The Madness of English

Mad, Mad English!

English as we all know can get a little crazy.

It has a knack of making us all a little angry.

Perhaps we’ll get a bit pissed.

Yes, get quite drunk and maybe throw a little fit.

This could definitely bomb

Either fail or take off with aplomb

Presently, it has my tongue in a twist.

No rhymes right now. Maybe soon, in a little bit.

Over the years, we have come to understand the different aspects of English. Little did we know that English would turn around and baffle us once more! Enough with the rhymes then!

Over the last few weeks, one could say that everything we thought we knew about English has been done away with and built up again, differently. I cannot count the days when I’ve gone home and tried to wrap my head around what I thought I knew and what I had just learnt.

The constant reminders about editing being based solely on the concept of ‘context’ went above my head till last Friday when we were introduced to the differences in British and American English. The British, of course, invented the language—so I’d like to believe their version is more my cup of tea. No pun intended. Or maybe just a little.

One could say that it was an eye-opener. It can only be described as feeling a little cheated at the realization that I had spent the last 20 years of my life merely scratching the surface of this iceberg called English.

We all suffer under the illusion that we are masters of the language we speak. But I pity the Oxford dictionary, for every year they are compelled to add words like selfie, duck-face, humblebrag and what not.

The beauty therefore of this language is its flexibility and the fact that the differences in the spellings of the same words are responsible for creating an identity for British and American English.

The magic of English lies also in its almost fluid adaptability as it traverses through the archaic to the modern. Even when it comes to American or British, the language has lived through and facilitated change in usage and, also, the way it is read world over.

Here, we are being taught various aspects of this difference. Most of our lives, we believed that we were being taught in British English—given India’s colonial past. Little did we know that everything we have learnt of the language was a mix of both British and American styles.

Till these differences were exposed in class last week, I don’t think any of us realized the extent of how differently similar the two were. Yes, differently similar.

It definitely cleared a lot of words that we find ourselves constantly mixing up. American English, we learnt, is sometimes phonetic. While British . . . well, is probably the original. The differences are as subtle as the way we even write AM and PM!

Halfway through that class, we were no different from a bunch of 10-year-olds being made to understand quantum physics in its extreme theories of the black hole information paradox. Well, okay—perhaps it wasn’t so bad but thoroughly confused as we were, it cleared a lot of things up.

Dubbed ‘Chips vs Fries’, the most important lesson we’ve learnt is to always look at the content of the text before we turn the page into a battlefield of words and red ink.

To cite a lovely example—theoretically, baseball and cricket aren’t very different from each other. A ball is thrown, a bat is swung, a ground is cleared and a run is scored. But in practice . . .

Caroline Kuruvinakunnel

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