April 16, 2017

Preponing 'prepone'

For those who haven't come across the word, prepone means to move something to an earlier date or time: quite simply, it is the opposite of postpone. Prepone is widely regarded as an Indian English expression and is often cited as an example of Indian bureaucratese, a clunky babuism like 'do the needful'. Nevertheless, a lot of people find the word reasonably useful and it is gradually being adopted outside India as well. But is it an Indian coinage in the first place? Shashi Tharoor, politician, writer and frequent Upperclass Twit of the Year seems to think so: in fact, he believes he may have made up the word himself.



Yes, and Al Gore invented the Internet. Does Tharoor's claim stand up to scrutiny? If you look up the OED, you'll find that prepone goes back to the 16th century. However, at that point, the word meant 'to place in front of'; the OED quotes Robert Crowley, who wrote “I do prepone and set the Lord alwaye before myne eyes” in 1549. It only seems to have been in the twentieth century that the word was used in its current sense:
To the editor of the New York Times: For the benefit mainly of the legal profession in this age of hurry and bustle may I be permitted to coin the word ‘PREPONE’ as a needed rival of that much revered and oft-invoked standby, ‘postpone.’ John J. D. Trenor, New York, Dec. 5, 1913— ‘New York Times,’ 7 December
Since Trenor is clearly proposing a neologism, one can argue that this nonce use of prepone does not prove Tharoor is making an empty boast. Barring a few stray examples, most of the citations I've found online are from the '80s onwards and almost all from India. Wiktionary has this line from a 1984 New York Times piece on Indian English:
''It is better to make the booking for Tuesday rather than Wednesday so that later you would not have to prepone it,'' the reservations clerk said with what seemed unassailable linguistic logic.
All this indicates that prepone had entered common usage here by the '80s, and was seen as a typically Indian expression. Since Tharoor was working as a journalist in the previous decade (his Wikipedia page notes that he won an award for the Best Indian Journalist under 30 in 1976), his claim regarding prepone isn't entirely implausible, and the only way to disprove it would be to find a citation that predates the bulk of his work. This amusing exchange from a 1972 Lok Sabha Debate does the job, I think; it is quite unlikely that the august members of the House are tossing around a word coined by an obscure college journalist.
SHRI B. V. NAIK : May we know whether there is any possibility of further ‘preponing' the date of commissioning of the Vijaynagar and Visakhapatnam plants ?

SHRI S. MOHAN KUMARAMANGALAM : I am not quite sure about the meaning of that English word ‘preponing'. but I presume that it means that he wants to bring it forward. So far as ‘preponing’ is concerned, every effort is always being made to 'prepone’.

MR. SPEAKER : ‘Poning’ is the common thing between the two.

SHRI S. A. SHAMIM : I hope that this is not unparliamentary. I hope you will find that out.

April 12, 2017

Dipping into Fallon - 2

“I am glad, sir” said a lady to Dr. Johnson, “that you have omitted all improper words from your dictionary.” “I hope I have, madam,” answered the surly sage, “but I see you have been looking for them.”
One test of a dictionary's usefulness is the number of rude words it contains, its stock of everyday slang and coarse language. The lexicographer's approach to these words matters a great deal too. Does he or she coyly switch to sterile Latin when defining these words? Are they dissected clinically, or described with relish in salty language? As I've mentioned in an earlier post, Fallon’s Hindustani-English Dictionary gets it just right with its forays into the earthy and the bawdy. Here's the entry for khaya, a word of Farsi origin I encountered in William Dalrymple's Return of a King, where a variety of grape called khaya-e-ghulaman is described as the finest in Afghanistan. Dalrymple translates the phrase as 'young man's testicles', exactly the kind of weirdness I am unable to resist investigating:
P خايه /khā'yā, n. m. 1. Membrum virile.

Ūṅchā makān jiskā hai pach-khanā so āyā,
Ūpar kā khan ṭapak-kar jab pānī nīche āyā,
Us ne to apne ghar meṅ hai shor o gul machāyā,
Muflis pukārte haiṅ jāne hamārā khāyā!
Nazīr.

