead. Long live Mrs Malaprop.

This feature was published on June 5, 2004