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Musings

Word Play

By Geetha Ravichandran

Every year, new words appear in the dictionary. There is also a contest of sorts among the new entrants and one gets elected the ‘Word of the Year’. A few years ago, the coveted title, awarded by a reputed authority in the field, went to ‘post-truth’. It is a matter of relief that while new entrants are feted, all the older ones are not given a ceremonial exit. Imagine the state of affairs if ‘truth’ were to be given a send-off!

One word that I would personally like to see erased is ‘breaking news’. After watching news channels religiously for so many years, I have still not figured out why news is ‘breaking’. Or, more particularly, why is it claimed that news is breaking, even after it has been broken. I think it would be a refreshing change to hear the ‘whole’ story or get wholesome news. Maybe, if the news is actually explosive it could be called ‘shattering news’. Or even news quake, if the idea is to draw viewership by sound bursts and stop viewers from flipping channels. However that may also prove to be a damp squib, as by now it is well known that ‘explosive disclosures’ do not cause earthquakes.

Seeing some words grow and acquire nuances is as interesting, as seeing  some others shrivel and fade away. The word ‘like’, for instance is increasingly used in conversation today, as a verbal comma. The word ‘hot’ is rapidly being replaced by ‘cool’ to convey approval. Today, everything in spite of global warming, is described as ‘cool’. Along with its derivative ‘chill’, it is the most expressive response one can expect from millennials.

Earlier, it took a Shakespeare to enrich language with a few thousand words. Today, the creative genius of many anonymous sources finds its way into circulation, before being elevated to the columns of dictionaries.  The software programmes which are in use for word documents, underline in red many multi-lingual words that are commonly understood by everyone but the programme.  On being prompted by the programme, whether the unrecognised word is to be ignored, corrected or added to the dictionary is a decision that has to be made. I for my part, contribute generously to the idea of adding new words. For, it’s a warm feeling when fringe words are acknowledged and given their due. 

I have heard the word ‘timepass’, used decades ago by vendors who would clamber up the compartment as our train neared the Bombay (now Mumbai) station to hawk everything from peanuts, to magazines, to rattles and toy cars. Now, the word has wide currency, describing a range of activity from listening to music, idling with a phone, blanking out in class or doing nothing. I am not sure whether lexicons have accepted this, but that does not seem to matter.

What we may well see in the future, is further elasticity in the use of language. The predictive text, which often behaves as if it is presumptive text, seems to know what has to be said. Need for any references or even the need to know how to spell have been considerably reduced. The idea, after all is to be understood.

In post-truth times – anything goes.

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Geetha Ravichandran lives in Mumbai. When she is not working, she watches the sky and the sea.  In the past year, her poems have been published in Borderless, Setumag and included in a couple of anthologies published by Hawakal.

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