By Vishnu Makhijani*

What’s “puncher” got to do with “shock observer”? Well, one explanation is that since the car’s shock absorber was defective, the tyre punctured when the vehicle went over a pothole!

Two signs on adjacent shops in a rather eclectic market. But let’s face it – they graphically conveyed what they were meant to.
But then, what does one make of “Child Bear”, a much-photographed board on a roadside liquor vend in Haryana? Chilled Beer, dummy!

Such is the flexibility of the English language that no matter how much it is bent, twisted or warped, it still manages to convey what is sought to be conveyed.

“Wow,” said a guy to his colleague on a Monday morning, “that’s some denting/painting”, meaning that over the weekend the worthy had dyed his hair after a haircut.

Or sample this: Supervisor to foreman: “Where’s Ramesh?” Supervisor: “Sir, he hasn’t come today because he’s tully”. Translation: “Sir, he had too much to drink last night and is still drunk.”

Find that hard to digest? Well, there’s a website called that deals with all there is to about drinks. Do check it out. You can even enroll for a bartender’s course.

Needless to say that like a true Brit, Sir Mark Tully, formerly of the BBC, kept a stiff upper lip when informed of this nugget.

Then, there’s “dicky”. Excuse me, are you talking about? Dicky Bird the cricket umpire or Admiral Mountbatten, Dicky to his close friends? Neither! I’m talking about the trunk of a car!

Remember the days of the ubiquitous “STD Booths”? Nope, that’s not where you caught the disease but could make long-distance phone calls from. But that itself is a misnomer because STD stood for Subscriber Trunk Dialing, which a lucky few had on their home phones. I once asked a guy from the telephone department about this and he looked at me as if I was loony.

Talking about telephones, how about this:
MOB-xxxxxxxxxx/xxxxxxxxxx. Those are mobile numbers, lads, not where you can collect a mob from.

Okay, so what does make of “Ladies Tailor” Does it denote a tailoring establishment run by ladies or that you can get a lady tailored there? Ouch! Sorry lady, didn’t mean to be intentionally politically incorrect; it just happened 🙂

Some years ago in Bombay (now Mumbai), I came across a sign that proclaimed: “Pass Port” below which were listed sundry items like “Xerox”, “Typing” “STD” and the like. Was it where you got a pass to move in and out of the port? Or was it a lesson on passing the port wine at the dinner table? Neither. It’s where you got a passport picture taken. Thank god for small mercies.

Talking about signboards, till very recently one outside my office window proudly declared: “Batter Education, Batter Future”. Right above this was another: “Moonlight Public School”. Well, well, just think of the myriad possibilities, one being that if you learnt to be a good batter (meaning baseball player), you would have a good future as a batter! The other possibility was that you could learn to batter people in the moonlight! Ho, hum.

Or take this: “English Wine & Beer Shop”. But you my last rupee that you can get neither English booze or wine at this joint but what you will definitely get is IMFL – that’s Indian Made Foreign Liquor. But then, if it’s Indian-made how does it become foreign? Jaane bhi do, yaroon!

How’s this on a bill at a pretty fancy establishment: “Bluddy Merry-5”. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to decipher this one.

Or this: “One ghagra sat – Rs.2,000”. No, no, the ghagra didn’t get tired and sit down. It’s just that the counter clerk pronounced “set” as “sat” and wrote it so.

Whoever said Indians are not logical?

For instance: “Mr.X sported the move of the supports minister to send the team abroad.” Eh? “Mr.X SUPPORTED the move of the SPORTS minister to send the team abroad.”

Enough is enough. I goota go. I am tensed as my neighbourer is a labourer.

Isn’t it time Wren and Martin was introduced in schools? Or even a junior one introduced?

Passing by a kindergarten class the other day, I heard this gem: “A for Apple, B for Boy, C for Cat, D for D-block.”

Viva le English! Oops, sorry…There’s a sign in my office that says: “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination. It is the property of the language itself.”

Amen to that!
*Vishnu Makhijani is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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