Friday, May 05, 2006

Inglish is a funy languej

Ask any teacher of English. She will boast of the beauty of the language. Tell it to a common man and he'll laugh his lungs out mocking at it.
This Anglo-Saxon language has upgraded itself (or corrupted, depending on how one looks at it) by accepting phrases and words from other languages without much ado. The British may not have liked it, but they had no choice. After all, Her Majesty's colonialist ambitions forced them to convert English from a symbol of culture to a global medium of communication. Mutation is inevitable.
We find other European phrases aplenty in the language, though we can say the same in English very well. We can, for example, simply say, "the converse", but we are more used to saying vice versa. Or, we can say "thereby" instead of ipso facto.
The more we learn English, the greater is the number of foreign phrases that we use to make our communication more impressive and harder.
The worst are the doctors. They use only Greek and Latin. They ensure that the common man does not understand what their diagnosis is and say it in "foreign English". Thus, they talk of colitis instead of inflammation of the colon; they treat pulmonary oedema for fluid accumulation in the lungs. A simple burst of a vein in the brain is complicated by cerebral thrombosis, while an improper bone development in your lower spine could be spina bifida. Coupled with their handwriting, a doctor's report can be read only by Him!
Lawyers are a different lot, reveling in their own world of complicated language. I was taught at school that it is bad English to start a sentence with a conjunction. But, every agreement starts with "WHEREAS". Try leaving it out and the sentence will still convey the meaning perfectly. Thus, perhaps, they ensure that their profession is always needed to decipher the law that is worded in the silliest manner, all over the world. I am yet to come across a judgment in any country that chides the government for not phrasing the law in a manner that a common man understands. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that the judges themselves are lawyers by profession. Fish can't tell good water from bad.
Economists are a crazy lot. (Yours sincerely included) They try to make the simple subject as complex as possible by using foreign phrases. If you have any doubt, try reading any of the books or articles. A few examples are given below:
"Ceteris paribus, more will be demanded at lower prices than at higher prices" (Marshall`s Law of Demand). The special phrase simply means, "everything else remaining the same".
Ipso facto, post facto, per sé, prima facie, a priori, ex-ante, ex-post, sine quo non, quid pro quo are some more phrases which are used frequently by the economists to make themselves appear knowledgeable. You may even come across post hoc ergo propter hoc logic in economics.
There is a joke about the teachers of English. It goes as follows:
A person died, went up and knocked at the Pearly Gates.
St.Peter asked, "Who`s it?"
Reply came, "It is I".
"Oh, damn," cursed St.Peter, "One more teacher of English grammar."
It makes sense when a teacher of English is obsessed with the language. After all, it is her profession. But, it is hardly understandable why doctors, lawyers and economists should complicate it, unless it is to hide the hollow inside.
I shouldn't sound totally unfair to all these professionals. After all, English language does cause problems. There are lots of inconsistencies in it. Take the following examples:
Plural of foot is feet; but of boot is not beet.
Past of do is did; but of woo is not wid.
We write "women" with a "o" but we don't write "foar" for fear.
Feminine gender of God is Godess but that of cod is not codess.
So is the case of tigress and lioness but not dogess and catess.
A goose weds a gander; but a moose doesn't marry a mander.
The craziest happens in chess, where a queen checks and mates a king! You don't mate your enemy, do you? (Well, honestly, it is wrong to divide them into two phrases. It is checkmate, a special term coined for the game).
And, think of all those fine legs, short legs, square legs and long legs in cricket…only the English could have invented such pretty positions.
If you fear a bear, do you fare a bare? Or, do you feer a beer?
There is an anecdote about spellings:
A boy and a girl were sitting in a park. Suddenly, the boy said, "Aren`t those roses beautiful, honey?"
"They are not roses, silly," said the girl, "they are Chrysanthemum"
"Chris-what?" asked the boy.
"Chry-san-the-mum", pronounced the girl.
"How do you spell it?" queried the boy.
"C-h-r-i..." started the girl, "no,, no, no, no, c-h-r-y...I think you are right. Those roses are beautiful."
But, there are also some beautiful (why can't this be simply butiful?) rules like "i before e except after c" for correct spelling involving "i & e". Thus, one can spell confidently, receive, conceive, deceive, believe, relieve etc.
The English people have a sense of humour too. Some of the words and phrases in English are indeed hilarious. Consider the following:
The woe of a man is called WOMAN
One kicks the bucket to die.
A ship is a feminine gender, probably because of her weight and large bottom.
Assassination is spelt with two ass, may be because it relates to politicians. (Recently, I came across a Santa Singh joke where he teaches his pupils how to spell this word: gadha, gadha ke peeche gadha, gadhe ke peeche mein, mere peeche saara desh )
A spicy stuff that's hottest on your palate is called chilli.
George Bernard Shaw was very critical of English language as much as of the English people. He once said,
"The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it...It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth, without making some other Englishman despise him." (PYGMALION, Preface)
He did not spare the Americans either. See this: "England and America are two countries separated by the same language."
His famous mockery was about the spelling of the word "FISH". He wrote "GHOTI" and insisted that it should be, according to English, pronounced "fish" because of the following examples:
"GH" from couGH or lauGH, sounds "f"
"O" from wOmen, sounds "i"
"TI" from naTIon, poTIon or noTIon, sounds "sh".
He was logical, though the English hated him. That is why John Osborne scoffed at Shaw saying, "He writes like a Pakistani who has learned English when he was twelve years old in order to become a chartered accountant." I am not sure if the Pakistanis would have liked it. But, I am very much sure that the CAs have a sound case to sue Osborne.
The Queen's English has its own set of stories too. Read this:
Once, the Prince of Wales visited a hospital. He met a man lying in a bed with some bandages around his hip.
The prince asked him, "What have you been admitted here for?"
The patient replied, "I got boils all over my botty." The prince smiled and went off.
The nurses and the maids reprimanded the patient for using such a slang before the Prince and cautioned him about the language.
A week later, the Queen visited the hospital. And, she asked him, "What have you been admitted here for?"
The patient replied, "I got boils all over my back."
"Oh," the Queen queried, "It seems to have spread upwards after my son's visit, hasn't it?"
As to the spellings in English, there are many difficulties, too. Telifon, dokter, laf, cof, cou, bul, caf etc., sound the same but simple. The English revel in complicating it. There seems to be some attempts to simplify the language, going by the following e-mail I got from a friend I received in 1999. (Alas, Shabnam Minwalla recently published this piece in Sunday Times dated 3rd Feb-2002. I missed yet another chance to make a few quick bucks! Sigh!)
The European Commission have just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU, rather than German, which was the other possibility.
As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty`s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five year phase in plan that would be known as "EuroEnglish".
In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump for joy.
The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 letter less.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with the "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.
In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.
Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.
Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e"s in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away.
By the 4th year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v". Ze zebras may not lyk it, but ze cuvs vil velkum it.
During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan bi dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors bi aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.
After zis fifz year, ve vil hav a realy sensibl riten styl. zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand each ozer.
Ze dream vil finali kum tru! Zen, if I cal Inglish a funi languaj, it vil no mor bi funi. Ryt?
If you have some more funny aspects of English, do post it.

