June 23, 2005


An Indian English contraction of the idiom 'to learn by heart' used as a verb, e.g. ‘Miss told us to by-heart the lesson by tomorrow’. If you know something by heart, you understand and remember it perfectly. 'By-hearting', on the other hand, implies learning by rote. It's what you do when you when you’ve bunked classes all year and exams are coming up. It’s cramming, it’s memorizing entire chapters of a textbook, it’s reciting something again and again till it's wired into your brain.

At Alfonsa college I by hearted my way across the university examinations. At St. Thomas I gobbled up Harold Lasky, Ricardo, Keynes, Malthus and Adam Smith and regurgitated them onto the answer sheets. (Alex Paikada, Gitanjaly Express)

I think, she will do well at Oratorical competitions, her answers were at best by-hearted well, it seemed like a vomit out of rote memory. (Anand Viswanathan, The Gemini Home Page, May 27, 2005)
The following citation, I think, demonstrates best the great semantic divide between 'learning by heart' and 'by-hearting'. (It also says a great deal about the Indian education system).

In the course of two days, we got the rhyme by-hearted. We were able to recite it with all its pauses. Then we were told its meaning. (Posted by redivider to Middle Age Blooz, June 8, 2005)
That's how you're taught nursery rhymes in India. In fact, that's how you're taught most things: Mother Goose, Wordsworth, the Geeta, theories of supply and demand, the names of state capitals, they're all meant to be 'by-hearted' and repeated as mindless incantations to the goddess of knowledge.

'By-heart' is usually restricted to the register of education, so it can seem comically inappropriate when used in a general context. It's Babu English in a way, a product of the Macaulayan system, and certainly not as cool as the slangier 'mugging' or 'rattofying'. You're not going to gain any street cred if you insist that 'DJing is not by-hearting tunes and playing them' (DJ Ritesh quoted in the Times of India, Ahmedabad, 22 April 2000). Using the word in poetry is also probably a bad idea.
Stones lost in the flow and falsehood of history;
stones that have by hearted the echoes of those
who thirsted to renew the land

(O N V Kurup, Stones, indianpoetry.org)

1 comment:

Jhaan said...

I simply love this site. You're certainly a man after my heart. ;-) Keep up the fascinating and witty entries.