The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tongue twister

From anger to admiration, food to fun, we need English terms and phrases to express ourselves best

Conversation in an auto between father and daughter. Daughter: “Which way do we go'”

Father: “Baan deekey.”

Daughter: “Kon dikey'”

Father: “Left.”

Daughter: “Oh!”

Of late, some words are vanishing fast from everyday Bengali (and Hindi and Marathi and all other Indian languages), not able to survive the onslaught of English.

We will stand up and observe a minute of silence for the words that are already gone, but with them we’ll also try to list words that look endangered now, yet are not extinct.

Reliable sources tell us that someone is ready to start a movement called Stop The Urban People’s Inclination to Drop-their-mothers’-tongues (STUPID).

The words that are disappearing are important words. In Calcutta, “left” and “right” look set to signal a new direction, with many children of educated young Bengalis not being able to tell their “daan” from their “baan”. In Mumbai, “daina” and “baanya” have disappeared from the street. If you shout “baanya” to an auto driver (called a rickshaw driver there), he is likely to keep driving straight. Then you know you have to scream “Laft, laft”, and he will nod appreciatively.

In Calcutta, eating has also changed forever. When is the last time you were invited to a dupurer or ratrer khabar' But you have certainly been to several “lunches” and “dinners” and had them at your place, too.

Eating has changed and so has the menu at Bengali weddings, too. Not many can ask for bhaat, even if plain rice is there on the menu. You are expected to ask for “rice”. When the uniformed person serving pulao appears in front of you and thrusts the rice spoon under your nose, he asks: “Rice'”

“Once at a marriage party, a friend asked for shaada bhaat (plain rice). But the dish seemed to be a new one for those who were serving,” says lexicographer Ashoke Mukhopadhyay.

Bhaat is still had at home. But not the practice of asking someone who dropped in at lunch hour “Bhaat kheye jao”. With or without murgir manghsho. Try to recall the last time you had a murgir jhol, if it was not at an upmarket Bengali cuisine restaurant. Otherwise you have had only “Chicken”.

The goat has fared better. When you are coming out of a wedding, you are likely to be asked: “Chicken chhilo, na pantha (Was it chicken, or mutton')” You have to ignore the fact that Bengalis like to call goatmeat “mutton” (rather “motton”), but not so much as they like to call “murgi” chicken.

An activity that is the logical conclusion of eating has also changed. Educated Bengalis, at least in polite society, hardly use a Bengali verb to describe their morning act. They “potty”. Their children also “potty”.

Mixed media

“Children these days learn the first word in English. They learn ‘red’ and not ‘laal’,” says Mukhopadhyay, who has compiled the first Bengali thesaurus. The trend was always there, but it has boomed over the past few years.

Using English, he says, is still a sign of “being educated”, and it’s a trend not only popular among elite Bengalis, but also in the lower strata of the society. So phrases like “mutual kore nebo”.

Mukhopadhyay feels “when we have to stress on something we have the tendency to use English. ‘Get out’ is a stronger version of ‘beriye jao’.” “The trend to use more English has increased in about the last decade or so. FM channels and television had an important role to play. The language that is used in the media is a mixed one. Even the language in newspapers has changed.”

And globalisation must be exerting its influence somewhere. Mukhopadhyay points some words hounded out by English: “Fitness”, “foreign goods”, “market”, “forgery”, “plus point”, “taste”, “decision”, “garbage”, “discount”, “actually”, “top korechhe”.

In Hindi, “letter”, “socks”, “pillow”, “star”/“stars”, “rose”, “prayers”, “exam”/ “test”, “dog” or “doggy”, “cat”, “horse”, “goat”, “pigeon” and “parrot” have replaced their vernacular originals. Not to mention “thank you, sorry, madam and sir”, which has been transmitted into Indian languages since time immemorial.

Total timepass

But the biggest register of change is the vocabulary of GeneratioNext. Just spend an hour at City Centre, sitting on the steps. Sit with a book. Even if you get engrossed in it, you will be hit by these every five minutes or so: “Oh no”, “maybe”, “forget it”, “whatever”, “chill”, “just chill”, “I’m chilling at City Centre”, “crazy”, “never mind”, “come on”, “sure”, “probably”, “immediately”, “rubbish”, “awesome,” “horrible”, “get together”, “really”, “fine”, “simple”, “beautiful”, “very nice”, “bloody hell”, “get lost”.

This was actually what a pretty young thing, Bengali, told her boyfriend, at the other end of the mobile phone, sitting on the City Centre steps. She also asked the boyfriend not to be “hyper”.

The trend continues unabated. The age-old Bengali endearment “idiot” — like the words “nonsense” and “cadaverous” — has gone, long dead, and has been replaced by “donkey”.

Some English words have the potency to replace other cool words. The word “deadly” can replace the campus-topper “byapok” any day. “Deadly” also makes “hebby” (“heavy”, meaning great) look passe. Similarly, the more basic “sex” has replaced “sexy”. Example: “Cinema ta total sex.”

And everything is “Timepass”. Obviously, and that’s also a Bengali word now.

lost in translation

What’s the Bengali word/phrase for...
Fitness, foreign goods, market, forgery, plus point, proper, precondition, proposal, proportion, taste, decision, garbage, garment, discount instead of chhar, actually, top korechhe, entertainment, girl/boyfriend, edition, use, plan, control, water bottle

...and Hindi for...
Letter, socks, pillow, star/ stars, rose, introduction, prayers, exams/test, dog or doggy, cat, horse, goat, pigeon, parrot, painting, laces (shoe laces)

...or any Indian equivalent for
Oh no, may be, forget it, whatever, crazy, never mind, come on, sure, probably, awesome, get together, holiday or off day (an Indian original), really, bloody hell, get lost


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