True Leader Need Not be the Boss

At the outset, I confess that this is not about MY leadership. I hardly qualify to claim possession of it when I think of those whom I worked in the industry and most of whom reported to me. Normally, when one hears the term “Leadership”, one immediately visualises Tatas, Birlas, Narayanamurthies, Premjies and so on. The term leadership is so intricately woven, in our minds, with business success that we tend to ignore that there are leadership qualities in many others whom we interact in our daily life.
In the film Munna Bhai MBBS, Munna gives a hug to the old man who has been working as a floor-cleaner for ages, and follows it up with an appreciation that people don’t actually recognise what an important job he was doing by cleaning the place regularly. This struck a familiar chord. In the organisation where I worked last before joining TAPMI, I had a colleague, designated as peon. This designation is a colonial legacy that our Babus have happily accepted and continued. His job was to carry out all odd jobs, which included remitting the bank-instruments, drawing cash for disbursement, despatching courier and sometimes even withdrawing cash form the bank for the employees in the office. Invariably, he was the first to enter the office in the morning; he ensured that the office was kept clean and neat. He brought in a loyal cleaner who kept doing the job for the branch for over ten years. One may well feel like asking, “What is so great about what he did? It’s such an ordinary work that millions of peons in the country do.” That is precisely the point. We compare his office jobs with those of the “big” names I mentioned. But, how important is what he does? When in a meeting at Anand, my CEO asked me, “When you are here, do you call back Hyderabad and check if everything is ok?” I responded, “Certainly not. I wish to say two things: One, when I am away from my head quarters, my branch performs better; and two, when Narasimha, my peon, goes on leave, hell falls off. So, I am hardly important in my branch.” Everybody laughed heartily and someone even commented, “Then we should swap the posts.” But, later during the evening, my CEO called me aside and said, “I liked the way you put it. Actually, we are all so governed by the designation, we respect authority. No one sees who the actual leader in a situation is.”
I should say a few things about Mr. Narasimha. He did not complete his SSLC. He could not speak English. He spoke only Telugu and Hyderabadi Hindi. He talked very little; but he communicated brilliantly. I never saw him—not even once—sitting idle. And, I never saw him upset or angry—the basic traits that I possess. He always had his hands filled with work. He had a subtle sense of humour that he used if he heard “The boss is in a foul mood today.” (You know who the “boss” was…). He was about 50 years old; had both his daughters married off; educated his sons and got them placed. He had a house constructed and paid off the loans. He was planning to buy a two-wheeler. He was an affectionate father. Whenever any problem arose in his joint family, he would get a phone call and he would take a few hours off and sorted out the mess and return to work…there were many instances when he was simply had to only watch consciously. To me, he symbolised leadership; I watched him with envy when he spoke to some angry customers and pacified them and even solved the problem when I could not speak a sentence in Telugu. When I look back, I am happy to have done two things for him: I fought with my “higher-ups” to issue the promotion-order—which he deserved much longer before—and he became a daftari, another colonial designation, but a little higher in rank and little better pay; and when I left Hyderabad, I gave him my desert-cooler, saying to him,”For all that I gained and learned from you, this is a small guru dhakshna; please accept it.” I saw tears in his eyes that he tactfully hid from me; or, at least, I thought so.
I have seen executives—top level, middle level and even junior level—trying to “be in control” of every situation desperately. To them, letting off control means falling from the throne of leadership. I firmly believe that one doesn’t have to be in control of everything every time to be a successful leader. In fact, it is irrational to attempt so. The meaning of “team leader” does not imply that one should be always in command. It requires the maturity to “let go off control”, a hard to imagine, much harder to believe and even harder to carry out. I have always suffered from this paranoia of “being in control” until I learnt lessons from Narasimha. When the truth dawned upon me, I looked back at my own stupidity and was able to laugh at myself. There are people around us who are capable to rising up to the situation when demanded, and may be—and mostly are—capable of handling the situation better. I was lucky to have had the rare opportunity to see this coming true in my executive career.
I have come across terms such as “lead from the front,” and “lead from the back.” Narasimha, however, lead by just being there when needed, not once failing. Till date, he is the real worldly leader whom I had a close encounter with. I am proud to have worked with Narasimha for half a decade.