Thursday, May 9, 2013

Words and Meanings Again

There are words that did not exist before and have been created since. Then there are words that meant something else in the past whose meanings have morphed beyond all belief over time. When such a change occurs over your own lifetime and the meaning of a word as you learnt it in school no longer applies now it is a very traumatic feeling. This once I mean to share that trauma with you - and no amount of pleading about how reading anything here is traumatic enough is going to help.

There was this nice little word 'gay', which meant happy in the halcyon days of my childhood. Now, apparently, it has been appropriated exclusively to refer to people who prefer their own gender for sexual activities. Things have come to such a pass that English teachers at school have trouble convincing students that when Wordsworth wrote "A poet cannot but be gay" in the 'Daffodils' he was not making any sweeping assumption about the sexual proclivities of poets. In these intolerant times, I am confidently expecting processions of heterosexual poets burning effigies of Wordsworth with shouted slogans of "Gali Gali mein shor hai; Wordsworth gaddar hai" for having ruined their chances with girls by this generalization about their sexual preferences. Simultaneously another procession of the - err is 'differently sexed' the politically correct term? - would indulge in a similar activity vehemently protesting the slur that they were harboring poets within their ranks. The life of words is indeed fraught with a lot of drama.

Attitude, I had always thought, was an attribute of the mind. To me, it meant the way you approached life or certain situations. Wrong, it turns out, in the modern age. Attitude apparently means the way you style your hair - have it stick out like the bristles of a mop; shave the scalp to see a glimpse of how you will look in the future without wigs; make it appear like a freshly plowed field with nicely symmetrical furrows; color it as though you had been painting your house and forgot the turpentine; whatever. It could also mean what you do with your facial hair. Depending on your 'attitude' you could either leave hair on your face where it is anyway difficult to shave off or you could leave it where it makes it difficult for you to shave every day. This rather novel definition of attitude - as something that comes out of the hair-stylist or beauty saloon - was a real shocker to me and I still have not completely digested it.

I really cannot claim that the word 'loser' has changed drastically but the emotional content attached to it has morphed beyond all recognition. A 'loser' in my youth meant a guy who had tried and failed. A 'loser' nowadays means a guy who is a failure. Both seem the same to the guys of today, apparently, but to me there is a world of difference. To illustrate, I once participated in a 100m running race at SPIC - only because I was a trainee then and all participants in the sports events were given the day off. A full day holiday for a mere one minute exertion sounded attractive. The first heats in which I participated all the other contestants had crossed the rope by the time I finished 'running' the first 50 meters. I was summarily called off in order to allow the next heats to progress. I came over to a great sound of laughter and declaimed, "I was the man behind all the victors". That was that! I mean, I lost the race all right but SPIC did not call me the next day and chuck me out of a job for being a 'loser'.

A 'loser' - when used to mean 'a failure' - ought to be applied only to a person who has the wrong attitude and  has lost all gaiety. Huh! Wait a minute! I do not mean to say that a failure is someone who has changed his hair-do and re-aligned his sexual proclivities. Whenever will I master this new lingo?

41 comments:

  1. Your post reminded me of Gaylord. We have moved from the times when we relished those ice creams to the times when the mere though of it choke us.

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    1. Hahaha! That's the worst of words changing meanings in you own lifetime :) You end up retching retrospectively :)

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  2. Sigh! One can no longer be happy and gay.

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  3. yes not just words, our emotions and relations have changed too. our outlook towards things and what we desire. Its like you gain some, lose some. modern era is much the same!

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    1. True! The more things change the more they remain the same :)

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  4. And depression meant either a financial crisis or a lower level in the ground, now we need happy pills like Prozac for an emotional condition

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    1. Ah! I am going to shamelessly plagiarize this for a future post :)

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  5. Suresh one more brilliant and uncanny post . You have a very great ability to write on things which are unthinkable .

