Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A whole new word

A popular joke in school was asking someone what the 'longest short word' in English was. As the poor soul responded back a feeble ‘I don’t know’ we would laugh back with a well timed ‘Mile!’ Looking back as I am quite embarrassed to admit having been part of this silly ritual myself, I also have to add that I didn’t know any better. To me these jokes made sense. They were timeless classics. A ‘mile’ was always longer than a ‘kilometer’ but shorter in length.

When I first started writing I strictly adhered to a few words that came easily to me. I did not want to use words whose meanings were hard to find. I would keep my good old Oxford dictionary (with tons of random doodles on its pages) as my reliable guide and venture out. I knew I would never have to change my style even if the future was an unknown.

From such humble beginnings my vocabulary leapfrogged into further obscurity with the invasion of technology. Words that had a clear and precise meaning till then no longer had the same context. I started using them into my regular language without even realizing what it was doing to my writing skills. English, as it were, had stepped into some abstract area. My first brush with such a word was ‘Log In’. All my life I had known a log was a piece of wood from which Donald Duck occasionally tripped over but I had never realized how the word ‘in’ got stuck with it. To make it worse I was introduced to ‘Log Out’.

Once I had consumed these two rather small but context-heavy words, there was no looking back. I went on to greener pastures with words like ‘code’, ‘server’, ‘compile’, ‘boot’, ‘reboot’, ‘warm boot’, ‘cold boot’, ‘floppy’, et al. My personal favorite was ‘floppy’ since somehow the word ‘flop’ which earlier was associated with failure had now a whole new meaning. Being ‘floppy’ed was trendy. It was considered ‘cool’.

Years passed on and as the writer inside me suffered in silence I made merry with my updated vocabulary. ‘Floppy’ soon went extinct and in came ‘CD’. Not once in my life have I called it a Compact Disk. From there I dabbled into some biological terms like ‘virus’, ‘debug’, ‘quarantine’ and ‘infection’. I also dealt with governmental/official terms like ‘corruption’, 'transfer', 'quit', 'upgrade' and ‘copy’. I then moved onto scarier zones with violent sounding words like ‘cut’, ‘hack’, ‘burn’, 'delete' and ‘crash’. Words I had never used before in a regular sentence was now part of a daily routine.

‘Oh don’t worry. I will burn that file for you. ’ I would say without a blink.

A decade ago such a statement would have sent my father running to fetch a bucket of water and a blanket in case I injure myself. But today even he is trendy enough to say things like ‘I will scan and shoot across the papers to your inbox. Do you want them as JPG or GIF?’

The latest buzz with me is ‘seed’ and ‘leech’. I could almost hear my rather old fashioned aunt gasp when I told her I was ‘seeding on KT for the last few days'. I had to explain to her that KT was a website where I downloaded movies from and not ‘Katie’. She was a phone call away from pressing the panic button all across my family tree.

I am pretty sure she is still not convinced.


11 reflections:

Abhijeet said...

Once again my appriciations for topic selection and the examples given to corelate the things.

Keep writing!!

shakri said...

Thank you once again Abhijeet. When I select a topic I am always wondering if its the right one. If people/readers will be able to relate with it and validate my effort.

Your responses do exactly that. Much appreciated.

I Write for Fun said...

your writing skills are amazing... you can really dwell on a simple topic and take it deeper and deeper..

shakri said...

Thank you. It is very hard to find readers who can appreciate the subtle nature of a topic. One of the reasons, as I said earlier, I am a little cautious about such topics is that not everyone gets it.

I am glad you did. It truly encourages me to continue experimenting further.


mouna said...

we wouldn't have enjoyed our childhood, if we had not created such silly jokes(the mile joke), or we couldn't have come past it, otherwise. such phases, makes(or made) our time worthwhile.

Maulik Chandarana said...

Read your article. Nice piece. After a long time a refreshing piece. Keep up the good work!

shakri said...

Thanks for the response mouna. Memories of childhood are unique indeed. Nothing can replace them no matter how silly they were.

Thank you very much for your appreciative response. I am glad you enjoyed the piece.

Deepa said...

good one. i totally agree with the destruction of vocabulary.
try and get you hands on The Economist Style Guide and 'Indlish' by Jyothi Dayal. Two great books on the english language, a great read for every writer.

the mile joke is funny, though it is sad that the kids today are too logging in to a tech life to seek simple pleasures in silly jokes.

shakri said...

Thanks Deepa. Our vocabulary sure has gone beyond the simple textbooks of English we knew growing up.

I will check out the books you mentioned. They seem quite interesting.

Thanks for being here.

Akshita said...

Heh. Seeding on KT. I'm not convinced either!

Back to the point of your post. I've had similar experiences too, especially with every change of work environment. Every company has it's own internal culture and every industry its acronyms. For example, tomorrow I have to review MS, check PFP and call MOE.

This is how language develops, I guess. Every new group or business community develops its own shorthand or terminology and soon new metaphors begin to supersede the old.

shakri said...

Agreed. It will be an interesting journey that will lead us into the next decade as we find more ways to express ourselves with acronyms and new words.

I am sure that list grows.

Thanks Akshita.