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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Actors and malefactors who exhume archaic words, please avaunt!

As rhetoric gets ratcheted up between countries, this is just another manifestation of the curse of our time even if some of the war of words is borrowed from times long past.

columns Updated: Sep 29, 2017 10:08 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
In this August 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a TV screen showing US President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul, South Korea
In this August 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a TV screen showing US President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul, South Korea(AP)

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has been dubbed Rocket Man by the 45th President of the United States. The latter has replied with his usual missile-rattling. None of this is particularly funny, especially for those in countries like Canada that lie within the trajectory of any such launch and given their propensity for misfiring.

But what is amusing is the verbal barb that Un threw back, calling The Donald a dotard. This was while India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations used its own neologism of “terroristan” for Pakistan; part of the attack and counterattack that has become standard at the annual United Nations General Assembly. North Korea of course borrowed a leaf from a dictionary possibly printed in the first half of the previous century since dotard has long been buried in the graveyard for old words. It’s a reminder that English offered such colourful cursing even as 21st century users of the language take to using four-letter expletives as nouns, adjectives, and verbs to make their point.

Somewhat like Trump himself, who employed a term that is unpresidented (in his lexicon) to describe American football players as they protested on the field. But being crass is one of his defining characteristics. It isn’t as if Trump is not equipped with antiquated utterances, as he proved by digging up bigly, a word the Oxford Dictionaries referred to in 2008 as “now rare”.

Given that a purblind coxcomb (or short-sighted vain and conceited man, per Oxford Dictionaries list of antiquated words) now occupies the Oval Office and we careen from crisis to crisis, there’s no telling what his temperament will yield, perhaps a word war that will provide sanctuary from such reality. Going retro with rhetoric in such a manner also adds bling to bluster. As Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN may have realised, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes those are of the dubious variety, so it may advisable to stick to telling rather than showing up as a sciolist (Oxford: A person who pretends to be knowledgeable). Zombie words are far less embarrassing than seeing red for the wrong reason. There will always be an opportunity to make amends next September just as India will want to up the fusillade from calling Pakistan host to the “Ivy League of Terrorism” last year, to “terroristan” this month, to another level in 2018.

There are actors and malefactors across the globe who have wreaked another wretched year upon us. It may be apt to disinter an archaic word in this context to address them: Avaunt! In other words, as we would say in these times: “Go away”. That wish, though, seems bootless, a word once used for useless. That is the sign, if not the curse, of our times.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 29, 2017 10:08 IST

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