    Travel India

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    1. Thanks Vishal! If you lived through this change of meanings, you really do not need to think :)

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  6. Come to think of it-you are right.Are there any more such words?This made an interesting read-ah yes"read" that is also one word,struck me just now.

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    1. Yup! 'read' as a noun is one. Management has made a lot of words mean things that they were never meant to mean :) I had one of those earlier and will put up more as and when it strikes me :)

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  7. very nice post. when I read the daffodils, i asked my teacher what does gay mean. She had explained be its meaning. But when i came to know about another usage of gay, i thought about daffodils. well, it was 10 yrs back. your post made me think what I had thought then with the same example. thanks for sharing.

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  8. I completely agree with you. A lovely word like gay is complete out of our vocabulary now. What can one say? Language evolves and we have to adjust :).

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  9. You've made want to dig up more such words now! :) True, hadn't thought of them these way - though yes, there's an Indian restaurant called Gaylord here which did remind me of that :D

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    1. Dig! I like people supplying me with ideas for new posts :)

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  10. Few words have changed meanings like 'nice' and 'bully'. There once was a time when morons were called nice and darlings were called bully. Some transformation that.

    Now stop being a cyber bully and be nice!

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    1. I do not restrict my bullying only to the cyber arena :)

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  11. Tee hee....I can't get over the mental image of several of our poet blogger friends burning Wordsworth's effigies at Jantar Mantar! :D

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    1. Get over it before they pick you in lieu of an effigy of Wordsworth :)

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  12. Thought provoking, interesting and with a sense of humor. Made me think about a lot of things. Change is inevitable and sometimes with a pinch of salt :-)

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  13. Totally agree with you...world has changed a lot now we could even see words which are of purely Hindi origin...goofed up even in oxford dictionary...which is nothing but a local terms we Indian use...

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    1. Meanings changing within your lifetime does create chaos in your usage :)

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    2. Yes i agree as one becomes more confused about their usage...and the worst can happen if a person uses those words more regularly ...!!!

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    3. Hi, I am Anjan Roy. A scarcely known blogger of ‘Anjan Roy’s Vision-Imagination’ & I hereby nominate your blog for THE LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD. For more details refer to Liebster blog award post at http://anjan5.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-moment-to-cherish-3-liebster-award.html
      I am awaiting for your comments, Thanks…!!!

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    4. You are known to me Anjan :) Thanks a ton for considering me worthy of being awarded the Liebster.

      My apologies for not putting up an acceptance post. Earlier this year I have been awarded the Liebster twice over and put up a post for that. It would be awkward for me to be putting up a post once more. I hope you understand.

      Thanks again and be assured that I am truly gratified that you thought me worthy.

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  14. That was a master piece with a well orchestrated ending.

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    1. Thanks a lot! I would have thought that the ending had gone unnoticed by all but for this comment.

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  15. Only you can write such a wonderful post with a single word enough to spark your imagination. Great going sureshji!

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    1. Thanks, Uma! Was this by chance for "Break"? That was the one-word post :)

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  16. The evolution of language that has little place for emotions. I'm looking forward to the future where we'll converse using only emoticons.

    A wonderful write-up.

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    1. Thanks Purba! I will be handicapped in a world of emoticons. I know only one - the smiley :)

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  17. There are many words like this, Suresh. I personally, sometimes, avoid using some words and sometimes, intentionally, use such words to tell people that 'this word' has 'this meaning' too.

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    1. Hmm! Sort of obstructs the flow doing that when you are writing :)

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  18. Great post once again, Suresh.

    And I'd like to add one more word to the list of words and change in meanings — Hack. I always though, hack meant hacking into a computer. But these days hack also means, breaking down an idea for the purpose of dissemination, deluging the social media with a particular idea/theme/brand for a short while, etc. etc.

    I learnt this when my organisation recently launched a "Hackathon", which I realised was not about a marathon session to hack into mutiple compuetrs and networks, but hack an idea !

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    1. Hmmm! Soon I will have enough for one more post :)

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