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Highly Addictive Timepass
By Evelyn - 12 Jan, 2000

Page 3 of 3

Certain words have long since fallen out of usage in British and American English, but are still very current in Indian English. The best example is the word 'cum'. I had to ask a friend to look the word up for me in an American English dictionary to see if it was ever used the way we've seen in India. It was coined in Britain in the late 19th century to mean 'along with being', used usually in hyphenated words: 'Reservation-cum-Journey Ticket' or Map-cum-Tourist Guide'. Sometimes it is over used, as in 'Public Convenience Booth-cum-Lobby Office'. Other times not quite achieving the cache desired, such as the pub in Calcutta called 'Off-cum-On Rambo Bar', or the special 'coach-cum-launch' we saw advertised in a tourist brochure. I wonder if there is an Indian expression 'go figure'?

The different connotations certain words carry in India as compared with back home are worth shallow examination. The matrimonials section of the newspapers are as curious and amusing as our personals ads in weeklies. A woman will be described as 'homely' or 'wheatish'—in other words, she keeps a good home, and is fair-skinned. Ok, that was a cheap shot.

Then there are words that have lost any recognizable meaning as they have been adapted into Indian-English parlance. We came across a magazine article about social change in Iran, written by an Indian writer. Accoeding to him, a managing editor of an Iranian local newspaper had "…made repeated forays into subjects not considered 'kosher' by the dominant elements of the clerical establishment." Hmmm, I'd like to see that in the New York Times.

Seeking out Indian-English, good or bad, is admittedly a bit frivolous, but an addictive timepass nonetheless. I will say, though, that the most interesting things we learned about language in India had nothing to do with English, but with the genius of Sanskrit. Our Indian friends told us that the vowels in Sanskrit represent actual shapes of pipes, which when air is passed through them, produced the vowel's corresponding sound. And apparently, Sanskrit has been designated an ideal computer language because it is inherently mathematical and logical, complementary to the binary language of zereos and ones. If this is true, Sankrit is likely to be revivd, as the survival of language is, above all else, a function of economics.

* bonus: There is a short piece in the India LP that lists enticing menu misspellings. One was 'chicken katan blueInside: Chess'. We think we figured this one out—can you?



 



 

 
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