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Hidden meanings: symbolic is sinister, secular is anti-BJP
By Dilip Bobb
|New Delhi: It’s only natural that language evolves and obsolete words and phrases are replaced. After all, what would Oxford and Cambridge and Chambers do for a living if it didn’t? Enough people buy their new editions each year to check out whether the words and phrases in their conversation are current or outdated. Occasionally, a sequence of events will trigger off a wholesale slaughter of the English language, as it did last week. Here are words/phrases that no longer mean what they did.
HUMUNGOUS: A phrase used by Opposition spokesman Jaipal Reddy in the Lok Sabha which prompted a near riot, with unruly BJP MP’s demanding a ruling from the Speaker. The Speaker, speaking on grounds of preserving law and order and national unity, decreed that Reddy’s phrase came under Clause PL420 defining ‘unparliamentary language’ and was to be struck off the recorded proceedings. Whether the objection was to the word ‘humungous’ or to its expanded version, ‘humungous fraud’ referring to the Prime Minister’s Ayodhya stand, remained unclear, but it certainly struck a chord or two, not to mention a raw nerve.
SYMBOLIC:Used to refer to something as harmless and inconsequential as a figurative or representative act. Thanks to the arms, heads and legs of various bodies, religious and political, it now means something sinister and conspiratorial, not to mention downright illegal. Never in the history of mankind has the future of an entire country hinged on the meaning, and interpretation, of the phrase ‘symbolic Act’, despite clarifications by the highest court in the land. Basically, it boiled down to a battle of supremacy, between the Supreme Court and the Supreme Being.
SECULAR:Used to mean liberal-minded individuals or groups whose judgement, moral, ethical or emotional, was distanced from religion, no matter what their background or persuasion. Then, it was hijacked for vote bank politics, mainly to arrest the march of parties like the BJP.
Consequently, the meaning of secular was considered to mean anti-BJP. After the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh, and the verbal differences between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi over who was more secular, everybody is left confused and looking for hidden meanings. Meanwhile, unknown to everyone, secularism has been given a quiet burial. RIP.
COALITION PARTNERS: Used to mean a khichri when first introduced in Indian politics. The oddest of bedfellows, Charan Singh and Raj Narain, turned into comedy, then farce, and V.P. Singh thought it meant tragedy, which is where he took it. Since then, it has, thanks to a succession of similar experiments under different leaders, meant a mixture of all three. Now, the allies in the National Democratic Alliance, have given it a different translation: to blow very hot and very cold. In Shakespearean language, it means to make much ado about nothing. An alternative translation, somewhat more unkind, is that everyone has his, or her, price.
CAPITULATION: Used to apply to coalition partners, later to certain hirsute religious heads, now widely used to describe the Indian cricket team when playing sides considered far weaker. (TNT) q
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