Cole porter knew more than a thing or two about semantic geo-politics. “You like potato and I like potahto/ You like tomato and I like tomahto/ Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto./ Let’s call the whole thing off,” he observed in one of his songs. Well, a certain class of foreign policy pundits have noted a similar dissonance between the way Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and American President George W. Bush use a certain phrase. Mr Singh has a certain fondness for telling his listeners — members of the CWC not included — to think ‘out of the box’.
On his part, Mr Bush likes to extoll the virtues of thinking ‘outside the box’. Out of the box, outside the box, the difference might not be worth calling the whole nuclear deal off, but there has been a growing demand from analysts and aam janta alike to know if they are indeed talking about the same thing or not. In matters such as this, one must always shed one’s unilateral urges and consult the global body of semantic dispensation that is the English language Police. (The OED alone won’t do.)
In English, ‘thinking outside the box’ alludes to developing a new angle or thinking creatively. ‘Out of the box’, on the other hand, refers to a new appliance or system that doesn’t need special installation or configuration procedures — it just functions the way it’s supposed to when it’s turned on. So here’s the big question: is Mr Singh very, very subtly suggesting India wants up-and-running nuclear reactors while Mr Bush wants a completely new kind of alternate source of energy? Hang on, is it alternate or alternative now?