Saturday, January 13, 2007

How creative are you?

Talking about cricket seems to make language users creative, witness these creations: ‘One-day cricket is pyjama cricket and twenty-twenty is underwear cricket’ and ‘India press self-destruct button’. Yoking together dissimilar words creates figurative language.

In metaphor, the linkage is implicit as in ‘humming factory’. With simile, the linkage is explicit as in ‘she is busy as a bee’. For paradox, there is the need to resolve a contradiction, as this phrase shows: ‘ignorance is strength’. In structures like ‘the sickle is in danger’, metonymy exists and one attribute stands for the whole.

In an oxymoron, incompatible notions are brought together, as in, for example, ‘living death’. Personification makes a link between the inanimate and the human: ‘the pitch made its presence felt in the match’. As different modes of figurative language, these examples prove the long-standing thesis that is the beginning and ending of every discussion about language: ‘language belongs to the user’. In the hands of a playful user, it can be a toy; in the hands of a solemn plodder, it plods on unimaginatively or its creativity kicks the bucket.

‘Kick the bucket’ is a metaphorical euphemism for dying that is not heard too often today. The word ‘bucket’ is borrowed from Old French and it was the wooden beam or frame from which a live pig or other animal would be suspended in the slaughterhouse. When slaughtered, the animal would jerk spasmodically in the throes of death and bang its feet against the wooden frame or bucket and, in other words, it would ‘kick the bucket’.

Often, figurative expressions can have many tales to tell. As is seen with the expression ‘face the music’. In the military, as punishment, a soldier would be made to stand before the band and listen to the beat of the drum while his misdemeanours were read out, the punishment administered and insignia torn. The theatrical tale harks back to the days when the orchestra in theatres was positioned in the pit between the stage and the audience. Going onstage to ‘face the music’ could be as bad as facing your misdeeds!