Viewpoints

Published: Wednesday August 24, 2011 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday August 5, 2013 MYT 7:37:32 PM

Counter culture

The consistently inconsistent hallmark of English.

IT appears I have a fascination, nay, an addiction. To contradiction. I seem to consistently dwell on the inconsistent attributes of the English language.

Both language and life share these attributes. Language simply gives voice to these peculiarities since (as noted in a previous article), contrariety is part and parcel of life.

Don’t you just love this language, its idiosyncrasies and all? How with tentative boldness it selectively dismisses the very rules that form it?

You may pick to dispute: And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? Bah! Hey, it’s a black sheep ... with more than three bags-full of the wool that it continues to pull over our eyes.

As a communication device language simply lends itself to creative use by those who care, dare, and find pleasure in exploring, experimenting, and expressing themselves, sometimes in insanely sane ways, which, in their foolish wisdom, they think would delight their readers.

Be they lexophiles or logomaniacs, in their clear estimate, they deem it noble to share their passion for words.

After showcasing some linguistic partners in rime and “crime” last year, I recently tracked down some contradictory pairs of proverbs.

With some cowardly courage (while appreciating our co-ordinator’s indulgence), I once more make a foray into contradictory language.

Courage? G.K.Chesterton says: Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die. If you can tease out some logic from his quote, then you will surely agree that “life” itself is an oxymoron.

So, even as you wonder why I choose to continue living in the past, here’s the deal – I promise to say nothing that got said in my past list of oxymorons.

Check, and you will note that all contradictory expressions used here will be found missing there.

And no, I’m not making a fully empty promise; this is a new routine. (Taking a small gulp here!)

It is hard to imagine English without its delightful conundrums – a feature that fascinates some and frustrates others.

How about a witty pun then? My nephew just sent me a bunch and I have adapted my pick to give flavour to the season: The rally supporter who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

Here’s another oddity. What? Nose runs but feet smell? And, where’s the butter on the butterflies? It’s a living monument to all things quirky.

All right, I’ll let alone the English hornet’s nest lest I let loose a litany of illogicalities and regular irregularities that might run me (and you) into the ground.

The idea is to simply embrace its eccentric freewheeling style!

Unless of course, you want it analysed or specified? Try the ramblingly concise Dr Lim, or “Fadzilah on Thursdays”.

Fadzilah’s page is popular because that’s where the clearly confused can happily lament their frustrations with this crazy but sound language. A language so conniving – it can sound terribly good even in contradiction.

Defiant, too – it happily parts company with rules and patterned practice.

It is subversively constructive, showing itself not averse to constant change – the same that features as a bit in Isaac Asimov’s quote: The only constant is change. Another paradox.

I once came across a Frenchman’s interesting take on learning English.

I cannot remember it verbatim but I have a dim recollection of the cause of his frustration. He was baffled that a single word like “fast” had multiple meanings.

He found that to be “fast” was to be quick; to “fast” was not to eat; and then if you were tied up you were also “fast” ... he gave up; pretty fast, I must add (or, he might have gone crazy wondering how “fast” could also be “pretty”).

Now, here’s a whole slice from my real life. A small crowd gathered at the scene of my accident not too long ago.

Of course I panicked, but tried to act naturally because I fooled myself into thinking it wasn’t my fault – I was merely inching my way out of a yellow box when this motorcyclist from nowhere (Gehenna?) rammed into my vehicle.

Employing some politically correct language, I sought to combat the uncalled for just war he was waging to his advantage.

Later, I was told that most motorcyclists are prone to take the (moral) high ground in such cases so it is best to accept one’s loss, which I did, in the form of a small fortune.

The rule in the book of law aside, in my book I call it unjust justice where Fair is foul, and foul is fair! See? I’m unnervingly emboldened by the foul experience!

The longer you live the more you add to your humble boast of life’s sweet-sour experiences, with some distinctively hidden objectionable motives.

At the market the other day as I was picking through a pile of jumbo shrimps, a customer tried to haggle down its price.

The lot were only his second best catch since he had already made a mean profit from selling his highly priced king-sized batch, she contended. It was to no avail.

She walked away with a sad smile. Some fuzzy logic there in her reasoning, I thought. Reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s: You cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into.

I chewed on this as I dug into my udang asam pedas (sour ‘n spicy prawn dish) meal, frantically reaching out for a paper towel to aah-choo into.

Bottoms up! Not just a big sip; I downed a large glass of iced water for a quick heat cooling effect on my fiery tongue and throat!

Later that night, into the sound of silence, I reflected how this funny, quirky yet challenging language, with its hallmark of peculiarities, continues to both enchant and stymie its users; how it continues to enjoy wide currency despite its eccentricities.

And finally, how our policymakers never fail to flummox us with their flip-flop decisions, about being (allow me a repeat use) consistently inconsistent regarding the stature and status of English in the country.

First, making it a stronghold, now tightening the stranglehold. Parting (with its glorious past) is such sweet sorrow.

Till we meet again, I remain yours faithfully unfaithful ...

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle

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