“George Moore wrote brilliant English until he discovered grammar.”- Oscar Wilde
Apart from raising an instant chuckle, this scathing remark made me aware of my battle with grammar ever since I started writing this blog. I’ve written around 90 posts so far and 40 of them are flawless. They better be ! They are quotes and quips of famous personalities which appear in the “think it over” columns.Reading the rest of them, I notice that I’ve merrily flouted most of the rules laid out by the venerable Wren and Martin – improper use of the article, wrong capitalisation, preposterous prepositions, use and abuse of comma, semi-colon, the list is endless…
Rather than punish myself, I say, what the heck, English is not my native language. I think in my mother tongue, process it in English and when it comes out it has my own trade mark which can be quite confusing to an unsuspecting native speaker of English !
Like my friend who used to say “morning morning, milkman coming !”
We had a sales executive who was asked to call up a customer over phone. There was no response and this is what he told us ,” ringing is there but lifting is not there !”. Grammatical harakiri, you may say, but I understood what he meant and that was enough.
Sometimes, we use words unknowingly like my friend who just started a courier service and announced, “just give us a call and we will be there suddenly !”He didn’t mean to startle me but was only trying to assure me of his promptness !
During a role play in an “Assertiveness” training session, there was this girl who had to call the Maintenance dept. and complain about the room being stuffy as the air conditioner had gone kaput. She picked up the phone and said ” I am feeling very hot !”. She was puzzled when the room erupted with laughter. We assured her that grammatically she was right but sent a different signal to the receiver. I think enough has been written about Indians abroad creating a new sub sect of English but that is a sumptuous story altogether.
The experience of a friend from Mysore is quite hilarious. He was known to be quick witted and an amazing impromptu speaker.In his second year of Engineering, a fresher approached him with a request to be the Master of Ceremonies for a get together. When he asked ‘why me ?”, she said in all earnestness, “because my friends tell me you are the only person in this college who can speak without thinking !”
I use yet another delightful example in my “Communication Skills” program to illustrate the point that vocabulary is all about using simple words that make sense to the other person.
I ask the participants to explain “curds” in English. The response from my well educated audience ranges from yogurt to fermented milk to coagulated milk to bacteria formation and a whole lot of things that need further elaboration. I then mention what a humble, semi literate sweet meat shop owner in Delhi said – “Milk, sleeping in the night;morning becoming tight !”
After the guffaw subsides, I ask them whether it was clear and they respond with a resounding yes !
There are many more examples which are more colourful but border on the risque and all of them have been dutifully compiled by that irreverent legend, Khushwant Singh, in his anthology of Indian jokes.
More recently I came across a book “Entry from backside only” by Binoo K John. No sleaze here. It is a roller coaster ride on how we Indians use, reuse, overuse and abuse this wonderful language ! Great read ! I will not spoil the party by spilling the beans ! You MUST pick up a copy !
Well, I’ve decided to continue writing the way I know the language and who knows it might become the standard one day !!!! Do send me your feedback if I have erred horribly in my writings !
And here is an anecdote I picked up from an old issue of Punch magazine, now defunct.
An American tourist walks into a London tobacconist’s shop and the salesman asks him “And what is your desire, sir ?”
And he replies, “my desire is to kiss the Queen but my need is a cigar !”
If any of you feel grammatically challenged like me, take comfort from the knowledge that
“Broken English is the most commonly spoken language in the world”. Amen ! Peace !