Tuesday, June 28, 2005

English Confusion

English is a funny language. Ok, it can’t get more clichéd than this. Almost along the lines of “Cricket is a funny game”. But I shall try to talk about a few things that have puzzled me in the English language.

For starters, the expression “walk the walk and talk the talk”. The context in which this is used is most often to tell somebody to do as he says. I’ve used this expression just once in my life – a week back – and no sooner had the words left my mouth than I realized there was something wrong. Something illogical, incorrect. Atleast to me.

If I really do want a person to do as he says, the logically correct thing to say would be “walk the talk”. This is simple enough. Walk denoting “action”. Talk denoting “speech”. In effect, “match your words with action”.

But the more popular WTWATTT is meaningless. Or if there is a meaning, it is definitely not what it is claimed to be (on the surface level). All that my slow brain can grasp is, it means “do whatever you are doing, say whatever you are saying”.

Fine, I admit I am being a bit over-critical and narrow-minded. Even if I remove the tone of exasperation, it still is a flat statement with no assertion of any kind, while the inferred meaning seems to imply an inherent assertiveness. Or am I missing something?

After throwing these words around my mind, something else struck me. If I used the phrase like this – “If you are not ready to walk the walk, don’t talk the talk…” it would make a large impact. And the meaning seems to recede to the populist one, albeit unconvincingly.

Now that I am done talking the talk on that matter, let me shift to another quirk – one that made the Devil the object of light-hearted ridicule ages ago.

Question: “Are you not going home today?”
Two possible answers: Either he is going home. Or he is not.
Ans 1: “No, I am going.”
Ans 2: “No, I am not going.”

Obviously the 2 answers are poles apart. But why do both of them begin with a No??? As the Devil used to argue feebly, Ans 2 should be “Yes, I am not going.”
We’ve been laughing at this one for ages…but sometimes I wonder…

I just realized that this weirdness isn’t restricted to English alone. The above two sentences in Tamil and Kannada would receive similar responses. Is it true for the other languages as well?

Ok, another minor irritant about the English language. What the heck is the difference between “toward” and “towards”? I never use toward, it’s always towards.
Is it because I have been brought up on a diet of British English? Or is it because I have heard the word with ‘s’ before, and after that I feel the lack of ‘s’ makes it incomplete? Or are both my supposed reasons linked to one another?

But amidst all this confusion, there is a silver lining. A quick Google of “toward and towards” shows me that there are a whole lot of people with the same doubt. I only wish I could delve deeper into the English grammar to come up with a convincing enough reason. Are there any distant learning English grammar courses that I could possibly join?

Finally, a word I abhor – “anyways”. People just seem to have stopped using the word “anyway” anymore. And they don’t even mean the same! But I fear that, years into the future, both would be used interchangeably. And if that happens I shall just quit speaking English. :)

Seriously, I refuse to ever use that word in any of my conversations apart from the ones that go, “Don’t you goddamn use ‘anyways’!!!”. Let’s all revert to the good old “anywise”. That might atleast help in hampering the process of “anyway” falling into the dark side.


Note: To preempt any brickbats on my poor grammar knowledge, I claim that all this is an attempt to flesh out my doubts, and maybe be directed to a good grammar course.


At 1:36 AM, Anonymous the devil said...

Happy 1 year off blogging chilli !!!

At 1:46 AM, Blogger J said...

jus one question... why 190?

At 2:53 AM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

>> Happy 1 year off blogging chilli !!! ???
I hope that was just a typo, and not an intentional dig.
Just when I was beginning to feel happy that I'd managed to keep this blog alive for a year, you send me on a 1-yr suspension! :)
Nanri hai!

People who've known me for ages would be screaming at you for opening a can of worms - worms that have been oft let loose, and still lie in abundance within the can. :)
Let me try to keep it short: 190 was the highest Test score of my favourite cricketer at the time I began to participate actively in the internet world. It's been broken a million times since, but I hold onto this for posterity.
This post should tell you who this cricketer is.

At 4:42 AM, Blogger J said...

ooooooooooooooh! CRICKET? *yawn*
And i thought there was something more interesting to the number ;)

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Rat said...

i abhor anyways too !!! It reminds of curds !! Why do ppl say curds for curd !!

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ans 1: “No, I am going.”
Ans 2: “No, I am not going.”

Have you ever considered the vernacular influence ... people think in their mother tongue and speak in English ... the result .. a literal word-to-word translation. This should explain why you get the same answer in Kannada and Tamil too.

Example: Do ppl anywhere else in the english speaking world say "morning, morning..."?? It's the effect of "bellige, bellige..."

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

I do not think the reason for this ambiguity is because of our vernacular influence. I have read books where the characters reply in this exact same manner, and both the author and the character were from the English-speaking world. I do agree about your "bellige.." being Indianish, but this "No, I am not going" is a common malaise afflicting all English speakers across nations. Just try saying out "Yes, I am not going" aloud and you would realise that something is lacking - maybe in the context of grammar, speech pattern, etc.

I am content with the knowledge that people here havent yet started replacing curd with yoghurt! :)

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to agree with you on that.

Have you ever tried replying with just a simple Yes/ No. Technically if you are not intending to go home, you'd want to answer in the affirmative. So you'd have to say "Yes". But I can bet that 99% of the time, you'd be asked another question in reply ... "So you are going home?"

Very irritating indeed.


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