The Financial Express

Between 'Wow' and 'Awesome'

| Updated: September 24, 2021 20:20:42

Between 'Wow' and 'Awesome'

Pretty interesting things have been happening in the way we use language, both Bengali and English, in our quotidian affairs. No, this is not a complaint but merely an observation of objective reality. There is such a thing as dynamism in the use of language, particularly when you happen to employ a language like English. Much the same goes for Bengali. But when such dynamism detracts from a use of proper grammatical language, you certainly have reasons for worry.

Let the focus be, for now, on English as it assaults our sensibilities every day in this country.

Take the word 'like'. Nearly everyone you know seems to be fond of it these days. Young people, essentially students at our English medium institutions, nowadays have developed the rather intriguing habit of interspersing an entire sentence with a whole lot more 'likes' than necessary. Observe the following: "Yesterday I was, like, at a party, like, for my friend, like, on his birthday . . ." The speaker here is clearly at a loss for words or has found in his use of the language barriers he needs to jump across, at a slow pace. Liking, by the way, has been made even more of a household term for people who use Facebook. It is fine when you say you 'like' someone's putting up a charming picture on his or her timeline or holding forth for his or her friends a poignant few lines from a poem. But how do you deal with the resultant embarrassment when news of the death of your friend's father or of the comatose state of his mother in hospital goes out to hordes of people who lose no time in coming forward to 'like' that sad report? Mercifully, there are now icons that go with such news.

There are, these days, some words we all seem to have latched on to, either because we think there is a certain kind of glamour in them or because we think it is pretty classy for us to use them because everyone else is using them. Or is globalisation pushing us into lapping up everything western, for instance that extremely irritating and vacuous term 'Wow!'? One of the words currently in fashion is 'awesome'; and the frequency with which it is being employed by nearly everyone around you is positively awful. Time was when people used 'nice', a word which is pretty bland and essentially conveys little sense of involvement, when they came upon objects which demanded a more definitive expression of sentiment. It is almost the same with 'awesome'. Middle-aged couples enjoying a meal at an expensive restaurant in the city are carried away by the flavour and taste of the food, so much so that, teenager-like, they find it 'awesome'. You write an article or compose a poem and you find yourself being told how 'awesome' it is. A sub-continental movie which basically is a musical, with all sorts of inanities and crudities cooked into a mishmash, is something with which some viewers fall head over heels in love. They think it is, yes, 'awesome'.

Now come to the ways in which English all too easily falls prey to mutilation at the hands of those who do not quite remember the grammar they were taught in school. Need an example? Well, haven't you come across people who are forever ready to 'discuss about' a subject with you? Of course, you would like to remind them that 'about' has no place beside 'discuss', but then, they are adults. And it is not for you to correct their mistakes.

The danger here is that in your attempt to restore their grammar in its correctness, you will embarrass them before ending up getting embarrassed yourself. Now think of the terms 'reason' and 'because'. Our teachers, yours and mine, told us long ago in primary school that we could not mix up the two. Grammar simply does not permit you to tell your colleague, "The reason I could not come to the meeting is because I was held up in a traffic jam.' It is either "The reason I could not come to the meeting is I was held up in a traffic jam" or "I could not come to the meeting because I was held up in a traffic jam." But who listens nowadays? Even Oxbridge-educated men, Tony Blair for instance, have fallen for this volatile mix of 'reason' and 'because' in a single sentence.

None of us is a perfectionist in the employment of language. But when you observe people failing to notice the difference between 'few' and 'a few' or between 'little' and 'a little', you are at the end of your tether. To be sure, English has a good number of peculiarities. When someone asks you, "How do you do?" you are expected to say the same in return. Why must a question be met with a response that is more of the same? No logic explains this conundrum, if you can call it that. No matter how late at night you meet someone, you must wish him "Good evening." It is pitch dark around you and yet you must pretend it is still evening. The mystery remains beyond resolution. You can only scratch your ageing head and walk out for some fresh air.

The peculiarities of the English language apart, there are the instances of the grammatically correct we often give incorrect expression to. Here's how: when your friend, a beautiful woman who loves everything about you, proclaims that she is thankful to the Almighty for giving her this chance of a'bondage' with you, you wonder why such a seductive creation of God is getting her vocabulary wrong. Whatever has happened to bond or bonds or bonding? You feel you 'must have to' enlighten her on the correct expression to be used here. Ah, but 'must have to'? What's so wrong with keeping 'must' separate from 'have to'?

Long years ago, this scribe asked one of his English language students about the young man's date of birth. With alacrity came the answer: "I born in 1968". His error was duly corrected, with the necessary emphasis put on the missing 'was'. Then came the following from the scribe: "Now tell me something about your father." The response was as hilarious as it was devastating: "My father was died."

Need one say more?


Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer

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