2. Testicles. Sir se khāyā bhārī. Prov. His testicles are heavier than his head. (A big hat on a small head.)
khāyā bāshad h., (Slang). v. n. To go to pot.
khāyā-bardār, (Slang). n. m. A lickspittle; a cringing, obsequious fellow.
khāyā bardārī, khāyā sahlānā, (Slang) v. a. To cringe or fawn; to beslaver.
Bardari refers to the act of carrying or bearing something, so a khaya-bardar is someone employed to bear another's testicles, a sycophant. John Shakespear's A Dictionary Hindustani and English spins more variations on khaya, providing khaya chumaana ('not to submit to obedience') and khāya-kashīda ('an eunuch'). Fallon also has this satirical verse for the Arabic-origin synonym fatq or fitaq:
Qasd Baṅgāle kā kar dījiye faskh, aë sāhib!
Farz kardam ki wahāṅ jā-ke arākīn hue,
Toṅbe do nikleṅge, ek halq se, ek fitaq se,
Phir to, sāhab, na rahe āp, goyā bīn hue!

All thought of going to Bengal forego!
Grant you're a minister of state raised to,
Two gourds upon your throat and scrotum grown,
You're not yourself but a sitār outblown.

Hi-Hello Friend


Hi-hello friend Colloquial term for a casual acquaintance, fairly common in online forums. Most of the examples I've found seem to confirm my hunch this is primarily an Indian English expression (apart from the odd example from Africa).
Once I happened to meet a guy who was just a HI HELLO friend at that time, we used to come in same shifts, chit chat and just say BYE. (Tech Mahindra Confessions)

Now, we are not talking about a hi-hello friend, Vaks and I were like the best of the best friends. (Dil on the Rocks)

Not just a "hi, hello" friend. I want a friend that I can talk about deep things with as well as joke with. (SFWED Remember It Hurts Community)

Swedish girls are Racist! most Racist in the world and skin color and origin is a big factor for them even to be a hi-hello friend! (Yahoo Answers)

kasturi:'the company taken over by non other than your hi hello friend..' teejay:'what!!!!! Shocked ..is it robbie??? (India Forums)

April 02, 2017

Dipping into Fallon's Dictionary

S W Fallon’s A New Hindustani-English Dictionary (1879) is regarded as one of the most remarkable works of Indian lexicography. With its illustrations from folklore, proverbs, songs, and literature, it is a lot more than a mere dictionary: like that other great glossary of the colonial era, Hobson-Jobson, it carves up an entire culture and serves it up in tasty, chewable bits. Fallon took up the language of north India in the late 19th century as his field of study, the common colloquial speech which was then being thrust out of sight in official use as well as literature by an artificial written language of 'stiff pompous words, strange Arabic sounds which have no meaning for the people, and the dull cold clay of Sanskrit forms'. As Ambarish Satwik writes in his column, to open Fallon is to 'see the invisible stream that flows all around us, full of things we have left unsaid':
On its pages is found the sap and wit of the north Indian vernacular: the common stock of allusions that once played in the minds and memories of its speakers and disseminators. Language that is both ordinary and heightened, rank and sweet, and lingers in the mind. To borrow from Kenneth Burke, language that brings out the thisness of that or the thatness of this. 
In an article in Dawn, Rauf Parekh writes that Fallon knew the value of field research in lexicography. With the help of his native informants, he recorded the words and idioms used by women, and interviewed ordinary people to understand usage and pronunciation. In an aside, Parekh notes that this led Fallon to use lewd or taboo words 'and he sort of developed a taste for such expressions'.

Fallon's lack of prudery and his emphasis on descriptive rather than prescriptive lexicography is what sets him apart from most Hindi/Urdu lexicographers. It also makes his dictionary a great read. Satwik recommends a weekly dip into its pages, which I think is a most excellent idea. So here's a first dubki into Fallon's ocean of words - this uncommon word is one of the many oddities he's collected:

Ardor urinae, I discovered, is an obsolete medical term for a scalding sensation during urination. The Hindi word, however, is as colloquial as they come, and is used here in an earthy metaphor about the dangers of yielding to temptation. (I suspect the word is related to चिनगारी , chingari, which is a spark or flying ember rising from a flame). 

More Fallon next week: meanwhile, if you want to join the  trawl, you can search the dictionary here or download it here