English Language : A Veritable Storehouse Of Humor


by : D. Chandramouli

English has virtually ousted most other languages of the world and is currently reigning supreme as the major language of commerce, medicine, electronics, space technology, aviation, sea navigation and what not.  Nearly, all the information stored in the worlds computers is in English.

English grammar is quite complicated.  Learning English can be a frustrating experience for some and fun for others.

Recently, the word paradigm has been bandied about extensively in business circles, thanks to Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Paradigm means perception, assumption or a frame of reference.  When I read this book a few years ago, I didn’t know how to pronounce paradigm. I understood later that it should be pronounced as paradime.  Where does the letter come in, simply beats my imagination.  Wouldn’t be better if it were spelled as it sounds?

Luckily, in Bahasa Indonesia, paradigm is translated as paradigma and pronounced as such.  Which, then, is a user-friendly language, Indonesian or English?

In English, the meaning of some words may totally vary, depending upon the context in which they are used.  The other day I read a caption in The Jakarta Post: 11 mental patients at large in Manila.  We know large means big. But the message conveyed here is that 11 mental patients escaped from the hospital.  How can we expect the learners of English to decipher such meanings?

English is a funny language.  For instance, if you have horrible dreams while sleeping during daytime, it’s still called a nightmare.  The word doctoring is used to change the figures to hide the truth in a financial statement.  Isn’t it a demeaning word for the medical profession?  Midwife does not mean one more woman in a mans life.  A midwife helps pregnant women to give birth.  A ring is a circular thing; if so, how do you explain a boxing ring, which is a square?

America and England are bosom friends in almost all global issues but coming down to the language, they are a world apart.

An American cannot visit English in the season he should choose the British autumn.  If he wishes to stay in England, he should look for a flat, not an apartment.

For breakfast, he should ask for jam, not jelly.  In a restaurant, he must call for a bill rather than a check.  He can’t use an overpass he must fly over in Britain.  He can’t mail a letter in the UK, but post it.

A billboard in the U.S. is the same as a hoarding in England.  By the way, hoarding also means black marketing.  One fails to understand why it is used for outdoor advertising. Logic must have been the first casualty in the evolution of English.

A queen rules England but still, the country is called a kingdom not a queendom! Well, if Her Majesty accepts the status, who are we, dumb fellow, to worry?

I once had a Scottish boss.  His English pronunciation used to be so difficult to understand that I could never make head or tail out of it.  Consequently, I often resolved the problem by simply availing French leave, just to escape from his English onslaught!

It is, indeed, a privilege to be able to speak more than one language.  But, what happens if each country develops its own version of English?

For instance, Singaporeans speak Singlish, which can be quite jarring to the ears.  It may take a while to comprehend their lahs (laws?)

Indians love to use the word kindly in the place of please.  Some are over-kindly though, when they write: Please kindly reply  There is no one particular version of Indian English.  Indians tend to use English in different accents and pronunciations.  Sometimes, what they fail to convey in English, they adequately compensate by their body language and facial expressions.

Gujarati English can be quite different from the Tamilish spoken down in South India.  Incidentally, the Tamils don’t send telegrams; instead they give telegrams.  It is because of the pitfall of direct translation into English from Tamil.

There are, now, in the world more non-native speakers than native speakers of English.  But, surprisingly, in Indonesia, native speakers are the most sought after, for teaching English.

The Dutch are indeed very clever.  When they invite you for a Dutch treat, don’t be carried away by their kind offer.  It is clearly a trap.  Wheat they mean is that each person is expected to pay his or her own share of the bill.  The only consolation, for which we must be ever grateful to the Dutch, is that they don’t make us pay for their entertainment too!

Euphemisms come in handy for soft landings.  Price increases hide behind price adjustments.  Governments usually get away with deficit budgeting for over-spending.  For laying off hundreds of workers, companies these days resort to down-sizing.

The Jakarta Post editors relish using words like inking the document, kicking off a meeting, etc.  Don’t you feel a little uneasy, reading these phrases?

According to a UNDP report, English is used in almost 80 percent of Internet websites. Those who browse the Internet are called Netizens.  I’m afraid that the recent Internet addiction by youngsters will be a world-wide-worry soon. We should take steps to arrest this trend before the next generation becomes Nutizens.

Pauses are quite important in spoken English, as the commas in written English.  This is a story about two neighbor families.  One day, the husbands were discussing spending the weekend at a nearby resort.  That evening, one of the wives met the neighbors husband.  She asked him what was the discussion about.  He replied that there was a proposal to go on a picnic during the weekend.  She then inquired: Who are all going?  You my wife I your husband, said the man, without batting an eyelid.  I leave it to you to guess the ladys reaction.

Surely, we cannot do without English in whichever field we are employed.  Well, then, why don’t we all enjoy the humor in English with all its nuances (nuisances)