I haven’t had a rendezvous with any monsieur or mademoiselle to find out why father mocked the French when English, the language he was proficient in, is equally guilty of misleading learners.
The other day my elder son Rutajeet – he’s stepped into his ninth year – asked why the papers wrote Earth Hour. “Shouldn’t it be Our Earth?” He was obviously going by the title of a chapter in his science textbook.
“Why is hour pronounced the same as our?” he asked again. This was because he wrote ‘our’ instead of ‘hour’ in his dictation test. “Is ‘h’ a vowel?” he continued. “If not, why must we use ‘an’ before hour?”
Go ask Wren & Martin or Shakespeare’s successors, I was about to yell when my mother called him to have his breakfast.
I was saved by the kid’s urge to satisfy his stomach more than his mind. How could I tell him the whys when I couldn’t fathom why? Besides, I did not want him to discover his father couldn’t tell his verb from his adverb or his preposition from his noun.
I have always followed my grandmother’s advice: “If a sentence doesn’t look good, there must be something wrong with it. It turns right automatically if you try to make it appear beautiful.” Of course, her words of wisdom were for the Bengali language.
Rutajeet’s questions reminded me of George Bernard Shaw’s argument why ‘fish’ can be spelt as ‘ghoti’ in English. His theory: if ‘gh’ is pronounced as ‘f’ in ‘rough (and tough)’, ‘o’ as ‘e’ in ‘women’ and ‘ti’ as ‘sh’ in ‘celebration’, replace f-i-sh with gh-o-ti and you have a similar sounding word.
You may also recall the blockbuster Bollywood comedy Chupke Chupke, a remake of the Uttam Kumar-starred Bengali film Chhaddabeshi. In the Hindi version, hero Dharmendra asks reel brother-in-law Om Prakash why ‘go’ can’t be pronounced ‘goo’ if ‘to’ and ‘do’ are by rule ‘too’ and ‘doo’.
Om Prakash, to add to the comic value, presses his nostrils tight because ‘goo’ in Hindi and a few other Indian languages means human excreta.
Then there’s Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Halaal who stumps a villainous Ranjeet by his discourse on ‘English is a funn-nee language’.
The tsunami that struck Japan this month wasn’t funny. But would it have been any worse without the ‘t’? Or for that matter, would a Japanese delicacy turn disastrous if spelt tsushi?
Maybe, Ai Sugiyama could have swept the tennis championships across the globe had she had the T-power. By the same logic, the car I drive could have created more waves if spelt Tsuzuki.
Mooning over heavenly bodies isn’t my special-T. But my wife gave me an idea; the moon nearest to her, she said, was my balding head. A heady Tsupermoon, indeed!
Inevitably, tsunami tswelled in my Tsupermoon. And out poured a wave of words that might just help the English and the pseudo-English draw a line between two of a kind.
Tsugary: Diabetic, as distinguished from sugary, sweet
Tsuperman: Taliban-like character with exterrordinary powers, as distinguished from the do-good superhero from Krypton
Tsuperstar: Bigger star (Shah Rukh Khan?), as distinguished from a marginally smaller one (Salman Khan?)
Tsupermodel: Leggy creatures paid more for possessing less assets, as distinguished from the asset-rich prone to wardrobe malfunction
Tsupercilious: NATO-type arrogance to bombard oil-rich countries, as distinguished from Arab dictatorial pride to hold on to empire
Tsuperstitious: A tiger wary of crossing a human’s path rather than a human crossing a cat’s
Tsundry: A cricket bookie-dictated no-ball/wide, as distinguished from a legitimate leg bye; also, extra payment an Indian government servant demands to get work done, as distinguished from tip given by satisfied customer
Tsynthetic: Doctor-sculpted, silicone-supported and Botox-boosted beauties, as distinguished from Oriflamed originals
Tsystem: Sarkari (governmental) show of goofing up to hand over control of resources to besarkari (private/non-governmental) masters, as distinguished from letting know it is doing so deliberately
Tsummer: Weather warm enough for skin show toward generating more heat, as distinguished from global warming-induced temperature
Tsurrender: Ceremonies organized by Indian armed forces to make the same set of ‘rebels’ give up arms for photo-op and medals, as distinguished from bidding underground life adieu a la Phoolan Devi
Tsuraksha: Protection provided by law-breaking cops, as distinguished from protection for a price by dons
I could have thought of more but for a tsunami down under. Will be back from the tsusu break.