Sunday, July 3, 2011


The tail-piece of the last blog posted in April makes us reach for ‘ Fowler’s Modern English Usage’ ; after a long long time, it must be confessed. ‘Volumes of forgotten lore’ to quote from another blog of ours- The Raven. But we always carry the volume, like a talisman, being without it maketh us insecure.

If you remember, in our post script, the mongoose buyer smartly side-steps possible grammatical ghallu-ghara by placing two orders instead of one. Thereby he avoids the dubious ‘moongeese’ as well as the unwieldy ‘mongooses’.

A cursory reading of Fowler’s classic leaves us startled. To our consternation or should it be delight, we find that we have unconsciously copied many of Fowler’s stylistic attributes. For instance look at the following para from the book (the entry ‘split infinitive’):

The English speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is;(2) those who do not know, but care very much;(3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish.”

We always believed this one-to-many appositive construction to be economical, direct and terse, and ergo, make liberal use of it.

And then the effort to eschew the use of the first person singular.

Interesting in this connection is the entry one’. Nine types of ‘one’s are discussed . The principal discussion is on the use of ‘one’ in place of ‘I’ the first person singular, our bee-in-the -bonnet. As in “He asked me to save his life, and how could ‘one’ refuse?” As it substitutes a noun, it is a pronoun. On the merits of the usage, he says, among other things ( no inter alia/ winter alia, we are not on duty) :

“The writer should make up his mind that he will, or he will not, talk in the first person, and go on the sound assumption that one and one’s do not mean I and me or me and mine.”

Then, the entry ‘cliché’. The most ‘well-worn cliché’ in view of YF is : “ to use the well-worn cliché”. It shows that the author using this deadly expression is (he, he, he, sunbaai) (i) a prig and a muggle (ii) he or she is not really third rate, but only second rate, and (iii) carries a guilt-complex or an inferiority complex and not an industrial complex. We would rather be into-your-face, and Fowler approvingly quotes another expert, J.A.Spender:

The hardest worked cliché is better than the phrase that fails......”

We would like to ‘flag’ (missing C-W Bank) ‘split infinitive’, for that’s where the action used to be in the good old days when people were not linguistically deprived or depraved. Aar ekta ‘Gerund’ o' chilo.

Let us take an example: ‘in these circumstances, the Commission, judging from the evidence taken in London, has been feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time, to meet reasonable Indian demands.’

‘To better equip’? We refuse ‘better to equip’ as a shouted reminder of the tyranny ; we refuse ‘to equip better’ as ambiguous (better an adjective?) ; we regard ‘to equip successful candidates better’ as lacking compactness, as possibly tolerable from an anti-splitter, but not good enough for us. What then of recasting? ‘Intended to make successful candidates fitter for’ is the best we can do, if the exact sense is be kept; it takes some thought to arrive at the correction; was the game worth the candle?”

We would like to place ‘The Mongoose Theory’ on a pedestal. Beside Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

The issues that ‘emerze’ (Chabiwala Bank back at work again, tomorrow, Black Monday) are obvious. Do we really require that kind of gyan in today’s world?

We recall ₭’s views. After a futile vigil for nilambari, he is arguing with A on the correctness of what the hawai-sundari announced on A’s first excursion into the skies. “Passinjers are requasted to kindly fasten their seat-balts”. Great, he forgot what the lady looked like, but notices what she said. If you revert to 1,2,3,4,5 above, we can safely say, ₭ ijj (3) and A ijjjj (4). The end of their sparring is “ A: baba, meaning ta konbhey hoyegachhe” and ₭ retorting, “baba, wordser ki dorkar, she could have just gestured like in the Sunday 2 o’clock news, if conveying meaning is the purpose of it all”. Touche, and banggg! - there appears nilamabri, as if Saraswati appearing by way of vindication.

We recall (of all), Yogi Deveshwar’s views on the subject. He is the Chairman of ITC. The views changed our perception of Corporate Top Management, until we noticed that he was alone at the bus-stop. He said something to the effect that “ my daughter sends SMSs in that odd vowel-less lingo, but I detest it. I prefer to be grammatically correct.” It’s linguistic manners, maannn!

It’s clear now, the Cherrapunji clouds suddenly vanish. Weeeeee…. adopted Fowler’s style unconsciously, for our mental make up appears like- mince no cheating-beating haaaaan!

Tip of the leap year: sell ITC, he, he, he.

Like any other person who has applied his mind to the business of language, we occasionally mused about the tyranny of Grammar. The whole thing is that ke bhaiyya at school, it was part of your ‘studies’ and not part of your recreation. We developed interest in the works after we returned to it with holy curiosity, and when it was ejected by other subjects on the curriculum.

Most important in favour of equipping yourself grammatically- how do you prove your linguistic point if you do not know grammar?

Suppose your friend says “ I sat him in the train” (after taking snakes in the hole). You know it is incorrect. But how will you convince him? You should tell you that there are beyyyy types of verbs, intransitive, which end with the subject, and transitive which require a subject and an object for performance. ‘Sat’ is intransitive, YOU can ‘sit’ but cannot ‘sit’ anyone else.

You find a wealth of ideas, explanations and revelations in Fowler. What always lay at the back of your mind, but was latent, and Fowler throws a torch beam on it, making it alive and kicking. Read ‘road’ vs. ‘street’, for instance. The book forms one organic whole. Has to be read from cover to cover. It is like a treasure hunt. Refreshingly sardonic. We’d bet our last shirt on its eternal relevance (darling make it the one kept for holi.)

Now for a post script.

Robert Frost of “ the woods are lovely, dark and deep” is spending a vacation with a friend in the Alps. They survey the snow-clad peaks and friend talks about the beauty of nature, asking for Frost’s expert comments. “Well……., I don’t talk shop when on leave, sorry boss!”

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