English Vinglish

I have been fascinated by the English language since my schooldays. I started my studies at Sacred Heart School, Beijing (China), where my father was posted in the Indian embassy. Although that period lasted only for a couple of years, it was enough to open up my mind and accept the language as my own.

As I grew up, the practicality of life divested me of a career in English literature, but after having done a degree in journalism, which never became my career, the consistent habit of reading the English dictionary kept me close to the language.

Rummaging through the dictionary is always an awakening and elevating experience. At times one comes across such beautifully appropriate words that the post-discovery feeling becomes the supreme achievement of the day. There are many such words, the knowledge of which completes the missing part of any expression puzzle.

Our casual approach to express sentiments by using generalised words is like pushing a hurriedly collapsed umbrella into its jacket. Many a time, the effectiveness of one's speech can be enhanced tremendously by using the right word and giving a much-needed punch to the sentence.

The combination of certain words in one sentence or expression can make the light ones turn into heavyweights. There is also fun in using words which are opposite in meaning but when clubbed together, can convey the expression forcefully. Such words are called 'Oxymorons'.

Oxymorons are incongruous words which are self-contradictory, but still are used widely and repeatedly in our daily writings and speeches. For example, "There was a small crowd in the market". How can a crowd be small?

Assess the beauty of oxymoronic expressions to enjoy the realm of the word: "The boss wanted the gathering to be served water in plastic glasses, so he called the paid volunteers to get an exact estimate of the cost.

He gave every one an original copy of the loose plan that he had in his mind. There was a deafening silence all around as the boss started speaking. While the larger half were not averse to individual social service, the smaller half started whispering loudly to the contrary after the speech. The small majority was of the view that water spoiling the paper table cloth was an open secret.

It was not the only choice that appeared to be awfully good to the boss who had been advocating many such loosely sealed plans. It appeared pretty ugly to them that the boss was focused on overlooking the negative income of the company and was spending just to honour the living dead."

The boss and his group can go on surfing on the waves caused in an oxymoronic ocean, but in our daily speech, we unknowingly use such diametrically opposite expressions to drive home our point in a more authoritative and impressive way. Some of the combinations are really awkward, such as "good grief" or "living sacrifices". Others such as "overbearingly modest" or "seriously funny" do bring a smile when you realise that you have been using them without realising it.

Such has been the penetration of oxymoronic expressions in our literary life that any writing without them would appear to be "properly ridiculous". I do not know whether "any such" matching word exists in Hindi or not, but surely some years later our own Sidhuisms would offer a striking resemblance to the English counterpart.

There can be many more innovative oxymoronic expressions, but none to beat this one: "The happily married couples joined the sombre singles at the celebrations."


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